How can a woman give birth to one Greek and one Macedonian?

Macedonians in Greece | 0 comments


The research on which this essay is based was carried out in Melbourne, Australia in 1991-92 and was generously supported by a Fulbright Scholar Award. I would like to express my appreciation to the members of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Melbourne for their kind hospitality. I would also like to thank the many people from Florina living in Melbourne who were willing to talk with me about the complex and emotionally-charged issue of national identity and the Macedonian conflict. A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities enabled me to spend the 1992-93 academic year working on the larger project of which this essay is part, a book tentatively entitled The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World. Finally,

I would like to thank several colleagues whose friendship, encouragement, and constructive criticism I value very highly: Victor Friedman, Michael Herzfeld, Gregory Jusdanis, Roger Just, Anastasia Karakasidou, and Riki Van Boeschoten.

Loring M. Danforth is professor of anthropology at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and the author of The Death Rituals of Rural Greece and Firewalking and Religious Healing (both published by Princeton University Press).


The construction of national identity at the individual level is a phenomenon that has not been adequately addressed by recent work on ethnic nationalism. I attempt to remedy this situation by examining the case of immigrants from northern Greece to Australia who share a common regional or ethnic identity as “local Macedonians” but who have been forced to chose between two different and mutually exclusive national identities – Greek and Macedonian – as a result of the recent politicization of the Macedonian conflict. In my analysis of the indigenous theories of identity used by immigrants from northern Greece to Australia as they argue about what nationality they really are, I hope to move beyond oversimplified nationalist rhetoric dealing with immutable biological essences and arrive at a deeper understanding of the complex historical, political, and cultural processes by which individuals construct and negotiate the identities that give meaning to their lives. [national identity, nationalist ideology, Macedonia, Greece, Australia]

Most scholarly work on ethnic nationalism has focused on the construction of national identity as a large-scale collective phenomenon and as a long-term historical process. It has not paid sufficient attention to the construction of national identity as a short-term biographical process that takes place over the course of the life-time of specific individuals. For this reason, as Eric Hobsbawm has pointed out (1990:78), much too little is known about people’s ‘thoughts and feelings towards the nationalities and nation-states which claim their loyalties.”

any important questions are raised by focusing attention on the construction of national identity at the individual level. How do people develop a sense of national identity? How do they choose a national identity when more than one possibility is available to them? How is this identity transmitted from one generation to the next? How and why do people change their national identity? Finally, how is it possible for residents of the same village and even members of the same family to adopt different national identities.

In this paper I explore these questions through an analysis of the indigenous theories of identity used by people from the region of Florina in northern Greece who have emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, when they argue about whether they are Greeks or Macedonians. These people, the majority of whom speak both Greek and Macedonian, share a common ethnic identity: they are “local Macedonians.”[1] However, as a result of the recent intensification of the nationalist conflict between Greeks and Macedonians over which group has the right to identify itself as Macedonians, immigrants from Greek Macedonia to Australia have been forced to make a difficult decision and adopt one of two mutually exclusive national identities: they must chose whether to be Greeks or Macedonians. What is more, they must do so in Australia, an explicitly multicultural society where ethnic and national identity is more freely and self-consciously constructed than it is in the nation-states of the Balkans with their claims of national purity and homogeneity.

The Construction of National Identity

In nationalist ideologies the national identity of a person is usually regarded as something permanent, innate, and immutable. It is often thought to consist of some natural or spiritual essence which is identified with a person’s blood or soul. While generally avoiding such overtly biological or spiritual metaphors, much anthropological writing has held that people share a particular ethnic or national identity because they possess certain cultural traits in common, because they share a common culture. People are Greek, in other words, because they speak Greek, have Greek names, and attend the Greek church.[2]

It was the work of Fredrik Barth (1969) that was largely responsible for the rejection by many anthropologists of this essentialist notion of ethnic, and by extension, national identity. Instead of defining ethnic groups as “culture bearing units,” groups whose members share a common culture which distinguishes them from members of other groups, Barth defined them as “categories of ascription and identification.” According to this approach the crucial feature of ethnic identity is “the characteristic of self ascription and ascription by others” (1969:10-13). Barth’s insights make it possible to understand how the boundaries between ethnic and national groups are able to persist despite the fact that people are constantly flowing across them, how ethnic and national categories are maintained despite the fact that membership in these categories is always changing.

Once the assertion of ethnic or national identity is no longer equated with “belonging to” a particular culture or exhibiting certain cultural traits, once it is understood as a form of political consciousness, as an often explicit and self-conscious political choice, then we are in a position to understand how separate groups with distinctly different identities can exist even when there are no “objectivett cultural differences that distinguish between them. Because the existence of these two groups and of the boundary between them depends exclusively on the “subjective experience of difference” (Sahlins 1989:270), it is possible for people who share a common culture to adopt different ethnic or national identities. Once we abandon the notion that adopting a particular identity is necessarily the result of being a member of a certain culture, we can consider the reverse: that being or becoming a member of a certain culture is rather the result of adopting a particular identity. In other words, people may ~not in fact be Greek because they speak Greek, have Greek names, and attend the Greek church. On the contrary, they may speak Greek (and not one of the other languages they know), use the Greek (and not the Slavic) form of their names, and attend the Greek (and not the Macedonian) church because they are Greek, that is, because they have chosen to identify themselves as Greek.

Barth’s work also emphasizes the active role individuals play in what are often highly contested struggles involving the creation and distribution of new identities. While states with their powerful military, educational, and ecclesiastical bureaucracies often attempt to impose national identities from above, it is ultimately the individual who chooses what national identity to adopt, or in some cases whether to adopt any national identity at all. Such a situational approach to identity not only avoids the problems associated with a reified and essentialist approach, in which the assertion of a particular identity is equated with the possession of some natural or spiritual essence, or even the possession of certain cultural traits. It also draws attention to the fact that identity “is a socially constructed, variable definition of self or other, whose existence and meaning is continuously negotiated, revised and revitalized” (Nagel 1993:2).[3]

In a recent study entitled Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America Mary Waters (1990) documents the fact that identities often changes through time, both over the life cycle and across generations. Parents may try to hide or deny a particular identity that their children “rediscover” as they approach adulthood themselves. An identity may be adopted if world political events give it enhanced prestige, or conversely it may be shed if it becomes stigmatized. Often these changes in identity are not perceived by the actors themselves as changes, but are seen as the correction of an error or the achievement of a new insight that is accurate in contrast to the earlier perception that was in error.

Given the common nationalist view of the immutability of identity, conversion from one identity to another is bound to raise serious questions of authenticity and legitimacy, for if national identity is a fact of nature, something determined by blood or by birth, then it is “unnatural,” if not impossible, to change it. As Handler (1988:51) puts it, from a nationalist perspective people “cannot choose what they naturally are.” The new identities people ascribe to themselves, therefore, are often challenged or even rejected by others. This is particularly the true case when national identity is manipulated in an obvious way to serve personal self-interest (Sahlins 1989:223). When the construction of identity is contested in this manner, the criteria people use to define their identity and assess its legitimacy are often explicitly cited. Such arguments over the relevance of various criteria for the determination of group membership make the process of identity formation unusually accessible to anthropological analysis.

A situational approach to identity, while taking into consideration the role of personal choice in the process of identity formation, must also remain sensitive to the role played by external factors that limit or constrain the choices individuals face as they construct the identities that shape their lives. For an identity formation is not entirely a matter of self–ascription; it is a matter of ascription by others as well. Identities are shaped or structured by powerful political, economic, social, and cultural forces, the most important of which inevitably involve the hegemonic power of the state. State policies, the ideologies that legitimate them, and the institutions and organizations that realize them, all influence the process of identity formation as individuals are socialized and become citizens of particular states. To a great extent states have the power and the resources to determine what choices are available to people and what the rewards or the sanctions will be when they exercise these choices and adopt specific identities.

