WHO THE MACEDONIANS ARE
Greek foreign policy has had many successes in the recent past beginning with entry into the European Union, maintaining successful economic balance sheets since, active participation in resolving Balkan issues (most recently the on-going issue of Kosovo), and fostering increased economic ties with Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey. Alongside these successes, there were some notable failures. The return of the Elgin Marbles by the Olympic Year 2004 (a slogan expressing everyone’s hopes in and outside of Greece), never happened; nor, the attempt to deny the name “Macedonia” to the “Skopianoi,” (the internally adopted name for the Macedonians of the Republic of Macedonia). Over the years since 1813, the issue of the Elgin Marbles has become a historically complex/convoluted issue with no accessible solution even after appeals to international adjudication. My own Open Letter (2001) to Tony Blair requesting a debate by the British Parliament on the return of the Elgin Marbles was received politely but immediately shunted to the British Museum for an answer. To no one’s surprise, the British Museum wrote: “for now, the British Museum is the best place for the Elgin Marbles.”
On the “name” issue regarding the Macedonian Republic, more bad news. Given that the major powers, US, China and Russia have now recognized the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) with its official constitutional name “Republic of Macedonia,” the Greek endeavor to deny legitimacy to use of the name, though widely popular in Greece and the Greek Diaspora, at best has little hope for success; at worst, it has become a dead issue. The only card left to play is the Greek membership in the EU community and its veto power over FYROM’s endeavors to join EU and NATO, a completely undesirable obstructionist/intransigent role at that. On this issue, Greece has become a distant island away from mainstream thinking. Thus, it may be legitimately asked, why such a disconnect on this subject between Greece and the USA? And, what are the implications for the Greek claim to exclusive ownership of the ancient Macedonian Heritage as well as the Legacy of Alexander the Great based on the common understanding that the Macedonians were Greek?
To address these issues, one must face-up to the formidable overall issue: “Who Are the Macedonians?” Whatever the answer, it would have major implications for an understanding of both the ancient and modern Macedonians as well as for the associated issue of where the Macedonians are: exclusively in Greece; or, also, in FYROM and Bulgaria. To the great surprise of many Greeks, the issue of the ancient Macedonian ethnic identity has become and still is a cutting edge issue. One would think it was resolved long ago. Nonetheless, the critical question remains whether the Macedonians were an ethnic identity apart from that of the Greek. Scholars are divided on this point; and, it can only be discussed in terms of weight of evidence as the Macedonians themselves left no writing; or more broadly speaking, no record of any kind. Beyond this point, more shocking revelations for the Greek reader: there is the undeniable historical fact that as a result of the Balkan Wars of Liberation of 1912/13, Macedonia was divided among Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece with the Aegean region going to Greece, the Vardar region to Serbia and the Pirin region to Bulgaria. This division of Macedonia was legitimized by the Bucharest Treaty of 1913 and the Post-World I Peace Conference decisions. Importantly, however, the Macedonians were never asked; and, the decade old Macedonian struggle for autonomy and liberation from Ottoman Empire rule was shunted aside and ignored at a time when the Macedonians had already developed a shadow clandestine government organized as central and regional committees on an advanced socialist democratic model. It was in place and ready to function upon liberation (Sonnichsen, 1909/2004). However, it was never allowed to happen. Thus, the liberation of Macedonia reverted to one of occupation and acculturation for the native Macedonian population, evidence of which can easily be seen even now in the border town of Florina. All this needed historical background was left out by Greek historians calling the Slav-speaker majority that had been mobilized by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), “Bulgarians” who had been expelled or repressed by Greece. Greek historians writing as “apostles of national interest,” but not as “objective scholars” (Karakasidou 1994), glossed over these aspects following the division of Macedonia. Earlier, these same “Bulgarians” were “Bulgarophone Greeks” during the Ottoman Empire rule in the early 20th century when Greek claims to Macedonia had not much of a basis in the overall population as the Greek component by itself was a distinct minority, largely a mercantile class in the larger towns of Macedonia (in any case, this is the way of Balkan historians).
