Thursday, December 11, 2008

Missing the Point, Again

It has been almost ten years since I started publishing commentary on-line, and it never ceases to amaze me that people seem to possess a remarkable capacity of completely missing the point of entire articles to zero in on one particular sentence or phrase and make a huge deal of it.

My piece on Antiwar.com last week was inspired by a posting here, in which I challenged Pat Buchanan's interpretation of the 1914 Sarajevo assassination. In the column, titled "Triumph of Tragedy," I wrote:

In the Yugoslavian pot, the Serbian identity had melted away, while people who used to consider themselves Serbs (or Turks, Croats, or Bulgarians) became "Montenegrins" or "Macedonians" or "Bosnians." When all the consequences of Yugoslavia's creation are added up, it is easily a worse historical disaster for the Serbs than the Ottoman conquest.


This was obviously toned down from what I said in "Missing the Point":

Furthermore, in 1918 there was no such nation as "Bosnians," or Montenegrins, or Macedonians. People in what are today Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia considered themselves Serbs, Croats, Turks, even Bulgarians. It was Communist social engineering and propaganda that manufactured them into distinct "nations" - while destroying the Serbian sense of nationhood in general.


Now, I may have oversimplified things somewhat. Certainly there were at least some who considered themselves other things. However, even a cursory glance at contemporary sources would reveal that my claim here is factual.

The Montenegrin identity had been inseparable from Serbian until the end of the Great War, when some supporters of the Petrovic dynasty resented the merger with Serbia. Communists exploited this divide and worked for decades to create a "Montenegrin nation"; the pinnacle of this project is today's independent Montenegro, whose rulers are building a national identity on a foundation of Serbophobia.

Austria-Hungary attempted to create a "Bosniak" nation during its occupation mandate, without much success. Bosnian Muslims identified themselves as Turks, or - following the Great War - as Serbs or Croats with a distinct religion. It was Tito's Yugoslavia that incubated their nationhood, trying to use them as a counterbalance to Serbs and Croats. And a fine job that turned out to be, if the 100,000 dead and the smoldering ruins of Bosnia are anything to judge by.

Now as for Macedonia... Google "Antiwar.com" and "Macedonia" and see how many hits you get for my columns on the subject, and what I wrote therein. At the time when damn near no one in the West objected to the KLA's butchering of that country, I wrote about the murder of Macedonia and the futile surrender of its leaders to Imperial demands. But I dare argue that only under Tito did the Macedonian national movement actually succeed in creating a nation, and all of a sudden I'm a villain?

Look, I'm routinely attacked by Albanians because I'm a Serb (it doesn't matter what I say, really - unless I endorse the KLA somehow; then I'm a poster child for what needs to be done). I get grief from Greeks, because I dare say "Macedonia" instead of FYROM or what have you (look, Alexander was a barbarian, OK? Just because he embraced the culture of Hellas and spread it around the known world doesn't make him any more Greek than my Orthodox faith makes me one).

And now I'm marked for malice by Macedonians for daring to point out that hey, today's Macedonia exists within the boundaries of the territory liberated from the Ottoman Empire by the Kingdom of Serbia. What about the areas controlled by Bulgaria and Greece? How come we never hear about them? Also, am I wrong in saying that most people in that area at that time considered themselves Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians or even Turks, since the whole concept of the Macedonian nation was in its infancy? I doubt it. Find me some contemporary sources that argue otherwise and I'd be willing to change my mind.

While you're at it, can you give me a publication date for the first dictionary and grammar of the distinct Macedonian language? Also, please explain how come that many residents of northern Macedonia have distinctly Serbian names, except they've been "Macedonized"? And finally, that whole talk about modern Macedonians being descendants of Alexander's folk? About as plausible as the "bogomil Bosnians" or "Albanians as Illyrians" arguments. Spare me.

Bulgarians and Greeks spend decades denying that Macedonians even exist. As a result, they get to keep the territories gained in the Balkans Wars. Serbs go along with emancipating Macedonians as a nation, and they lose the territories, and get accused of being hostile to Macedonia and Macedonians! Not exactly an argument for tolerance or open-mindedness, is it?

I've told my Macedonian friends before, and I'll say it again: the real danger to your continued existence, let alone prosperity, isn't from the north. The Serbs have accepted Macedonia and Macedonians, and all the questions that I raise here are merely historical nitpicking. An attempt to teach my own people an important lesson, as the case may be. Meanwhile, Bulgarians are issuing dual citizenships, Greeks insist there is no such country, and Albanians are taking the land. And this Serb is one of the few people in the world pointing that out and disagreeing with it.

4 comments:

Charlie said...

Macedonians are overwhelmingly cognate with Bulgarians. They had a rebellion that coincided with the Bulgarian April Uprising of 1876 and used a Bulgarian lion as their symbol. Because it *WAS* a Bulgarian rebellion and part of the wider April rising. As if that was not enough, they staged another rebellion in 1878 when it became clear San Stefano borders would be revised and that they would not be a part of Bulgaria after all. Between the world wars VMRO operated from Bulgaria and its goal was unification with Bulgaria not independence. Even before, after the Ilinden uprising VMRO styled itself in everything including the very name after Vasil Levski`s VRO. Not to mention the supposed medival Macedonian state is everywhere outside former Yugoslavia considered another reincarnation of the Bulgarian state.