The degree to which state hegemony constrains individual choice in the construction of national identities varies tremendously. At one end of the spectrum stand nation-states whose ideologies of national homogeneity and ethnic purity lead them to limit quite narrowly the choices available to their citizens. Despite the best efforts of a nation-state to ensure that all its citizens develop one and the same national identity, however, the hegemonic power of the state is never absolute. Some individuals are always willing to endure severe persecution by asserting an identity that defines them as members of an ethnic or national minority. At the other end of the spectrum stand countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia, whose democratic and pluralist ideologies place significantly fewer constraints on the identities their citizens may adopt. In the case of third or fourth generation immigrants from Europe the choice of identity may become sufficiently fluid and free from stigma that one can begin to speak of ethnicity as a “lifestyle choice” or a “matter of taste,” something to be adopted one day and discarded the next (Jusdanis nd:27).[4]

The construction of identity among immigrants from nation-states in the Balkans who have settled in large pluralist democracies is a particularly complex process because it is influenced by hegemonic constructions that have their origins in both the countries where they were born and the countries where they have settled. These immigrants bring with them identities constructed in their homelands and face the challenge of reconstructing them in the diaspora. From the perspective of these immigrants themselves, particularly those whose identities were denied in their homelands, the most salient feature of the politics of identity in the diaspora is the fact that they now enjoy the freedom to express an identity which they were unable to express freely before.[5]

For the purpose of understanding the role of diaspora communities in the transnational conflict between Greeks and Macedonians, it is precisely this point which is most relevant. While many groups experience serious discrimination in the United States, Canada, and Australia, for white immigrants from Europe full enjoyment of the rights of citizenship in these countries is compatible with a fairly wide range of ethnic identities. Immigrants who are members of national minorities in the Balkans, for example, experience considerably more freedom to assert their identities in the United States, Canada, and Australia than they do in their countries of origin. More specifically, it is much easier to be a Macedonian in Australia than it is in northern Greece. Macedonians in Australia acknowledge this with their frequent expressions of gratitude and appreciation for the fact that in Australia they enjoy the right to express freely their identity as Macedonians. They often add with bitter irony that Macedonians in Greece, the “birthplace of democracy,” do not enjoy these same rights.

From an anthropological perspective, however, it is clear that while Macedonians in Australia do enjoy a degree of freedom with respect to the expression of their ethnic identity that is not available to them in Greece, the choices facing them in Australia are certainly not unlimited. They are constrained by a complex set of hegemonic forces that have to do with both multicultural politics in Australia and nationalist politics in the Balkans. From the perspective of the English-speaking majority which dominates Australian society at all levels it makes very little difference whether immigrants from northern Greece identify themselves as Greeks or Macedonians. Regardless of their choice of identity at this level, however, immigrants from northern Greece remain “Europeans,” “ethnics,” or “people of non-English speaking background,” as opposed to “real Australians.”[6]

Immigrants from northern Greece to Australia, like immigrants to Australia from anywhere else in the world, encounter constraints in the process of constructing new identities for themselves in another sense as well. Their choices are limited by the ethnic categories that exist in the official discourse of Australian multiculturalism and that dominate government bureaucracies, social service agencies, and the educational system. Immigrants choose from among the many “ethnic communities” which together constitute Australian society; they become members of the “Italian community,” the “Polish community,” or the “Turkish community.”

It should be immediately apparent that the ethnic categories of Australian multicultural discourse replicate or reproduce almost precisely the national categories of nationalist discourses throughout the world. Immigrants from the Balkans to Australia have more freedom to chose an identity than their fellow villagers they left behind, but the choices they face are essentially the same. Whether they live in Australia or the Balkans, they must be Serbs or Croats, Greeks or Macedonians.

The truth of Pellizzi’s (1988:155) observation that “in exile nations become ethnicities is confirmed by the parallels that exist between the construction of national identities in the Balkans and the construction of ethnic identities in Australia. The disintegration of Yugoslavia and the emergence of Croatian, Serbian, and Macedonian national identities in the Balkans is part of the same transnational chain of events that has led to the demise of the Yugoslav community in Australia and the development there of Croatian, Serbian, and Macedonian communities. The hegemony of national categories of identity is such that even in multicultural Australia they cannot be escaped. In Australia, as in northern Greece, it is difficult for people to preserve or construct regional or ethnic identities that have no counterpart at the national level. It is difficult for them to resist becoming either Greek or Macedonian and to remain simply “local Macedonians.”

Any analysis of the process by which ethnic and national identities are constructed at the individual level must also take into consideration the fact that such identities are situational but that they are also multiple. People have many collective identities each of which may be relevant in different ways and at different times. While national identity may be one of the broadest and most all-inclusive identities a person has, it certainly does not exclude or even transcend in importance other identities which define individuals as social beings (Hobsbawm 1990:11). Local, regional, ethnic, national, and even transnational identities may all coexist and together constitute important aspects of an individual’s overall identity, not to mention other forms of collective identity based on religion, class, gender, or age. The precise nature of the relationships among these different identities – whether they coexist without conflict or whether they are mutually exclusive – varies greatly. For example, while it may be politically acceptable to be both Greek and Australian, it may not be politically acceptable to be both Greek and German.

One aspect of the construction of collective identities that is central to the study of ethnic nationalism is the process by which individuals who have previously defined themselves primarily in terms of regional or ethnic identities often associated with rural villages, local dialects, and oral cultures, come to acquire a sense of national identity associated with “a literate high culture which is co-extensive with an entire political unit and its total population” (GelIner 1983:95). Cultivating a sense of national identity in people who previously did not have one – turning “peasants into Frenchmen” (Weber 1976) -not to mention instilling the “proper” national identity in people who have somehow managed to acquire the “wrong” one, is the ultimate goal of all national movements. Needless to say, it is a long, complex process that may take place peacefully or violently, and that may destroy as many identities as it creates.

This is particularly true in the case of an ethnic group that inhabits a frontier zone on the border between two nation-states, each of which attempts to impose a different national identity on members of the contested group. With the nationalization of ethnic identities and the politicization of local cultures, a national identity develops like a thin veneer on top of preexisting regional or ethnic identities. Gradually the ethnic group whose territory is divided by a national boundary splits as its members develop two different and mutually exclusive national identities.

For the local Macedonians from the region of Florina in northern Greece this process, which had its beginnings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is still continuing in the 1990s both in northern Greece as well as in diaspora communities in Canada and Australia. Inhabitants of the same villages, members of the same families, who have adopted different national identities, continue to argue about whether they are Greeks or Macedonians. They continue to argue about what nationality they really are.

The Macedonian Question in Balkan History

Macedonia is a vaguely defined geographical area in the southern Balkans. It includes the territory of the Republic of Macedonia (which prior to its declaration of independence in September, 1991 was the southernmost republic in the former Yugoslavia) as well as territory in southwestern Bulgaria and north-central Greece.

The Macedonian Question has dominated Balkan history and politics for over a hundred years. During the Ottoman period, which lasted in Macedonia from the fourteenth century until 1913, the population of Macedonia included an amazing number of different ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups, including Slavic and Greek speaking Christians, Turkish and Albanian speaking Moslems, Vlachs, Jews, and Gypsies. Toward the end of the nineteenth century the population of Macedonia was increasingly being defined from various external nationalist perspectives in terms of national categories such as Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Albanians, and Turks. Ottoman authorities, however, continued to divide the population of the empire into administrative units, or millets on the basis of religious identity rather than language, ethnicity, or nationality.