Two recent pivotal developments, one addressing the ancient and the other the modern Macedonian identity are providing a new light on these extremely sensitive areas. They will be presented in what follows in order to resolve the seemingly contradictory beliefs and actions behind some of the recent major country foreign policy changes on accepting Macedonia; and with it, its claim to legitimacy as people and as a nation among nations. The first pivotal development pertains to the ancient Macedonians; and, it is a line of thinking beginning with Ernst Badian (1967) and then continuing with Eugene Borza (1990) and Peter Green (1991). This line of thinking emphasizes that the weight of evidence sourced from a variety of independent researches leans toward an independent Macedonian ethnic identity apart from that of the Greek; but, admittedly, layered over by strong Hellenic cultural influence (e.g., the adoption, for official use, of the ‘koine;” i.e., a modified Attic Greek speech as well as a version of the Olympic games). The second pivotal development is a recent publication by Cambridge University Press of a meticulously documented archeological and historical evidence of Eastern Roman and Byzantine Empire sources collected together in a book by Florin Curta (2001). Curta assesses the historically documented great 6th/7th century AD Slav tribe intrusion into the Balkan Peninsula especially the alleged Slav invasion and settlement into Macedonian territories (and further down south into Greece) as a 19th century invention by European historians. It never happened. Instead, Curta (2001) concludes that multiple raiding groups opportunistically poured down south from north of the Danube river into Eastern Roman Empire territory when Roman armies were engaged elsewhere; but, importantly, returned back to their home bases (much the same was happening elsewhere in the Western part of the Roman Empire). The word “Slav” (Sklavenes) was a short-hand label of convenience invented by Roman and Byzantine historians when referring to these diverse raiding groups. Thus, the Greek historical basis for asserting that the Macedonians in FYROM are actually Slavs and not Macedonians becomes highly questionable and the price of bad history is now being paid by Dora Bacoyannis, the foreign minister, who has to defend the isolated Greek position. The puzzle that remains, however, is how the Slav-oriented Macedonian dialect, an intermediate between the Serbian and Bulgarian languages, came into Macedonia inasmuch as all other socio-cultural features point to a non-Slav ethnic identity. One real possibility is that it can be tentatively attributed to a process of linguistic adaptation in response to intermittent Slav Empire rule (Bulgarian and Serbian) prior to the advent of the Ottoman Turks in 1385. No one is surprised today that everyone in Macedonia speaks Greek (most are bilingual) and a similar process can be reasonably inferred for critical transition periods in the past.
Ethnic Identity of the Ancient Macedonians
While delving into the complex issue of the ancient Macedonian ethnic identity, one remembers Christopher Xenopoulos Janus and his numerous articles on the ancient Greek culture as someone who might be asked to weigh in on this issue. He has had the benefit of a superb education at English institutions of higher learning, at a time when English thought dominated many areas, in philosophy, mathematics, economics and physics. Moreover, he accompanied some of the notable figures of this era in exploratory trips to Greece. Not to be overlooked also, Mr. Xenopoulos himself has left an imprint of his own in the world of finance. To continue the analysis and as already indicated, scholars are divided on the issue of the ancient Macedonian ethnic identity and one might heed the cautionary note of Badian (1967) that there can be no certainty about any conclusion reached on the basis of the available evidence. All we have is what Borza (1990) emphasizes is evidence from disparate sources and at best can only be assessed in terms of overall weight and direction it points to. Green (1991) has similar thoughts on the matter while others, such as Cartledge (2004), will chance a leap of faith beyond the evidence and say that Alexander the Great and the Macedonians were Greek; and, earlier, another scholar, Bonnard (1961) would say precisely the opposite.