Prior to the actual 2nd Balkan War Serbia showed next to no ambition to expend into Macedonia (other than the northern outskirts which were Serbian Torlak influenced) until it became clear to her that she would not get Northern Albania, because Austria-Hungary but particularly Italy diplomaticaly interveened, and then seeked to revise the deal with Bulgaria that it had made beforehand where most of Vardar Macedonia would have gone to Bulgaria.

I do not know why this is controversial. Ethnogenesis is a very complex thing. It is never linear or clear cut. There are million of cases elsewhere. The Dutch and the Germans used to be one people. The Dutch national anthem actualy in original speaks of this one "Duytschen" blood. What is more, there used to be a transition dialect Plaffdeutsch that was neither wholly Dutch nor wholly German, one part of speakers of that dialect became Dutch and the other part became German. Jet they were kin!


And a word on the Muslims. They did indeed refer to themselves as Turks, but that was not ethnic or national identification. Being even more Ottoman than the Ottomans themselves the concept of the nation in the modern sense was completely absent from their mindset so their designation was simply that of class identity. It meant they were proper citizens of the Ottoman Empire in contrast to the infidel dhimmis. Once the Empire retreated the designation stuck, but now it was only a designation that conveyed their seperatness. It was only a way of saying they were not Serbs or Christians and it could only stick because there were no actual ethinc Turks around them to compare themselves to.

Red Star said...

Not that you need more proof of the need to keep arguing your case on-line GF, but as you know, The ‘Balkans Problem’ is not just a problem for the Balkans – it gets used in disturbing and malicious ways.

Take this -

“it is well-reknown that Serbia and Milosevic undertook a deliberate policy to create a "pure" Serbian state with no evidence to convict him with while Israel, with ever more documents to suggest that such a policy was in effect albiet by mouth and intent (and not in writing per se) is still innocent of such charges that the world was so quick to pin on Serbia. The consequences: Palestinians with no state, Yugoslavia broken into little statelets (and Kosovo to boot)”

From Here

You ignore one corner of the world’s problems, and it only pops somewhere else.

Deucaon said...

I am surprised that the US establishment didn't blame the 9/11 hijackers' motives on "trauma" caused by "Serbian aggression" in Bosnia and Kosovo. Everyone seems to be blaming Serbs... I suppose its easier to blame a group of people who don't fight back (rather than those who riot at the slightest "insult") rather than take a long hard look at themself in the mirror.

A said...

The Macedonian royal house was “definitely” regarded as Greek. This very issue was debated and decided when Alexander I of Macedon competed in the Olympic games, some years before the Persians invaded Greece, when the Spartans attempted to deny him his victory on those very grounds. Since the judges ruled in his favour, and they were probably the people most competent to decide, his successors, including Alexander the Great, would “have”, I believe, to be regarded as fully Greek.

As for the Macedonian people, they did speak a distinctive form of Greek – that’s been very clear since Aegaia was excavated – but then, there was a fair amount of variety in what the southern Greeks spoke. By any “modern” standards of what constitutes a nation (language, religion, etc) I would definitely think of the ancient Macedonians as being Greeks. However, I must admit that the southern Greeks did not always use those standards. For example Macedonia did not have a polis structure – they did have cities, but they were not independent in the southern Greek tradition, but part of a wider Macedonian identity; and since part of the definition of a Greek was being a citizen of a polis (quite as much as language, culture, religion and ethnicity) that would probably have been enough to exclude the Macedonians from the Greek world in the eyes of many. For instance, I don’t think any Macedonians outside the royal house ever competed in the Olympics. Also, by Philip’s day, some Athenian democratic politicians regarded monarchy itself as barbarian – although to be logical, they would have had to exclude their own ancestors if they were to apply those standards.

Actually, one can argue that the Macedonians had always been a bastion of the Greek world in the north – one to which the southern Greeks (especially Athens) had never been the slightest bit grateful, invariably trying to undermine it, by hosting pretenders and subsidising rebellion (even though it had always been faced with extinction at the hands of the Thracians, Illyrians, Paeonians and others) simply in order for Athens to have unrestricted access to exploit the resources of the north – Macedonian timber, and silver and gold from the mines of Pangaeon.

Of course, to judge by the speeches of Athenian politicians like Demosthenes, the Macedonians were definitely a barbarian people; but then, as you of “all” people would know, what a democratic politician says to the voters has “never” been a guarantee of its truthfulness! Especially when it’s about a distant country he’s trying to persuade the voters to declare war on!

Oddly enough, if one uses the “modern” meaning of the word barbarian, there are many grounds for thinking that the Macedonian monarchy was healthier than the city states of the southern Greek world. It was a society far less based on slaves, for instance. And under this monarchy, it turned out to be much easier for other peoples to be included within the kingdom, and retain their own traditions and autonomy: in that regard, I suppose one could say that the Macedonian system, not that of the southern Greek states, was the model not only for the Hellenistic kingdoms, but was the one which the Roman Empire eventually adopted, and the medieval states that followed it.