The hegemony which the Greeks exercised over the Orthodox Christian millet was seriously challenged for the first time by the establishment of an independent Bulgarian Church in 1870. Orthodox communities in the Macedonia now had the choice of affiliating with either the Greek or the Bulgarian national church. This marked an intensification of the “Macedonian Struggle” in which Greek, Bulgarian, and to a lesser extent Serbian, irredentist claims came into conflict over who would gain control over the people and the territory of Macedonia. By the 1890s the three Balkan states were all fielding irregular bands of guerrilla fighters who attacked the Turks, fought each other, and terrorized the local population. In addition, through the construction of churches and schools and the assignment of priests and teachers each state was conducting an intense propaganda campaign, whose goal was to instill the “proper” sense of national identity among the Orthodox Christians of Macedonia. The Macedonian Struggle reached its climax in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, which ended with the partitioning of Macedonia among Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia (later Yugoslavia).

Since 1913 the fates of the Slavic-speaking inhabitants of Bulgarian (Pirin) Macedonia, Greek (Aegean) Macedonia, and Yugoslav (Vardar) Macedonia have varied considerably. With the exception of a brief period following World War II the Bulgarian government has officially denied the existence of a Macedonian nation, arguing instead that all the Slavs of Macedonia are Bulgarians. Since that time its policy toward the Macedonians in Bulgaria has been one of forced assimilation into mainstream Bulgarian society.

The Greek government has also consistently denied the existence of both a Macedonian nation and a Macedonian minority in northern Greece and has adopted a policy of forced assimilation toward he Slavic-speaking inhabitants of Greek Macedonia. After 1913 all Slavic personal and place names were Hellenized, and all evidence of the existence of Slavic literacy was destroyed. As a result of the population exchanges which took place between Greece and Bulgaria and Greece and Turkey in the 1920s, the number of people in Greek Macedonia who had a sense of Greek national identity increased substantially.

Under the Metaxas dictatorship of 1936-40 repression of the Slavic speakers, who by this time had increasingly begun to identify themselves as Macedonians, was particularly severe: people who spoke Macedonian were beaten, fined, and imprisoned. After the Greek Civil War (1946-49), in which many Macedonians supported the unsuccessful Communist cause, some 35,000 Macedonians fled (or were forced to flee) to Yugoslavia and other
countries in eastern Europe (Kofos 1964:186). In the decades that followed, conservative Greek governments continued this policy of persecution and assimilation, perhaps the most egregious examples of which were the “language oaths” administered in several Macedonian villages, which required Macedonians to swear that they would renounce their “Slavic dialect” and from then on speak only Greek (Pribichevich 1982:246).

Until World War II the official Serbian (and Yugoslav) position was that the Slavs of Macedonia did not constitute a distinct ethnic or national group, but that they were all “South Serbs.” On August 2, 1944, however, Tito and the leaders of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia established the People’s Republic of Macedonia with its capital of Skopje as one of the states of the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. At this time the existence of a Macedonian nation was officially recognized. By 1950 a standard literary Macedonian language had been developed, and in 1967 an autonomous Macedonian Orthodox Church was established. In this way Macedonians achieved a significant degree of cultural autonomy, even if they failed to achieve complete national independence.

With the death of Tito in 1980, the constraints which the central Yugoslav government had placed on the expression of Macedonian nationalism were gradually loosened. As Yugoslavia finally began to collapse in the early 1990s, the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, in a referendum held on September 8, 1991, voted overwhelmingly in favor of initiating the process of establishing a completely sovereign and independent Macedonian state.

The fledgling state of Macedonia, however, faced a difficult struggle for international recognition because of the fierce opposition mounted by Greece to what Greeks claim to be the misappropriation by a Slavic pe6ple of the name Macedonia, a name that “was, is, and always will be Greek.” At the insistence of Greece, therefore, in December, 1991, the European Community stated that it would not recognize the Republic of Macedonia until it guaranteed that it had no territorial claims against any neighboring state and that it would not engage in hostile acts against any such state, including the use of a name which implied territorial claims. After the Macedonian government provided constitutional guarantees that it would respect the inviolability of all international borders and refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of other states, an EC Arbitration Commission found that Macedonia fulfilled all conditions for recognition. In addition, it specifically stated that the use of the name “Macedonia” did not imply territorial claims toward a neighboring state. In spite of this, however, in January, 1992, at the insistence of Greece the European Community refused to recognize the Republic of Macedonia.

During this period an incredible variety of alternative names were proposed for Macedonia. Officially the Greek government refused to accept any name for the Republic which included the word “Macedonia” in any form whether “as a noun or as an adjectival modifier.” Proposed solutions to the dilemma ranged from names like Dardania and Paeonia (used in antiquity to designate regions to the north of ancient Macedonia), to names like South Slavia, the Vardar Republic, the Central Balkan Republic, and the Republic of Skopje, all of which were acceptable to Greece. Other compromise solutions, which were not acceptable to Greece, included Northern Macedonia, New Macedonia, and the Slavic Republic of Macedonia. At one point Greece even suggested that the Republic adopt two names, one official name for external use (which could not include the word “Macedonia”) and one unofficial name for internal consumption (which could include the word “Macedonia”). All these solutions, however, were rejected by the Republic itself, which insisted that it would only accept recognition under its constitutional name: the Republic of Macedonia.

In December, 1992, the dispute shifted from the capitals of the member states of the European Community to New York City, when the Republic of Macedonia applied for admission to the United Nations. The governments of both Greece and Macedonia were ready to compromise when a plan was proposed according to which the Republic would be admitted to the United Nations under the temporary or provisional name “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” with a permanent name to be chosen later through a process of mediation. In April, 1993, the Security Council voted unanimously to admit “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” as a member of the United Nations. The Republic, however, was not allowed to fly its flag, the sixteen-ray sun or star of Vergina, at the United Nations headquarters because this was an ancient Macedonians symbol (which was found in Greece) and is therefore a Greek national symbol.

Finally, in December, 1993, just before Greece was to assume the rotating presidency of the European Community, six members of the European Community – Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, and the Netherlands – decided to recognize the Republic of Macedonia and establish full diplomatic relations with it. When the United States and Australia recognized the Republic in February, 1994, Greece responded by imposing an economic blockade against the Republic, a move that evoked widespread condemnation and prompted the other members of what was now the European Union to bring Greece before the European Court of Justice on charges of having violated European Union trade rules.[7]

Competing Claims to Macedonian Identity

According to the Greek nationalist position on the Macedonian Question, because Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians were Greeks, and because ancient and modern Greece are bound in an unbroken line of racial and cultural continuity, it is only Greeks who have the right to identify themselves as Macedonians, not the Slavs of southern Yugoslavia, who settled in Macedonia in the sixth century AD and who called themselves “Bulgarians” until 1944.[8] Greeks, therefore, generally refer to Macedonians as “Skopians,” (from Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia) a practice comparable to calling Greeks “Athenians.” The negation of Macedonian identity in Greek nationalist ideology focuses on three main points: the existence of a Macedonian nation, a Macedonian language, and a Macedonian minority in Greece. From the Greek nationalist perspective there cannot be a Macedonian nation since there has never been an independent Macedonian state: the Macedonian nation is an “artificial creation,” an “invention,” of Tito, who “baptized” a “mosaic of nationalities” with the Greek name “Macedonians.”

Similarly Greek nationalists claim that because the language spoken by the ancient Macedonians was Greek, the Slavic language spoken by the “Skopians” cannot be called “the Macedonian language.” Greek sources generally refer to it as “the linguistic idiom of Skopje” and describe it as a corrupt and impoverished dialect of Bulgarian. Finally, the Greek government denies the existence of a Macedonian minority in northern Greece, claiming that there exists only a small group of “Slavophone Hellenes” or “bilingual Greeks,” who speak Greek and “a local Slavic dialect” but have a “Greek national consciousness” (Kofos 1964:226).