Among the variety of evidence presented by Badian (1967) is the fact that the surviving lists of Olympic victors list no Macedonians. Of course, there are the two well known independently documented exceptions; Alexander I and Philip II. In the first instance, the Olympic athletes refused to compete with Alexander I, “ a barbarian” from the North. However, Alexander I appealed to the Hieranodikoi and persuaded the judges that he was an heir to the Temenid royal family of Argos; and, thereby, a descendent of Hercules and Zeus. The ruling went in his favor and he came among the first, a tie. Even so, Greek historians much later referred to him as “Alexander the Philhellene.” This appellation would not normally apply to a Hellene. In the second instance, while Philip II was accepted in various Panhellenic religious festivals and was even asked to adjudicate certain international disputes among the Greek City States; nonetheless much later, Demosthenes would say: “[Philip] …who is not only not a Greek and has nothing to do with Greeks, but is not even a barbarian from a place it would be honorable to name – a cursed Macedonian – who comes from where it used to be impossible even to buy a decent slave.” What is significant here is not the political rhetoric, but the recorded enthusiastic applause by the Athenian audience.
A second line of evidence is the existence of a separate unwritten Macedonian language which according to Herodotus’s four markers for a Hellenic ethnic identity: common culture, common history, common religion and common language (Bowra 1957, would exclude the Macedonians from the Greek family. Again, Badian (1967) following unrelenting, meticulous detective work into a variety of direct and indirect sources concludes that it must have existed (approximately 500 words have been found belonging to this dialect). He argues that it was the language of command in the Macedonian Phalanx. He also cites a surviving fragment where a Greek commander called for a bilingual intermediary to transmit his message as he was unable to directly communicate with the Macedonian phalanx commander opposing him; of course, there is the treason trial of Philotas as well, following the major victories deep in Asia, when Philotas was asked in what language he wished the trial to be held: in Macedonian or Greek.
A third and decisive line of evidence is the perception of the Macedonians by the Greeks and vice-versa. While one can dismiss Demosthenes’ “Philipics” as mere politics to gain a point, events in the field reveal irreconcilable differences and a hatred based on the perception of group differences in spite of vigorous efforts by Philip II and Alexander the Great (and others earlier) to bridge such differences among Macedonians and Greeks. On one occasion, even Alexander, in mock play, joined in the disparagement of the Macedonians in the infamous heated drunken argument that ended in the brutal murder of Cleitus who had taunted him mercilessly.
From a different angle, Green (1991) points out that of the Expeditionary forces that went into Asia under the command of Alexander the Great, there were 7,800 troops from the Greek City States out of an overall number of 40,000 Importantly, Alexander never used these troops as front line troops in any of the major battles; nor did he attempt to integrate them as units into the phalanx. They were a rearguard; guarding the safety of baggage trains accompanying the Army and auxiliary personnel. Importantly, more than three times their number fought as mercenaries with the Persian Emperor Darius III. Since the Greek hoplites were superior infantry compared even to Macedonian hoplites, there was no question of their martial qualities. Except for a lack of trust, Alexander had no other reason for not using them more effectively (parenthetically, one can entertain here the historical if regarding the Battle of Chaironea when the Spartans, for once, would have stood united with the Athenians and Thebans, there might not have been any Macedonia at all).
Another interesting side light, is the realistic but bluntly stated assessment by Charidemas, the Athenian commander of the mercenary troops allied to Darius III, when he dared speak openly in staff discussions of strategy and tactics in the presence of Darius III, accusing the staff officers of cowardice, and further-on, stating that the Persian infantry stood no chance against the Macedonian phalanx as front line troops. He was executed on the spot; but the advice was heeded. Greek mercenary troops were placed in front of Darius at the Battle of Gaugamela and withstood the Macedonian cavalry onslaught; except that at the sight of Alexander and his Companions, Darius fled and left the field of battle.
