Tales of the Macedonians

Tales of the Macedonians

“We interrupt our program to listen to an announcement by the prime minister.” So the announcement of an “agreement” caught me by surprise as I was heading to an event. And as the more we proceeded to recognize a language with asterisks and ethnicity with footnotes, the more my stomach tightened and the feeling that we were being had grew stronger.

A permanent and irreversible loss. I wonder if that’s how Periklis and Aristeidis felt when, while in their 20s in Monastiri, they heard the then Greek prime minister announce from the balcony of the Greek consulate that the results of the national struggles of 1904-12 made them citizens of the Kingdom of Serbia.

So we are suspending the years-long national effort to persuade the international community that the language and ethnicity of our northern neighbors is not Macedonian. Regardless of the outcome of the endeavor, we agreed on erga omnes and this will haunt us eternally. Who was telling the truth and who was peddling propaganda all these years?

We are suspending the various individual efforts to persuade good and ill-willed interlocutors about the difference between Greek Macedonia and Slavo-Macedonia. We are lowering the flag and withdrawing.

The grandads in Monastiri had to deal with Bulgarians, Serbs, Arvanites and Turks. Several decades later, the Bulgarians became Slavo-Macedonians with our seal of approval. A stunning course of events in just one century.

Due to my background and the fact that I work at the country’s greatest university bearing the emblematic name of the founder of modern science – the Macedonian philosopher Aristotle – and based in the capital of Macedonia, I carry a heavy personal load which generates huge pride and the duty that comes with it. I understand the arguments that a realistic approach is needed but this is rarely the case for those carrying such burdens. Experience shows that in order to function this way you either don’t have these “patriotic burdens” or have somehow lost them. To be honest, these burdens still impact me.

Therefore I cannot celebrate the “victory of pragmatism over extremity.” I am soberly trying to predict if, in 10 years from now, I will be able to claim that Thessaloniki is the capital of Macedonia without feeling that I am confusing my colleagues, even the well-meaning ones, around the world who are not obliged to read the legal texts and agreements and know nothing more than the bare essentials of Greek history and nothing about the “Macedonian” issue.

Nor does the optimistic interpretation of the text and the precautions we “managed” to impose put me at ease. Neither do I agree with the extreme and fanatical objections.

However, we must admit that all Greeks interpret matters the same way as they affect us differently. The fears, hopes and expectations affect all us Macedonians. In the same way, Cypriots and Asia Minor Greeks are more sensitive about their lands of origin. We all taste defeat differently as well. More intensely, painfully and deeper.

As if the glow and pride have dried up like an old well. As if the voice of our race echoing from within is snuffed out. I’m not the only one who feels this way. And the feeling that this loss was not inevitable is unbearable.

The historical reckoning of these moments will judge, as always, the actions of politicians. But if the question is posed about what the country’s intellectual elite did, I can say that I fought consistently and with moderation in line with the national cause. And now I feel betrayed and deeply disappointed with the political leadership.

Periklis A. Mitkas is dean of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University.

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