From the Greek nationalist perspective, then, the use of the name “Macedonian” by the “Slavs of Skopje” constitutes a “felony,” an “act of plagiarism” against the Greek people. By calling themselves “Macedonians” the Slavs are “stealing” a Greek name; they are “embezzling” Greek cultural heritage; they are “falsifying” Greek history. As Evangelos Kofos, a historian employed by the Greek Foreign Ministry told a foreign reporter, “It is as if a robber came into my house and stole my most precious jewels – my history, my culture, my identity” (The Boston Globe Jan. 5, 1993, p.9). Greek fears that use of the name “Macedonia” by Slavs will inevitably lead to the assertion of irredentist claims to territory in Greek Macedonia are heightened by fairly recent historical events. During World War II Bulgaria occupied portions of northern Greece, while one of the specific goals of the founders of the People’s Republic of Macedonia in 1944 was “the unification of the entire Macedonian nation,” to be achieved by “the liberation of the other two segments” of Macedonia (Andonov–Poljanski 1985 Vol 2:607).

Macedonians, on the other hand, are committed to affirming their existence as a unique people with a unique history, culture, and identity, and to gaining recognition of this fact internationally. In asserting what they sometimes refer to as their “ethnospecificity” Macedonians insist they are not Serbs, Yugoslavs, Bulgarians, or Greeks. They also reject hyphenated names such as Yugoslav-Macedonian or Greek-Macedonian as “divisive labels” indicative of a “partition mentality” that needs to be overcome. There are no Slav -Macedonians, either, anymore than there are Slav-Russians or Slav-Poles. According to many Macedonians, Greeks and Bulgarians who live in Macedonia (whose nationality is Greek or Bulgarian) may identify themselves as “Macedonians,” but in a regional or geographical sense only.

Extreme Macedonian nationalists, who are concerned with demonstrating the continuity between ancient and modern Macedonians, deny that they are Slavs and claim to be the direct descendants of Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians. The more moderate Macedonian position, generally adopted by better educated Macedonians and publicly endorsed by Kiro Gligorov, the first president of the newly independent Republic of Macedonia, is that modern Macedonians have no relation to Alexander the Great, but are a Slavic people whose ancestors arrived in Macedonia in the sixth century AD. Proponents of both the extreme and the moderate Macedonian positions stress that the ancient Macedonians were a distinct non-Greek people.

In addition to affirming the existence of the Macedonian nation, Macedonians are concerned with affirming the existence of a unique Macedonian language as well. While acknowledging the similarities between Macedonian and other South Slavic languages, they point to the distinctions that set it apart as a separate language. They also emphasize that although standard literary Macedonian was only formally created and recognized in 1944, the Macedonian language has a history of over a thousand years dating back to the Old Church Slavonic used by Sts. Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century.

Although all Macedonians agree that Macedonian minorities exist in Bulgaria and Greece and that these minorities have been subjected to harsh policies of forced assimilation, there are two different positions with regard to what their future should be. The goal of more extreme Macedonian nationalists is to create a “free, united, and independent Macedonia” by “liberating” the parts of Macedonia “temporarily occupied” by Bulgaria and Greece. More moderate Macedonian nationalists recognize the inviolability of the Bulgarian and Greek borders and explicitly renounce any territorial claims against the two countries. They do, however, demand that Bulgaria and Greece recognize the existence of Macedonian minorities in their countries and grant them the basic human rights they deserve.[9]

Greeks and Macedonians in Multicultural Australia

Since the end of World War II immigration has dramatically transformed the nature of Australian society. In 1947 Australia’s population stood at just under seven million people, 90% of whom were English-speaking and Australian-born. With the arrival of over four million immigrants during the next forty years Australian society became one of the most ethnically diverse in the world. By 1988, the year it celebrated its bi-centenary, Australia had a population of over sixteen million people who came from more than 100 different ethnic groups. Over 20% of its population were immigrants, and 20% more were Australian-born children of at least one immigrant parent.

Until the early 1970s Australia’s immigration program was dominated by a “White Australia Policy” and a firm commitment to the doctrine of assimilation. The goal of this program was to insure that Australia remained a homogeneous, English-speaking society dominated by an “Anglo-Celtic” majority. In the early 1970s, however, the Labor government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam adopted an explicit policy of multiculturalism, a policy of cultural pluralism based on two fundamental principles: “the recognition and affirmation of the diverse cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds of the Australian people, and the promotion of equality of opportunity for all Australians regardless of their backgrounds” (Jupp 1988:926).

This shift in policy constituted an implicit recognition of the basic demographic facts of Australia’s immigration history. Not only had assimilation not occurred, but members of cultural and linguistic minorities had failed to achieve a significant degree of upward social mobility. The adoption of a multicultural policy also implied an awareness that assimilation was an unrealistic policy and that cultural pluralism did not in fact present a real threat to the cohesion of Australian society. The ultimate goal, then, of Australian multiculturalism was the creation of national unity while at the same maintaining the diversity and complexity of a polyethnic society.

The rise of multiculturalism as the dominant ideology governing many aspects of Australian society was motivated in part by the increasing assertiveness of second and third generation “ethnic Australians.” This new attitude led to the growth of ethnic community organizations and migrant groups which in turn made significant demands on the Australian government at both the state and federal levels to provide “new Australians” with improved social services particularly in the areas of education and welfare. As a result the principle that interest groups based on the ethnic identity of their members were legitimate elements in the formulation and administration of government policies gained widespread acceptance. [10]

In many ways the multicultural nature of Australian society is epitomized by the city of Melbourne, the capital of the state of Victoria, located in south-eastern Australia on the Yarra river at the head of Port Philip Bay. Melbourne, with a population of 3.2 million people, is the second largest city in Australia, as well as the most heavily industrialized. While overall 25% of Melbourne’s population is “overseas-born,” in some working-class areas of the city this percentage rises to 40%. When the children of the “overseas born” are included, these percentages double. Almost 75% of the “overseas-born” in Melbourne are from Europe, while approximately 20% of the total population of the city speak a language other than English in the home.[11]

According to the 1986 census 337,000 people in Australia stated that they were of Greek ancestry, and 148,000 of them (44%) lived in Victoria. Of the 138,000 people in Australia who listed Greece as their birthplace 66,000 lived in Melbourne. According to the same census, of the 277,000 who stated that they spoke Greek at home, 113,000 lived in Melbourne.[12] Greek is spoken by more Australians than all other languages except English and Italian.

In the 1970s the Greek population of Melbourne was concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods such as Northcote, South Melbourne, and Richmond. By the late 1980s, however, many Greeks had moved to middle-distance and outer metropolitan suburbs such as Preston, Thomastown, and Lalor. While Greeks in general remained employed in low-skilled jobs in manufacturing and in the retail trades, many second generation Greeks have experienced a significant degree of upward social mobility.

The Greek community of Melbourne is one of the largest in the entire Greek diaspora; it is also one of the most visible and active ethnic communities in a city renowned for its cultural diversity and cosmopolitanism. At the heart of the Greek community of Melbourne are 36 Greek Orthodox Churches and over 100 clubs, societies, and associations that are based on place of origin in Greece. There are also a multitude of women’s groups, youth groups, and pensioners’ clubs, as well as many athletic, philanthropic, cultural, political, and professional organizations. Modern Greek is taught in 25 elementary schools and 30 secondary schools in Melbourne and in all four universities in the city. In addition, the Greek community of Melbourne has a large, well-organized system of private ethnic schools. It is also served by several Greek newspapers and several private Greek radio stations. Finally, the Greek Consulate General in Melbourne, with its Office of Press and Information and its Educational Advisor, plays a prominent role in the affairs of the Greek community there. [13]

According to the estimate of the ethnic composition of the Australian population prepared for the Bicentenary in 1988 (Jupp 1988:124), there are 75,000 people of Macedonian ethnic origin in Australia, 46,000 of whom are thought to have come from the Republic of Macedonia in the former Yugoslavia, 28,000 to have come from Greece, and 1,000 from Bulgaria. In an essay on the Macedonians prepared for the Jupp volume, Peter Hill estimates that there may actually be as many as 100,000 people of Macedonian ancestry in Australia (1988:691).

Census data on the Macedonian community of Australia are extremely unreliable for several reasons. Until recently Australian census forms asked people simply to list “country of origin” for themselves and their parents. People who identified themselves as Macedonians, therefore, appeared in the Australian census data as “Bulgarian-born,” “Yugoslav-born,” or “Greek-born.” In the 1986 census people were asked for the first time to state their “ancestry,” defined in an information booklet accompanying the census forms as “the ethnic or national group from which you are descended.” At this time 42,000 people in Australia listed their ancestry as Macedonian. 21,000 of them were born in Yugolsavia, 4,000 of them were born in Greece, while the rest of them were born in Australian. Almost half of the people of Macedonian ancestry in Australia lived in Victoria, the vast majority of them in Melbourne. According to the 1986 census there were 46,000 people in Australia who spoke Macedonian at home, 21,000 of whom lived in Melbourne.[14]

The Macedonian community of Melbourne is similar to its Greek counterpart in many ways. It is, however, significantly smaller in size. There are only 4 Macedonian churches in Melbourne; Macedonian is taught at only five primary schools, six high schools and at none of the universities in Melbourne; and there are no private ethnic schools run by the Macedonian community. Furthermore, because it has a much smaller educated and professional elite than the Greek community, and because there is no Macedonian consulate to support its activities, the Macedonian community of Melbourne plays a much less influential role in the cultural and political life of the city.

While the Greek community is divided in many ways, the Macedonian community is even more divided. The major division in the Macedonian community is that between immigrants from Yugoslav (or Vardar) Macedonia and immigrants from Greek (or Aegean) Macedonia. Because many Aegean Macedonians arrived in Australia in the 1950s, while the largest number of of Vardar Macedonians emigrated to Australia in the late 1960s, the Aegean Macedonian community is better established in Melbourne — its members speak better English and have enjoyed more upwardly mobility. In addition, the two communities have different geographical centers. The majority of Aegean Macedonians in Melbourne live in the northern suburbs of Preston, Thomastown, Lalor, and Epping, while the Vardar Macedonians of Melbourne are concentrated in the western suburbs of Footscray, Sunshine, Altona and Keilor.[15]

This description of the Greek and the Macedonian communities of Australia has been presented as an account two dichotomous and mutually exclusive national groups — Greeks and Macedonians. Such an account, however, replicates and perpetuates the hegemonic constructions of both Australian multicultural discourse and Balkan nationalist discourse. In doing so it obscures the fact that there exists a group of people from the region of Florina and from other areas of northern Greece, who speak both Greek and Macedonian, who share one common regional or ethnic identity, that of “local Macedonians,” but who have been divided into two hostile factions, each of which has adopted a different national identity. These are the people whose lives have been most dramatically affected by the recent politicization of the Macedonian Question. Individual villages and families have been split, with one villager, one brother, identifying as a Greek, the other as a Macedonian.

In many cases the choices made and the postions taken in the present have parallels in the past. There are also, of course, many cases where new choices are made and new identities constructed. Some migrants to Melbourne who identify themselves as Greeks have seen their children grow up and come to identify themselves as Macedonians.

There are many factors that influence the process of identity formation as it takes place among immigrants from Florina to Australia. Balkan history, village politics, family situation, and individual biography all play important parts in this complex process. People may identify themselves as Greeks for a variety of reasons. They may come from a village that supported the Patriarch in the early twentieth century or a family that supported the Greek government during the Civil War. They may come from a wealthy family or have grown up in the city of Florina itself, or they may simply have been the youngest child in the family and grown up speaking Greek in the home because their older brothers and sisters had already started school. They may have left Greece as adults, having been fully socialized into Greek national society as a result of completing high school or serving in the military. Alternatively they may be involved in a profession that can be practiced more readily in the Greek community of Melbourne with its large private educational system and its well-established professional and business elite. They may also have married into a family with strong sense of Greek national identity. Finally, they may be afraid that if they publicly identify themselves as Macedonians, they may not be able to return to Greece or that their relatives still living in Greece may be harassed by Greek government officials. One person, for example, refused to discuss the Macedonian issue with me, saying “It’s too political, too dangerous. I don’t want to talk. The people in the Pan-Macedonian Association might find out what I said, and I’d get in trouble.”

People from Florina may identify as Macedonians for a variety of reasons as well. They may come from a village that supported the Exarch in the early twentieth century or a family that supported the communists during the Civil War. They may have been born in a small, poor village inhabited exclusively by local Macedonians, or they may have been the oldest child in the family and grown up speaking Macedonian with their parents and grandparents. Alternatively, they may have left Greece for Australia at a very young age and may not have been fully socialized into Greek national society, but only into the “local” society of their family and village. People who left Greece after the Civil War, settled in Yugoslavia or some other Eastern European country, and then emigrated to Australia from there, are almost certain to have adopted a Macedonian national identity. People who remained in Greece, but who experienced harassment and persecution at the hands of the Greek government in the years following the Civil War, may also have developed a Macedonian identity. Finally, people who marry into a family with a strong Macedonian identity or who have no relatives still living in Greece are likely to develop a Macedonian identity as well.

Some local Macedonians from Florina living in Australia have adopted a third stance with regard to the question of national identity. They attempt to maintain a neutral stance in the conflict between Greeks and Macedonians by refusing to identify themselves publicly with either one of the two mutually exclusive national groups. In many cases they want to preserve the unity of their village organizations which provide them with their primary sense of identity; in some cases they may value both national cultures and not want to restrict themselves by identifying themselves exclusively with either one. Finally, they may be genuinely unable to choose either one of the two mutually exclusive national categories to identify themselves with. On several occasions people who had adopted this third position refused to discuss the Macedonian issue with me. When I asked a man I met at a village picnic if he were a Greek dr a Macedonian, he said “I can’t talk. I can’t say anything. [16] Then he gestured to the people dancing a “local” dance on the cricket field in front of us and said ‘These are my people; this is my village. That’s all I can say.

Since the local Macedonians of the Florina region were generally poor farmers from small villages, they emigrated to Australia in large numbers. like other immigrants from Greece, Yugoslavia, and southern Europe more generally, they often settled in jhe cities of Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne. Those who arrived in Melbourne in the 1950s. settled in the inner city suburbs of Northcote, Richmond, and Fitzroy only to move out to the northern suburbs of Preston, Thomastown, Lalor, and Epping in the 1960s and 1970s.

The institutions founded by the early local Macedonian immigrants from Florina to Melbourne testify to the divisions in their community that have been created in large part by the different national ideologies that have competed for their loyalty over the past century. This is particularly true in the case of the church, the institution that lies at the center of many southern and eastern European diaspora communities. In 1950 a group of immigrants from Florina, who identified themselves as Macedonians and who opposed communism, founded a “Macedonian Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius’ in affiliation with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church of North and South America and Australia (which at that time was independent of the Holy Synod in Sofia). Years later, however, after the reconciliation of the diaspora church and the Holy Synod in Sofia, a priest from Bulgaria was sent to Melbourne who insisted that the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius was a Bulgarian Church and that its members were all Bulgarians. In 1985 the trustees of the church, who identified themselves as Macedonians, renounced the jurisdiction of the Bulgarian Orthodox Chruch and attempted to gain control of the church. The Supreme Court of Victoria, however, ruled against them, and the Macedonian community soon abandoned what had now become a Bulgarian church.

Another group of immigrants from Florina who also identified themselves as Macedonians, but who supported communism, founded the Macedonian Orthodox Church of St. George in 1959, which eventually became afffliated with the Macedonian Orthodox Church in the Republic of Macedonia in the former Yugoslavia. This church is now one of the most powerful institutions in the Macedonian community of Melbourne and in all of
Australia. Finally, in 1967, a third group of immigrants from Florina, a group who identified themselves as Greeks, established a Greek Orthodox Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Thus the tripartite division of Macedonia among Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece is replicated in the different affiliations of the churches founded by immigrants from Florina who settled in Melbourne.

