Northern Macedonians Find Company to Worship Imagined Ancestors


MARINA Doichinovska, in charge of a research institute in Skopje, was overcome with emotion upon meeting in Pakistan for the first time a member of the Hunza tribe, who claim to descend from Alexander's Macedonian army. "It was like finding a longlost relative," she said on her weekly TV programme Macedonium. "The Hunza expressed their emotions in such a Macedonian way," she exclaimed. "It felt to me," she added enraptured, "like a 2,300-year break in communication had been resumed".

Such feelings were reciprocated by the sovereign of the Hunzas, Prince Ghazanfar Ali Khan, who visited the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the beginning of October. "We didn't feel like being in a foreign country," he said. The authorities certainly made sure of that. Some 20 locals dressed up as Alexander's hoplites - complete with spears, plastic helmets, shields, corselets and greaves - plus a crowd of ecstatic admirers shouted "Welcome home" as soon as the prince stepped out of the plane at the Alexander the Great Airport. The sovereign of the Hunzas - proud of having practised for centuries the Greek religion of the 12 gods (dodekatheon) up until 1974, when they converted to Islam -

Gold jewellery and ornaments, excavated in northern Greece, are depicted in
this handout photograph distributed by the Greek culture ministry, on
September 11. Archaeologists have unearthed gold jewellery, weapons and
pottery at an ancient burial site near Pella in northern Greece, the birthplace
of Alexander the Great
and his entourage were even blessed by Archbishop Stephan, head of the schismatic Church of Fyrom. Bishop Peter of Bitola pontificated that the prince "looked like Alexander the Great". One Fyrom citizen signed over to the prince a plot of land near Lake Ohrid "so that he would always have a place in his homeland".

Encouraged by the Hunza support, Mr Gruevski, leader of the Skopjean 'Kinderarchy' (as it has been called), is asking the world and Greece to recognise his people's "Macedonian ethnicity". Patiently, the UN mediator Mr Mathew Nimetz tried to explain to him that ethnicity does not need recognition, only citizenship does. Mr Gruevski does not seem to have grasped the point.

The last proposal of Mr Nimetz that the country be called 'Republic of Northern Macedonia' makes sense. The objections by some Greek commentators that this might stir expansionist longings like those of North Vietnam in the past and North Korea today do not hold water. There is no 'Southern Macedonia' to be united with Northern Macedonia one day. There is a purely geographical entity known as Macedonia, the largest part of which constitutes a Greek region (populated by Greeks speaking Greek), yet another part belongs to Bulgaria (populated by Bulgarians speaking Bulgarian) and finally a third part constitutes a sovereign state inhabited by the 'residents of Northern Macedonia' - as Mr Nimetz proposes they be called - who speak a Slavic language that is but a Bulgarian dialect.

The leaders of Northern Macedonia insist they speak 'Macedonian'. This is absurd. There has never been a 'Macedonian' language. Some 23 centuries ago the subjects of King Alexander spoke Doric Greek. They were called the 'tall ones' from the word μάκος (length), a word which in the Attic dialect - and in Modern Greek too - is μήκος. Philip was a friend (filos) of horses (ippos). Alexander was the defender (alex) of men (andron). There are some 17,000 inscriptions found in ancient Macedonian cemeteries which are all in Doric Greek. Mrs Doichinovska and her compatriots have never produced a single such inscription written in any language other than Greek. Nor have the Hunzas done so in Pakistan

There is more. The teacher of Alexander was the philosopher Aristotle whose name is never mentioned in Skopje as he is not claimed as an ancestor of the locals. Does Mr Gruevski or Prince Ali Khan maintain that an interpreter was needed for Alexander to understand what Aristotle was telling him? To answer those that might argue Alexander was fluent in Greek as a foreign language there is the extraordinary success of the Greek tragedy in the Kingdom of Macedon. The subjects of Philip and Alexander streamed in their thousands to the numerous theatres of the realm to enjoy the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

So since 'Macedonian' is out and Ms Doichinovska does not speak Doric Greek, her language should obviously be called Slavomacedonian. The standard objection to this epithet by the Skopjean elite is their alleged need to respect the feelings of 40 percent of their citizens who are Albanian and not Slavs. Fair enough, but irrelevant. The Albanians speak Albanian and feel Albanian. It is worth noting that no representative of any of the two Albanian parties took part in the rigmarole of the welcome celebrations organised for His Highness Ali Khan. Therefore the Albanians cannot raise any objections on how a language which is not theirs will be called by those who have it as their mother tongue. To call the language 'Slavomacedonian' would be accurate. It would enable Ms Doichinovska to make a TV film about a few old grannies living in villages around the Greek city of Florina who still speak Slavomacedonian as no Greek citizen could ever be said to speak 'Macedonian' (a purely geographical epithet) or 'Peloponnesian' for that matter.

However, we seem to be very far from addressing the language question yet. The first indications are that those in charge in Skopje are not at all happy with the recent proposals by Mr Nimetz concerning the name issue. If they finally decide to reject them outright, we will be back to square one. One can only hope that President Obama will bring them to their senses...

* Mark Dragoumis' book The Greek Economy 1940-2004 is available at bookstores throughout Greece and directly from this newspaper

* Mark Dragoumis' books Greece on the Couch, Session

(Posting Date 27 October 2008)

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