The evidence that supports a common ethnicity of the Greeks and Macedonians again is diverse and multiple. There is first of all, the well-known surviving fragment with Alexander’s message after Granicus that was sent back to Athens along with the war trophies to be dedicated to the Goddess Athena. It read, “Alexander son of Philip and all the Greeks - the Lacedaimoneans excepted – these spoils from the barbarians dwelling in Asia” (the Spartans had declined, saying that they would be led only by Spartan King). As a proper background, it must be remembered that Alexander, as a Hegemon of the Corinthian League following the Allied loss at Chaeronea and the imposed union upon the Greek City States, had also been appointed a Commander in-Chief of the Pan-Hellenic Expeditionary Forces into Asia. Officially, it was to avenge past wrongs done to Greece by the Persians. Thus, it was of some importance to have the Greek City States back home at peace to avoid a two-front war and, potentially, for additional troops and material resources. Against this sentiment, there was, however, the savage slaughter of 3000-4000 Greek mercenary troops at Granicus as traitors and the 2000 sent back to Macedonia as slaves although they sought an honorable surrender after the defeat of the Persians. This savagery, comparable to the destruction of Thebes, has been interpreted as the hard reality behind the official Pan-Hellenic Expeditionary Campaign propaganda and as a warning (Green, 1991). Here, one should compare, however, not one source of evidence against countervailing evidence, but fact vs. interpretation as Alexander’s statement addresses the point directly. It is not open to dispute.
The other two sources are less impressive. There is of course the common culture in terms religion, religious practices, and official or public societal expression in the arts, the military and in the realm of athletics. The Macedonians, copying the Greeks, also included artistic competition with their athletic contests and this societal feature Alexander carried with him over into Asia. However, unlike the southern Greek City States, Macedon had no large well-developed cities and the Macedonians buried their dead underground (i.e., in the tumuli, one of which allegedly contains the remains of Philip II; unfortunately, also that of a young woman named, “Euridice” which, in effect, undoes the evidence). It would appear, that the Macedonians had no talent of their own in philosophy or in the arts (Aristotle and Democritus do not count as they were Greeks living in Greek cities established earlier in Macedonia by one or the other of the Southern States until they were taken over by Philip II); thus, the adoption of the then superior Athenian Greek culture and speech as shown in writings found in excavations of archealogical remains was inevitable. The other evidence is the embroidery and mythologizing by ancient Greek historians of the two people as being descendents of two brothers, “Hellene” and “Makedon.” However, this version of the past ignores the hard fact that the Greeks could not understand the Macedonian speech (N.G.L Hammond, 1991, speculates it might have been a distant primitive Greek dialect).
As there can be no certainty on this issue (Badian, 1967), and there is only the weighing of evidence (Borza, 1990) as well as an absence of ancient Macedonian input, there the matter stands: still open for future re-examination. Interestingly, however, it has become an issue of great importance lately because of the modern highly politicized issue of “Who the Macedonians Are” and the associated issue “To Whom Macedonia Belongs,” two components of the perennial “Macedonian Question” (Glenny 1996; Pettifer, 1991). Before delving into this modern issue, it is important to understand, that the “Macedonian Question” arose and continues to exist only because Macedonia, at the end of the Ottoman Empire, was conceived and understood by the Great Powers of Europe as well as by the newly independent neighboring Balkans states as a region but not as a nation waiting to emerge. In this, the decade-old Macedonian struggle for autonomy and independence pointing to a distinctive Macedonian identity (mislabeled by everyone as “Bulgarian”) was ignored and put aside even by the Bulgarian State that claimed them as their own (Perry, 1988). Nonetheless, the survival of the Macedonian identity and the eventual development of a Macedonian Balkan state after a 100-year long struggle, recognized now by the major powers and by many European states officially as the “Republic of Macedonia,” forces a reconsideration of all these issues; especially, the issue of who these people are that claim the name “Macedonia.” Labeling them as “Skopianoi” and dismissing them as Slav interlopers into Macedonia like the Albanians, Turks and other minority groups, as the Greek Foreign Ministry does, does not come to grips with the underlying problem.
Ethnic Identity of the Modern Macedonians
Given the Balkan War (1912/13) division of Macedonia as a fact, the Greek reader now needs to wake up to the hard reality that there are Macedonians not only in Greece but also outside of Greece in FYROM and Bulgaria. The question now becomes, who are these modern Macedonians? Specifically, what is the ethnic identity of the majority Macedonian dialect-speaker population in all three regions (the Greek-speakers, a small belt lateral to Salonica, running southwest toward Kozani and the Vlach and Arvanite minority speakers amongst them, all have common cultural identity save for dialect which, as it will be argued below, can be explained due to special historical circumstances; i.e., the changing border situation in Macedonia in the Middle Ages due to the ebb and flow of Roman, Eastern Roman and Byzantine Empire control alternating with Slav Empire control - first Bulgarian and then Serbian.
The ethnic identity problem of the modern Macedonian identity thus becomes transformed into a new highly complex problem as it is no longer a matter of weighing of different sources of evidence but a basic scientific question as to what constitutes as evidence to the establishment of an ethnic identity. Importantly, what constitutes as evidence for ethnicity in general and for a specific ethnic identity in particular is an unresolved current scholarly problem. There are also the allied concepts of race and nationality that must be disentangled from the ethnicity concept. While there are objective markers for these allied constructs; at the same time, there are no objective markers for “ethnicity” (Danforth, 1995; Karakasidou, 1997; Curta, 2001). Sparing the reader a deep analysis of the ethnicity concept, its role in ordinary language and logical functions as a scientific concept, one can distinguish three domains of evidence that can serve as sources of evidence that apply to the question of the modern Macedonian ethnic identity or, indeed, to any ethnic identity. These are: historical/political manifestations, as found in historical documents of the recent past; interview self-reports, as found in anthropological or political science field studies; and socio-cultural features characterizing a target ethnic group, as in the earlier example of Herodotus’ criteria for the Hellenic ethnic identity.
As indicated, the first domain of evidence that applies to issues of ethnic identity is the domain of historical/political manifestation. The basic consideration in accepting this domain as a source of evidential material is that, if an ethnic identity exists, it must have documented historical fingerprint marks showing it as an actor/agent influencing or bringing about political/military (or other) international events. This is an obvious necessary condition; but, as it will be made clear, by itself, is insufficient. In the case of the Macedonian identity, there was the decade-long period of events in the early part of the 20th century (actually from 1893 – 1912) in which the Macedonian Slav-speaker majority appears for the first time in history as an actor/agent in the planning and execution of the long drawn out insurgency against Ottoman rule aiming toward autonomy minimally but maximally for independence. This long struggle, especially the outbreak and summer rebellion of 1903 known as the ‘Illinden” uprising ultimately failed as it was a struggle against overwhelming Ottoman Empire Military/Security forces as well as opposed partisan/guerrilla groups sponsored by Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia (Perry, 1988). The insurgency failed also because no outside Great Power intervened as they did earlier for Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria. One problem was that the Macedonians could not establish a linguistic and/or historical continuity with the past as did the other Balkan countries. They were perceived throughout this period, not as ‘Macedonians,’ but as “Bulgarians,” based on language as an identity marker and of course there was also the inherited bad history from the 19th century (Curta, 2001) that depicted them as Slav interlopers into Macedonia with no more legitimacy than the other interlopers, the Albanians, Greeks, Turks, etc. This development had a double negative impact as the Great Powers were inclined on maintaining an international balance regarding the Dardanelles favoring the status-quo (i.e., Ottoman Empire rule) and, thus, had no interest in seeing one more client Balkan state go over to a Russian orbit of influence. Maximally, even if the Macedonians had been accepted as a national identity waiting to emerge as a nation state, their ethnic identity was up for grabs by Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria that claimed them as their own. This style of thinking prevailed even for the next 100 years in the context of the highly politicized Balkan State conceptions of the Macedonians as: “Slavophone Greeks,” “Old Serbs,” “Bulgarians” and “Slav-Macedonians” by FYROM since 1944.
Without going into further technical detail, it must be obvious that there cannot be four Macedonian ethnic identities as the respective historians from each Balkan country, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and FYROM presently argue. The take home message. however, is that evidence based on historical/political manifestation can establish the existence of a national identity but not its nature and that was the undoing of the Macedonians.