Rough estimates suggest that there may be 27,000 people from the district of Florina who are now living in Australia.16 According to a survey conducted by Hill (1989:125) there are over 10,000 people in Melbourne whose families come from a group of 14 villages in the Florina area which have large and active village associations in Melbourne. In addition, immigrants from the city of Florina itself and from about ten other villages in the region have also settled in Melbourne. It is quite possible, therefore, that there are as many as 15,000 people from the Florina area who are living in Melbourne heavily concentrated in the northern suburbs of the city.

 Indigenous Theories of Identity

In the early 1990s the attention of the Greek and the Macedonian communities of Australia was focused on the Macedonian conflict. The most burning issues confronting the two communities were the struggle of the Republic of Macedonia to gain international recognition under its constitutional name and the parallel, but somewhat less immediate, struggle of Aegean Macedonians to gain recognition from the Greek government as an ethnic or national minority. During this time conversations among Greeks and Macedonians in Melbourne inevitably turned to questions of identity. At weddings, soccer games, village dances and picnics they argued passionately and endlessly about whether they were Greeks or Macedonians, about what makes a person Greek or Macedonian, and about how people could ever know what a person’s nationality really was.

Peter Savramis is a Macedonian, not a Greek.[17] He left his village near Florina and came to Melbourne in the early 1970s. Peter takes great delight in arguing with people in Greek, Macedonian, and English about the Macedonian question. He prides himself on being able to present his position articulately, convincingly, and without getting in a fight. George often talks about the Macedonian conflict at construction sites around the city where he works installing heating and air conditioning systems.

One day in the fall of 1991 an Italian contractor introduced Peter to Kostas, a Greek carpenter who would be working with him on a new house.

“This is my friend Peter,” the contractor said. “He’s Macedonian, but he speaks Greek.”

With a look of suspicion Kostas asked Peter in heavily accented English “What kind of Macedonian are you? Are you one of those ones who makes trouble?”

“No,” Peter replied. “We’re just trying to protect our culture from the Greek government.”

“What do you mean?” asked Kostas.

Peter suggested they speak in Greek.

“Where are you from?” asked Kostas in Greek. “Are you one of the ones who wants to take our land?”

“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “I’m a Macedonian. What land are you talking about? I’m from Macedonia, Macedonia of the Aegean.”

‘You speak good Greek!” said Kostas, somewhat surprised.

‘Yes,” said Peter. “I speak pure Greek. I learned it in school.”

‘You’re a Greek-Macedonian,” said Kostas.

“No! I’m a Macedonian.” replied Peter.

Kostas was starting to get angry. “But you can’t understand those Yugoslavs who want to take our land.”

“When it comes to language,” Peter explained, “a Macedonian from Greece and a Macedonian from Yugoslavia can understand each other perfectly. They speak the same language.”

“Why does it bother you if I’m Macedonian?” asked Peter. “Are you Greek?”


“If I said that you weren’t Greek, wouldn’t you tell me to get stuffed?”


“It’s the same for me. If you say I’m not a Macedonian, I’ll tell you to go get stuffed.”

“But you’re a Greek-Macedonian,” insisted Kostas again.

“I’m a Greek citizen,” said Peter, “but I’m a Macedonian by birth. You could have an Australian passport, but by birth what are you?”

“A Greek,” replied Kostas.

“It’s the same with me,” said Peter. “I’m Macedonian by birth. If a hundred years ago they divided up Greece, and Italy and Bulgaria and Thrkey each took a part, what would you be?”

“I’d still be a Greek,” replied Kostas.

“That’s right,” said Peter, shaking Kostas’ hand. “And I’m still a Macedonian. I am what I am, and you are what you are. If you say I’m not a Macedonian, then I’ll say you’re not a Greek.”

An analysis of the indigenous theories of identity that underlay arguments like this confirms the value of David Schneider’s (1968, 1969 and 1984) discussion of blood and law as two of the most powerful symbols used to express the unity of a group of people who share a common identity, whether in the domain of kinship, religion, or nationality. According to Schneider, blood is regarded as a “natural substance,” a “shared biogenetic material.” It is a biological essence, an objective fact of nature, that is given at birth and that is often thought to constitute a permanent and unalterable aspect of a person’s identity. By contrast, another aspect of a person’s identity is that determined by law, by what Schneider calls “a code for conduct,” that is, a specific social relationship which is dependent for its continued existence on the performance of a particular social role (1968:21-29). It is understood that this aspect of a person’s identity is neither natural nor permanent, but that it can either be changed or terminated. In the conversations of immigrants from Florina to Melbourne either of these two powerful symbols may serve as a criterion for determining a person’s identity.

According to both Greek and Macedonian nationalist perspectives national identity is something that is naturally and biologically given. It is determined first and foremost by “blood” or by “birth.” This biologized conception of national identity is expressed both explicitly and metaphorically. A person of Greek nationality is “Greek by birth” (Ellinas to yenos). Similarly a man from Florina who identifies himself as a Macedonian and not a Greek said “No one buys his nationality; no one chooses his mother. I inherited this nationality. It is my inheritance, the milk of my mother.”[18]

Metaphors identifying the personified national homeland as parent also support this biologized conception of national identity. Greece is often referred to Greece as the “mother fatherland,” while Macedonia is often referred to both as “mother Macedonia” and as the “fatherland” Macedonian nationalists frequently use biological metaphors equating the category of national identity with the category of biological species. When people from Florina who identify as Macedonians deny the legitimacy of the identity of their relatives and fellow villagers who identify as Greeks, they use images suggesting the immutability of biological species: “Wheat is wheat, and corn is corn. You can’t change one into the other. Even if you call it corn, it’s still wheat.. Its nature doesn’t change.” As another Macedonian from Florina put it, “A maple tree is a maple tree. You can’t inject oak tree into it.” Macedonian nationalists often explain the incompatibility of Greeks and Macedonians by way of a proverb that also draws on the analogy between nationality and biological species. In commenting on the long history of conflict and hostility between Greeks and Macedonians, they say “sheep and goats don’t mix.”

People from Florina who identify themselves as Macedonians and not Greeks argue that all Slavic-speaking people in northern Greece are “really” Macedonians and not Greeks because their “mother tongue” is Macedonian and not Greek. They contrast the “natural” environment in which they learned Macedonian – at home, in the family, speaking with their parents and grandparents – with the “artificial” environment of the educational system in which they learned Greek. “Real Greeks,” they say, “don’t have grandparents who speak Macedonian.” They also attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the Greek national identity of people who speak Macedonian by making fun of them when they say in Macedonian “We are Greeks” (Nie sne Grci) or “We Greeks are clever” (Nie Grci sne eksipni).[19] From a Macedonian and even a Greek nationalist perspective such people may seem incongruous, their nationality suspect. From an anthropological perspective in which identity is a matter of self ascription, however, the claims to Greek national identity of people who were born in Greece but speak Macedonian and not Greek are just as legitimate as the claims to Macedonian national identity of people who earlier in their lives identified themselves as Greeks.

