From Skopje to Istanbul, an abridged history of revisionism

Dr. George Voskopoulos

In international affairs scholars have long scrutinized the issue of conflict and cooperation among state actors. These directly or indirectly refer to the issue of war and peace. Revisionist states are unsatisfied with the territorial status quo and use all means available to pursue what they see as valued ends.

In south-eastern Europe this has been the main feature of the framework of local interaction among states lacking a developed political culture and an operationally democratic demos. Whether they are “reformed” communists, remnants of the old communist regime, descendants of Nazi collaborators or militarists, they have identical aims pursued under the pretext of ideologically or politically oriented goals.

The end of the Cold War did not bring about the end of history but assisted the re-emergence of the long supported irredentist policies of those political vampires and their overseas patrons who have been in a dormant state waiting for the right moment to become once again a threat to the rest. The means used may be shortly categorized in military and non-military. Eventually the selection of those means relates to what is at hand, to the power available, the determination to use it, the inadequacy of international law, geopolitical expedience and ignorance.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Turkey have taken parallel routes in becoming in-system and out of system destabilizers in south-eastern Europe. Their means are not similar due to their military power gap but their nominal aim identical. Actually this has provided them with the most powerful motive in cooperation in terms of policies, multi-level support, mutual funding and establishment of NGOs operating on a clearly geopolitical not idealist or normative framework. It has led to a relationship typically described through the patron and client state framework.

On the one hand the re-invention of history has been the selected terrain of action. It is not a question of survival and grandeur but an issue of challenging territorial stability. This has led to the extreme position of discarding any Slav origin and label-ing it as a “derogatory term”, an “insult”. It is indeed dangerous not to cut ties with the Slav past because this brings the country closer to Bulgaria. At the same time it is convenient to baptize Bulgarian national heroes “Macedonians”, to deny the Bulgar-ian origin of the language spoken, to usurp Greek history and to suppress Bulgaro-philia within the country. A visit to Vergina, Pella and tens of archaeological sites in Greece would be enough to ridicule those who suggest that ancient Macedonians spoke Greek because it was a fashionable thing to do. In effect what some suggest here is that ancient Macedonians did not speak their mother tongue but chose to use the Greek language.

The aim of this historical conundrum and the elimination of historical facts take place under the pretext of the freedom to choose an identity at will. Yet, identities have long been associated with control of territories and eventually this brings to the surface their aim, namely to challenge the territorial status quo. Some suggest that legal action could be a useful tool to materialize their irredentist dreams, yet, they forget that terri-torial changes in the region have taken place after wars. Territorial changes may also occur when leaderships serve foreign interests and not national interests.

For long, inaction, ideologically-stemmed utopia and politically correct behaviour have sidelined the real danger of supporting a revisionist state. This is the kind of state that does not belong to the EU, a parochial state representing the worst side of Balkan history and its Hobbesian microcosm. This is the mentality Bulgaria, Greece and Romania have long discarded and thus eliminated a major hurdle in building a pan-European zone of stability and security.

Eventually the perpetrators of these policies are punished for what they are not, not what they are. Statues and street naming do not constitute historical facts. Those facts can only be found in the tombs of ancient Macedonians in Greece. Still there are a number of facts to be underpinned. A people who literally speak Bulgarian, usurp Bulgarian and Greek history, who try to eliminate those with Greek and Bulgarian national consciousness within their territorial base, who moved to the region at least a century later than the ancient Macedonians claim to be Macedonians and wish to liberate parts of geographical Macedonia in Greece and Bulgaria. In historical, political and ethnological terms this is the definition of absurdity and above all a utopian goal.

In their course, they found assistance by those in Europe and oversees who meticulously explain and understand facts and non facts in a dubious way. In international relations the act of explaining is of paramount importance, since it aims at providing a body of knowledge, through an accumulative process. The issue brings the debate to defining facts and non-facts, since they constitute not only an inseparable part of International Relations but also a reality lens through which scholars look into the world. The actual purpose of explaining is to identify what caused a particular event or state of affairs, which, in turn, involves identifying the factor(s) that produced a specific outcome. For instance, why do Slavs who immigrated to the region at least a century later that the ancient Macedonians claim to be the true Macedonians?