The Anthropological Approach. The second domain of evidence that applies is that from field studies with the interview/case history method focused on a target group. The basic consideration here is the empirical “lets ask them” solution which appears to have immediate face validity. Such a study could be carried out either or both as an anthropological or as a political science field study. Accordingly, a Macedonian inhabitant would be asked to state/identify his ethnic identity in his own words as he understands it and also indicate the rationale in defense of his choice; i.e., a choice of a name to designate his ethnic identity: Greek-Macedonian, Bulgarian-Macedonian, Greek, Bulgarian, Slav-Macedonian; or, simply Macedonian [all real examples]. Given that anthropologists define “ethnicity” as a personal cognitive construction (e.g., Danforth, 1995; Karakasidou, 1997; Just. 1991) there is, as it might appear, also a construct validity for this concept. Of such studies, Danforth’s (1995) field study of the Macedonian Diaspora in Australia at the height of the “name” controversy between Greece and FYROM is the most instructive and has had the greatest impact. Danforth interviewed Macedonian immigrants from both the Aegean region in Northern Greece and from the Vardar region in FYROM. They were immigrants largely from the same Florina border province many of who were displaced persons as a result of the 1947-49 civil war in Greece and had gone to Eastern European countries as refugees at the end of the war but mostly those that went to FYROM.
The results, when compiled and assessed, showed two ethnic identities: one calling itself “Greek-Macedonian” and the other, “Slav-Macedonian,” simplistically. “Greek” and “Macedonian.” Given the definition of ethnic identity as a “personal cognitive construction” this is allowable. However, when Danforth looked into the rationales behind each claim, he observed that they were based on a common store of raw materials from the historical past. While this conclusion is open to dispute, the real fatal flaw in this approach is the reported observation of two brothers who claimed to be of a different ethnic identity, one calling himself “Greek” and the other “Macedonian” (earlier, this same phenomenon was also observed in a Macedonian émigré family in Bulgaria, Pribichevich, 1982)). Such claims are not open to dispute given the definition of ethnicity as ‘a personal cognitive construction;’ but, obviously, are an absurdity, as two brothers cannot be of a different ethnic identity. This violates not only common sense but also scientific principle as it shows the effects of acculturation policies in Greece and in FYROM. That is, the differential claim by the two brothers can best be understood as socially desirable answers for two different societies, one in Greece and the other in FYROM. Nonetheless, what is essential here, is that such an approach establishes a minimal requirement for a claim to an ethnic identity; a name, a self-identity designation, by which an ethnic group wishes to be recognized among other people and nations.
Socio-Cultural Characterizations of an Ethnic Identity
The third domain of evidence is that of socio-cultural characterization of a target ethnic identity. This type of evidence is the oldest and, at the same time, the most current. It was first presented by Herodotus (Bowra 1957) with his four markers for the Hellenic identity (common culture, common history, common religion and common language) and most recently by Curta (2001) with his concept of material cultural remains from the past. The associated method for obtaining evidence in this domain, again, involves a field study. It focuses on discovering the presenting socio-cultural characteristics of a target group by which the group wishes to be recognized as an ethnic identity. A partial list of such characteristics would include for example: language, religion, formulaic systems of first and last names, traditions in the home and society, national dress, dances, music and athletic games. The choice of a list is arbitrary; and. also, lists are open-ended – both, sources of weakness in this approach.
The most obvious example where such evidence applies best and provides unambiguous evidence for an inference of an ethnic identity is the Scottish identity. Here, the music, the bagpipes, the patterns of the tartan kilt distinguishing the clans of Scotland, the unique Scottish games in the field; and, finally, the Scottish sword dance over crossed swords which the dancer’s feet must not touch, allows an identification of the Scottish ethnic identity as being separate from the close-by English, Welsh and Irish identities even if one knew nothing of their past history. It is instructive to note, however, that the Scottish version of English would surely be a misleading marker of ethnicity as the English language is the lingua franca in all the British Isles. It is worth emphasizing here that it is an instance where language can be dismissed as a marker or indicator for an ethnic identity.