The contrast between a person’s “genuine” national identity, which is biologically given at birth, and a person’s “artificial” national identity, which is acquired somehow later in life is conveyed by a humorous, if somewhat bitter, comment overheard by a Macedonian from Melbourne while visiting the village near Florina where he was born. A woman from southern Greece who had married a Slavic-speaking local Macedonian from the village told some men who had gathered in the village cafe that they were not “real Greeks.” An old man, a local Macedonian, replied “That’s right. You are a Greek with hormones. We are Greeks by injection.”[20]

While the idea that national identity is a natural, biological given is a basic tenet of both Greek and Macedonian nationalist ideologies, in arguments among people from Florina over whether they are really Greeks or Macedonians, this position is most often taken by people who identify themselves as Macedonians. People who identify themselves as Greeks, on the other hand, are much more likely to argue that national identity is determined by what Schneider has called “a code for conduct,” that is, a particular relationship with the Greek state which people enter into as they are socialized into Greek society. Through this process of socialization people develop a commitment to the Greek state as well as a sense of being part of the Greek nation. From this perspective, being a part of Greek society and participating in Greek culture mean that one is a member of the Greek nation. Given the identity of the Greek state and the Greek nation, the legal relationship between a Greek citizen and the Greek state, which involves the performance of a particular social role, is equated with membership in the Greek nation. People who are Greek citizens, in other words, must have a Greek national identity; people who were raised in Greek society must be Greek.[21]

Immigrants from Florina to Melbourne who identify themselves as Greeks frequently argue that their relatives and fellow villagers who identify as Macedonians cannot “really” be Macedonians on the grounds that there has never been a Macedonian state. When a Greek tells a Macedonian ‘You can’t be a Macedonian because there’s no such country (kratos),” he implies that because there is no Macedonian state as a legal entity and no Macedonian citizenship as a legal relationship, there can be no Macedonian nation and no Macedonian national identity. This argument, of course, ignores the fact that nations can and do exist which have no states to serve as national homelands (the Palestinians and the Kurds are two obvious examples), as well as the fact that the Republic of Macedonia has existed as one of the republics of the former Yugoslavia with its own government, educational system, flag, and nationality since 1944. It also ignores the fact that in 1991 the Republic of Macedonia declared its existence as an independent and sovereign state. Given the identity of state and nation in Greek nationalist ideology, Greece’s refusal to recognize the Republic of Macedonia as an independent state can be seen as the equivalent of refusing to recognize the existence of the Macedonians as a distinct nation.

The Greek nationalist argument is more straightforward when it comes to denying the possibility that people from Florina, people who were born and raised in Greece, could have a Macedonian national identity. They must have a Greek national identity. A man from Florina who identified himself as Greek defended himself by saying: “I was born under Greece, I went to school under Greece, I believe Greek, and I’ll never change.” In an attempt to put an end to a long and frustrating discussion, another man said “We’re from Greece, so we’re Greek. Let’s just forget it.”

More specifically people with a Greek national identity often argue that because many people from Florina who identify themselves as Macedonians have Greek, not Macedonian, names; because they attend the Greek, not the Macedonian, church; because they are literate in Greek, not Macedonian, and most importantly because they all have Greek, not Macedonian, passports; they must therefore be Greeks. Macedonians, however, refute these arguments by pointing out that many Aegean Macedonians have Greek names and are literate in Greek because of the assimilationist policies of the Greek government. They also point out that Aegean Macedonians have Greek passports because they are Greek citizens, emphasizing once again that citizenship does not determine ethnic or national identity.

When confronted with the Greek argument that because they came to Australia on Greek passports they were therefore Greeks, many people from Florina who identify themselves as Macedonians simply say “No. We’re Macedonians with Greek passports.” More argumentative Macedonians often reply ‘You say that we’re Greeks because we were born under Greek rule. Does that mean that your grandfather was Turkish because he was born under Turkish rule?”

The relevance of Schneider’s analysis of the symbols of blood and law to the present discussion of the construction of national identity among local Macedonian immigrants from Florina is clear from the analogies often drawn between trying to determine what a persons “real” national identity is and who a person’s “real” mother is. At a village picnic in Mebourne Sam, a man from a village near Florina who identifies himself as a Greek, said “My blood is Macedonian. My real mother is Macedonian. But my adoptive mother is Greece. And you can’t spit in the face of your adoptive mother.” Faced with a clear choice, metaphorically speaking, between a relative to whom he was related by blood and one to whom he was related by law, Sam chose to place greater emphasis on the legal relationship and to remain loyal to his adoptive mother. In this way he explained the fact that he had a Greek national identity.

Ted, who was also from a village near Florina, but who identifies himself as a Macedonian and not a Greek, used the same metaphor, the metaphor of adoption, to explain how as an adult he had realized that he was actually a Macedonian, even though he had lived all his life as a Greek. “I felt like an adopted child who had just discovered his real parents,” he said. “All my life had been a lie. I’d been a janissary.[22] I’d betrayed my own people.” Ted, unlike Sam, however, chose metaphorically to privilege his relationship with his biological parents. In this way he justified his newly discovered Macedonian national identity.

As these two examples illustrate, immigrants from Florina can decide whether they are Greeks or Macedonians either by invoking the existence of a “blood” tie or by invoking the existence of a social relationship. National identity, in this case, therefore, is a matter of choice, a matter of self-identification or self-ascription. Immigrants from Florina recognize the role of conscious choice and individual decision making in their discussions of national identity, but only to a degree. They talk about people with a Greek national identity as people who “want” or “believe in” Greece. Conversely they refer to people who have a Macedonian national identity as people who “want” or “believe in” Skopje. People who identify as Greeks or Macedonians are also described as being “on the Greek side” or on the Macedonian side;” as belonging to one “political faction” (Darataksi) or the other. This terminology suggests that whether immigrants from Florina identify themselves as Greeks or Macedonians is a matter of conscious political choice. People are Greeks or Macedonians because they choose to be Greeks or Maceddnians.

Macedonians who are involved in the Macedonian human rights movement in Australia are the most likely to acknowledge that national identity is a matter of self-ascription. They have been influenced both by the the discourse of multiculturalism in Australia, where ethnic identity is specifically stated to be a matter of self-identification, and by the discourse of international human rights organizations such as th& United Nations or the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, where membership in a national minority is considered to be a matter of individual choice.[23] Such an approach to the issue of ethnic and national identity (as opposed to the essentialist approach so characteristic of most nationalist ideologies) clearly serves the interests of Macedonians in their struggle to gain recognition as a nation on the international scene and as an ethnic minority in Greece as well as in Australia.

In many cases, however, the acknowledgment of the self-ascriptive nature of national identity is merely a token gesture of respect, one which is all too readily abandoned in favor of a more essentialist approach. A man involved in the Macedonian human rights movement in Melbourne talked about a fellow villager who identified himself as Greek this way: “I respect Tom for what he believes he is. He has the right to believe in something, and he believes he’s Greek. But he’s really a Macedonian like us.” Another immigrant from Florina involved in the Macedonian human rights movement described the underlying biologically-given Macedonian national identity of a fellow villager who explicitly identified himself as Greek as existing “inside his blood, without his wanting it.”

People from Florina who identify themselves as Greeks exhibit this same tendency to contrast people’s beliefs, people’s assertions of what they are, on the one hand, with what they “really” are, on the other. A woman who identified herself as Greek and who taught Greek at a public elementary school in Melbourne expressed this contrast implicitly when she said: “I know Greeks from Florina who say they’re not Greek.” Her knowledge that they are Greeks somehow transcends in importance and legitimacy their assertions that they are not Greek. Another immigrant from Florina who identified himself as a Greek expressed the contrast this way: ‘You can change your consciousness (sinidhisi), but you can’t change what you really are. My son can have an Australian consciousness, but he can’t be an Australian. He can feel Australian, but he can’t be one…. A person who went to Skopje after the Civil War can change consciousness. Now he believes there; now he has a Slavic consciousness. But he can’t be a Macedonian. He’s Greek.”

Because all local Macedonians from Florina accept the fact that they share the same regional or ethnic identity, they believe that they all must also have the same national identity. People who have a Macedonian national identity believe that all local Macedonians are Macedonians, while people who have a Greek national identity believe that all local Macedonians are Greeks. Members of both groups dismiss as mistaken and illegitimate the self-ascribed identity of anyone who asserts an identity different from their own.

Macedonians justify dismissing the self-ascribed Greek national identity of their relatives and fellow villagers by arguing that it is motivated by fear, that it is a product of the assimilationist policies practiced by the Greek government since 1913. As one Macedonian put it, “They were forced to become Greeks” (Me to zori evinan Ellines). A leader of the Macedonian human rights movement in Melbourne said that in an open society like Australia, where people can freely identify as they wish, their self-ascribed national identity will correspond with their biologically given national identity. When deliberate attempts have been made to eradicate an ethnic group, however, then people’s self-ascribed national identity will not correspond with their biologically given national
identity. In such cases people’s “real” identity is determined, not by self-ascription, but by biology.

