Letter: Macedonia: misunderstandings about anthropology

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The Independent Online
Sir: May I comment on the recent articles and letters concerning the Macedonian question and the work of Anastasia Karakasidou?

Dr Karakasidou's critics are blaming the messenger for what anyone who has worked, lived, or even travelled in the north of Greece should recognise: that the provinces of Macedonia, Epiros, and Thrace have always been ethnologically complex (even in antiquity), and that the simplifications deemed necessary to state formation have not occurred without conflict. The region has experienced massive population transfers in this century (eg, the influx of Anatolian Greeks and Vlachs; the exodus of Slavic- speakers and Muslim Turks).

That various policies of enculturation have been pursued by the Greek government is not surprising; this is in the nature of nation-states. It is also conventional that states wish to appear eternal and natural, and therefore do not look sympathetically on the anthropological position that national consciousness is a contingent, historical process.

Dr Karakasidou's work does not toe any political line; she is not a 'champion of Macedonians', and she does not herself use the term 'Macedonians' with reference to the Slavic speaking population of northern Greece. What she has provided in her work is a careful analysis of nation-state formation in the north of Greece.

The disparagement of Dr Karakasidou is partly the result of misunderstandings about anthropology. Anthropologists try to convey what the people they study think (and do) about their identity, their history, and so on. In forming our analyses, we combine the details of local life - marriage transactions, inheritance patterns, commercial networks, local political hierarchies, narrative traditions, etc - with testimony from archives and national history. If, however, local understandings conflict with those of the state, we do not simply dismiss the former. We report this disjunction and try to convey this local experience.

Dr Karakasidou has been careful in her writings to draw the distinction between ethnic and national consciousness. Ambassador Gounaris, in making his reasonable argument (letter, 16 May) against Macedonian nationalism, feels obliged to deny the possibility of a past or present locally- based sense of ethnic identity. The ambassador thus disappoints those of us who love Greece, who do indeed understand the complexity of the northern problem, and who are looking to Greece for informed leadership on the question of minorities in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean. An expression of concern about (rather than indifference towards) the harassment of scholars would express that kind of leadership.



Dept of Anthropology

Haverford College

Haverford, Pennsylvania

17 May