For the Macedonian identity, one also dismisses language as a marker. Instead, one looks into other socio-cultural features. If language were to be used as valid indicator, then there would no unique Macedonian identity at all just as Arthur J. Evans (Letter to London Times, 1903) had stated a century earlier but only “Bulgarians, Greeks, Turks, Albanians, Gypsies, etc. This would make Macedonia into a multi-ethnic region as was mistakenly viewed in the historical past by Europe and surrounding Balkan countries. However, other socio-cultural features which are shared by all Macedonians point to a common ethnicity; i.e., to a unique Macedonian ethnic identity; and, some but not all, can differentiate the Macedonian ethnic identity apart from that of the Greek, Albanian, Serbian and Bulgarian ethnic identities. As an illustrative example, of the 20 or so leading figures in the native drive to autonomy and independence, only one had a Slavic first name, “Slaveiko.” The rest were common Christian or Greek-based first names. This one observation about first names would point to a non-Slav ethnic identity given the absence of Slavic first names. The other example, the formulaic system for last names is based on a system where some outstanding ancestor’s first name is selected and then the name enters into a formula. For example, given ancestor named “Nestor,” “Na Nestoroi” becomes the standard case for a last name of anyone belonging to that family. It is in the attributive case very much like “O’Malley” is in Irish names or the “Van Dyke” in Dutch names. This formulaic system is not in the possessive case as for Serbian, Bulgarian last names or unfortunately as in the system adopted in FYROM. In this manner, the formulaic last name system differentiates the Macedonians from their neighbors.
More clear-cut evidence is from the native dress for men and dances. As shown in the accompanying picture, the formal dress for a Macedonian is a pale white single piece called a “Foustan,” with knee-length single row of cotton pleats from the waist down, with a red or black colored vest over it held in place with a cord and a sash at the waist, with tight pale-white woolen leggings down from the hips, with black tassels at the knee cap and sandals as footwear. Moreover, the obvious warrior’s dance depicted in the picture provides a link with the distant past, the “telesias,” a warrior’s dance of the ancient Macedonians (Borza, 1990). Unlike the Greek and southern Albanian “foustanella”, the Macedonian “foustan” is a dress - not a kilt, but a single piece reminiscent of the Cheiton of an ancient Macedonian soldier as found in a wall painting in a burial tomb at Vergina in Northern Greece. While the representative picture tells the entire story about the Macedonian ethnic identity especially of the Vardar Macedonians of the Republic of Macedonia (formerly a part of Yugoslavia), there are many other links to the past, such as obvious Homeric traditions in the home where symbolic items are placed alongside a new-born (e.g., a pistol, a book, and a golden coin) asking the three fates for a desired direction in the child’s future. There are also the current Lake Doiran “bird” fisherman which Herodotus had earlier observed in Macedonia (Pribichevich, 1982). In this style of fishing, trained birds are released to fly over lake waters toward the fisherman so that the schools of fish below are driven toward the waiting nets by shadows cast on the lake surface. While sparse, such types of evidence show a link rather than a break with the distant past and together with the additional revelations found in Curta’s (2001) book, the simplest conclusion is that the Macedonians are Macedonian whether in the Aegean, Vardar or Pirin regions and can no longer be dismissed as Slav interlopers with no valid claim to the name, Macedonia. Such an understanding of the Macedonian identity is becoming dimly aware even by Macedonians of FYROM given that after 50 years in a south Slav culture, they can now wake-up to recast their history. A similar lesson is now being imposed on Greece by the Great powers and the rest of the international community. Thus, there is no reason for the name issue to continue to poison the waters between Greece and Macedonia. It is a non-issue. Moreover, there is a firm agreement on respecting existing borders.
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Ernest N. Damianopoulos, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Research Service 151
VA Medical Center
800 Irving Avunue
Syracuse, NY 13210
Phone: 315 425 4400 x 53558