Greeks justify dismissing the self-ascribed Macedonian national identity of people from Florina in a similar manner. They argue that it is a conscious choice which in many cases is motivated by the pressure tactics of local “Skopians” or by economic self-interest. However, a Macedonian woman from Florina who completed her university studies in Melbourne explicitly rejected the idea that her Macedonian identity was a matter of conscious choice: “The Greeks are denying my people the right to be who they are, not who they want to be. I don’t choose to be Macedonian. I am Macedonian. I’m Macedonian because I was born to the family I was and in the place I was. I’m not Macedonian because of any political act of my own.’ From both the Greek and the Macedonian nationalist perspectives, therefore, a ‘person’s self-ascribed national identity as a product of conscious choice is generally rejected in favor of a reified conception of national identity grounded in biology.

Because a person’s national identity can be defined as biologically determined or as acquired through a process of socialization, and because a person’s self-ascribed national identity (whether it is based on biology or socialization) can either be accepted at face value or rejected in favor of another identity based on the other principle, the question of whether the Slavic-speaking people of northern Greece are Greeks or Macedonians is ultimately contestable. People from Florina will continue to argue about blood, place of birth, language, passports, consciousness, and belief as criteria of national identity. Parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters will continue to disagree about what they really are.

At a village dance in Melbourne a man who identified himself as Macedonian and not Greek. told me a story about two brothers from a village near Florina. One had settled in Yugoslavia after the Civil War; the other had remained in Greece. Eventually they both came to Australia (one on a Yugoslav passport, the other on a Greek passport) where they lived together with their mother in the same house in Melbourne. They were constantly arguing with each other because one brother identified himself as Greek while the other brother identified himself as Macedonian. Finally they confronted their mother; they asked her how a woman could give birth to one Greek and one Macedonian. The narrator of the story did not tell me what the mother replied. Instead he offered his own answer to the question. “It’s not possible,” he said emphatically. “By blood, by birth, they’re both Macedonians.”

I am sure that if the narrator of the story had been a Greek I would also have been told that it was not possible for a woman to give birth to one Greek and one Macedonian, but I would have been told that both brothers were Greek. As an anthropologist, however, I offer a different answer to this question. I suggest that it Ls possible for a woman to give birth to one Greek and one Macedonian. It is possible precisely because Greeks and Macedonians are not born, they are made. National identities, in other words, are not biologically given, they are socially constructed.

It is my hope that the detailed ethnographic material presented here has demonstrated the complexity of the process of identity formation as it takes place at the individual level among local Macedonian immigrants from Florina to Melbourne. This same complexity characterizes the lives and identities of Macedonians in other parts of the world, as well as those of many other people who are members of ethnic minorities and diaspora communities in today’s transnational world. These people are caught between mutually exclusive national identities. They are marginal participants in several national cultures and full participants in none, people who are struggling to construct a coherent sense of themselves from a complex, multi-layered set of identities – class, religious, regional, ethnic, and national. While these identities may coexist easily on some occasions, they conflict sharply on others, and this conflict often brings with it a great deal of uncertainty, alienation, and pain.

It is also my hope that the analysis presented here has convincingly exposed the dangers of oversimplified nationalist ideologies with their explanations of national identity in terms of some natural or spiritual essence. In addition I hope it has exposed the weaknesses of earlier anthropological approaches to the study of identity with their arguments that people are members of ethnic or national groups because they share some set of common cultural traits. Only by rejecting both these approaches are we in a position to understand the complex historical, political, social, and cultural processes by which individuals construct and negotiate the identities that give meaning to their lives.


1.The term “Macedonian” has three basic meanings. It is used most frequently in this article and in general political, scholarly, and journalistic discourse in a national sense to refer to people with a Macedonian national identity. According to this usage, “Macedonian” and “Greek” are mutually exclusive categories referring to people with two different national identities. “Macedonian” is also used in a regional sense to refer to people with a Greek national identity who come from Macedonia. These people often refer to themselves as “Greek-Macedonians.” Finally the word “Macedonian” is also used with what I would call an ethnic meaning to refer to the indigenous people of Macedonia (who may speak Greek or Macedonian or both), in contrast to the many other ethnic groups that live in northern Greece. For the sake of clarity, and because they also call themselves “locals,” I use the term “local Macedonians” to designate this group.

2. Brass (1976:226), for example, states that “objective cultural distinctions” are necessary conditions for the creation of different ethnic or national groups.

3. On a situationalist approach to ethnicity see Okamura 1981 and Morin 1982). For an excellent study of the way local interests influence the process of nation formation see Peter Salilins (1989) Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees.

4. Gans (1991) has referred to this development as the “emergence of symbolic ethnicity.” See also Waters (1990).

5. For a valuable discussion of the process of identity formation among transnational migrants in the late twentieth century see Glick Schiller, Basch and Blanc-Szanton (1992).

6. On ethnicity and intolerance in Australian nationalist ideology see Kapferer (1988).

7. For a Greek perspective on the Macedonian Question see Kofos (1964 and 1989) and Martis (1983); for a Macedonian perspective see Tashkovski (1976) and articles published in the Macedonian Review. For other perspectives see Danforth (1993), Friedman (1975), Jelavich (1983), Lunt (1984), Palmer and King (1971), and Wilkinson (1951).

8. The general consensus among ancient historians is that in their own time the ancient Macedonians were perceived by Greeks and by themselves not to be Greek. See Badian (1982), Borza (1990:96), and Hammond (1986:535).

9. For statements of this moderate position see Karakasidou (1993:13-14), Popov and Radin (1989:73), the response by the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Macedonia to the Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia sponsored by the European Community, and the comments of Macedonian human rights activists in northern Greece published in the Greek periodical Ena March 11, 1992.

10. On the development of Australian multiculturalism see Jupp (1988). Other useful sources include Ata (1986), Foster and Stockley (1984 and 1988), Goodman et al. (1991), Jupp (1984) and Sesito (1982). For important critiques of multiculturalism on the grounds that it involves a trivialization or folklorization of the concept of culture, that its emphasis on cultural differences ignores differences in class, socioeconomic

11.  These statistics are from The Overseas-born in Victoria (1991) published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

12. Bureau of Immigration Research (1990a:3 and 36, and 1991:239) and Clyne (1991:42).

13. For additional information on the Greek community in Australia see Bottomley (1979 and 1992), Loukakis (1981), Price (1975), and Tamis (1994).

14. Bureau of Immigration Research (1990a:35 and 37, and 1991:261) and Clyne (1991:37).

15. For additional information on the Macedonian Community of Australia see Hill  (1989).

16. Personal communication from the representative of the district of Florina to the Greek parliament. The
population of the district of Florina itself has long remaiijed stable at slightly more than 50,000 people.

17. All the personal names used in this paper are pseudonyms. The narrative which follows is based on detailed notes taken during Peter Savramis’ account of the exchange.

18. On blood as a symbol of shared national identity see Handler (1988:37), Herzfeld (1992:11 and 22-47), and Just (1989).

19. Eksinni (smart or clever) is a Greek word.

20. This self-deprecating comment underlining as it does the legitimacy of the national identity of Slavic-speaking “local” Macedonians who identify as Greeks is reminiscent of Kofos’ (1989:259) reference to Macedonians as people who have been “immunized with a ‘Macedonian’ national ideology.”

21. Defining national identity as a product of socialization at the family level rather than at the state level some people from Florina say: You are whatever your parents raise you to be.”

22. A janissary was a Christian child taken at birth from his family of origin and forced to convert to Islam and serve in the guard of the Turkish sultan during the Ottoman period.

23. See, for example, the Final Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (1990).


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