Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990

Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990 – Review

Violeta Schubert

Anastasia N. Karakasidou. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997. xxiii, 334pp., illust., maps, tables, bibliog., index. US$38 (Hc.), ISBN 0-226-42493-6; US$17.95 (Pb.), ISBN 0-226-42494-4.

Violeta Schubert Anthropology, University of Melbourne

This book became famous well before it was published. The author, a Greek who now lives and works in America, became modern anthropology’s equivalent to Salman Rushdie. The book was awaited with much anticipation and publicity due to the heated and even hysterical response it aroused from Greek nationals and expatriates. The histrionics of its publication ban, however, only served to whet our appetites further; and I was no less eager to read it than others, having recently returned from one and a half years research in the region.

The author’s broad aim is to explore the ