Dress Rehearsals

Misha Glenny

  • Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nation hood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990 by Anastasia Karakasidou
    Chicago, 264 pp, $38.00, June 1997, ISBN 0 226 42493 6

Eighteen months ago Cambridge University Press shocked the publishing and academic worlds by pulling Anastasia Karakasidou’s book from their list. They claimed that publication could endanger the security of their associates in Greece, not to mention the house’s commercial interests there. A Greek anthropologist working in the United States, Karakasidou had been the target of a campaign waged in the Greek media by nationalists who claimed that her work on issues of identity in Aegean Macedonia was heretical and even treacherous. These imbecilic claims were made at the height of the hysteria, encouraged by members of the Greek Government, which greeted the creation of an independent Macedonian state in the wake of Yugoslavia’s collapse.

Cambridge explained that their decision was made on the advice of the British Embassy in Athens. They also referred to earlier attacks against foreign nationals by the leftwing terrorist organisation, November 17. Contemporary Greek terrorism, however, has nothing to do with the Macedonian Question, as a little further investigation would have revealed. The nationwide campaign against Skopje, as the Greeks preferred to call what is now known as Fyrom (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), involved much rhetorical nonsense and, on two occasions, the imposition of a self-defeating trade embargo, but comparatively little violence. The anti-Macedonian campaign was a sick affair, for which Greece has rightly paid a heavy price. But by the time of CUP’s change of heart, the campaign was over. CUP were more justified in arguing that their commercial interests might have been damaged by publishing Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood. When the nationalist agitation was at its fiercest in 1992 and 1993, a disc-jockey persuaded a fair number of Greeks to stop buying Danish bacon for several weeks because of the Danish Government’s perceived hostility to the Greek position on Fyrom. And, as we all know, the book is a commodity invested with no more mystique than slaughtered swine. CUP felt duty-bound to protect its investors from the emotions of capricious Greek academics and students.

Saved from obscurity by the University of Chicago Press, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood will almost certainly enjoy a wider readership as a result of the scandal. And yah-boo-sucks to Cambridge because this is an excellent book. Karakasidou’s meticulous unpicking of Greek identity in 20th-century Macedonia will be as welcome as daylight to a vampire to those of her compatriots who insist on the exclusivity of Hellenic claims to the region. But that is not her aim, merely an important by-product. Although she concentrates on Hellenism in Macedonia, the implications for national myth-makers in Bulgaria, Fyrom and Serbia are crystal clear. The Greeks are not Karakasidou’s target. Instead, she performs a rigorous and compelling examination of the formation of modern national consciousness in Macedonia.

Like many problems in the Balkans, the Macedonian Question was first raised in earnest in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin. Its origins lay a little further back, in the decision taken by the Ottoman authorities in 1870 to establish the Bulgarian Exarchate Church in opposition to the Greek-dominated Patriarchate. The good news for students of modern Macedonia is that they can consign almost everything that happened before 1870 to the dustbin. The bad news is that Macedonia has packed in more history over the last hundred and twenty years than most territories do in a millennium.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

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