At this point we could ask a practical but enlightening question. Should a tourist who wishes to visit the territorial basis of the ancient Macedonians, see their tombs, their land and the ruins of their cities, go to FYROM or Greece? At this point there is a connection between Lord Elgin who looted the Parthenon and those who deny their Slav background and usurp Bulgarian and Greek history. What is stolen is not historically legal and can not be legalised through any kind of action. Courts can not rule on history. History is written by people not judges. The only tangible historical evidence our Slav neighbours left in Greece are devastated villages and the massive war crimes they committed during the Nazi occupation and the Greek civil war. They should be held accountable for these crimes.

The above illustrate not only the multifaceted aspects of the issue, but also the impor-tance of explaining in our quest to learn what is taking place in the world. Yet, to learn “means to go beyond the obvious, to move from knowledge of the discrete to knowledge of the general and to make connections”.

The next step to define motives is understanding, a process that “involves a search not so much for the cause of an event as for its meaning”. Practically understanding focuses on investigating the meaning of an event and therefore the search for its origins, evolution and its consequences. Understanding means “that we can talk clearly and explicitly about the puzzle we want to solve”. Again understanding the issue will assist scholars and analysts find out the meaning of history usurpation, use of Greek symbols and the importance of history in supporting overt and publicly stated irredentist policies.

The above may provide the framework of analysing the policy of Skopjie´s leadership in re-inventing history, or creating it a la carte. It is the policy of those who politically belong to “the backyard of Europe”, representatives of the darkside of European politics. Some suggest that recognition by a number of states is a fact of life so there is no point in continuing the dispute. For those of us who scrutinize international relations this is an absurd policy for a number of reasons, namely. States operate on the basis of national interests, which are not identical or compatible, therefore differentiation stemming from ignorance or national priorities is understood. Second, vital national interests, those related to territorial security and survival are non-negotiable. Finally, irredentism will lead to an impasse unless the two sides agree on a mutually acceptable solution.

The dispute should not be analysed on the surface through the rubric of nationalism. There are different forms of nationalism which is or can be a powerful, emancipating political force. As underpinned, “nationalism…conceals within itself extreme opposites and contradictions. It can mean emancipation…Nationalism, it seems, is a repository of dangers as well as opportunities. It has so many different forms and “national” variations in space and time that is often argued whether they can all be accommodated under one roof”.

The core of irredentist states in the region is completed with Turkey. Many of us have tried to put history behind but politics is always one step beyond. The country wishes to join the EU yet, a number of defining features of its national value system, opera-tional mode of democracy and legitimacy of its international behaviour should be dealt with in an efficient way. For long it has been a militaristic regime, a less mature democracy, a country that constitutes an actual military threat to an EU member. On top of the indicative only failures of its constitutional and behavioural record the country illegally occupies a part of Cyprus refusing to apply the European acquis. Greek air space violations and overflying Greek islands in the Aegean are a daily rou-tine leading to dogfights. These are not signs of modernity but remnants of an empire mentality alien to advertised European values and according to recent revelations of American officials, signs of a dangerous megalomania. Those who support these poli-cies will have to deal with the results in a few years from now.

It is not a question of stereotypes but facts evaluated on the basis of values taught in university amphitheatres. This brings us to the long-standing fact-value dichotomy in international relations. In turkey´s case, hard facts, motives, political and democratic background distance it politically from the EU and turn it into the odd man out. Yet, it brings it closer to allies for whom values are epiphenomenal or trivial. Many abroad would like to resolve the multifaceted thorny issues and offer their good services serv-ing primarily their geopolitical expediency.

If it takes two to tango, it takes one weak, mal-equipped or incompetent leader to make a wrong decision and be part of history. The ontological question that rises is whether or not leaderships realize that history books are coloured. Black is the colour to be avoided. In international politics hindsight offers no excuse, nor does it purge actions.

Source: AmericanChronicle

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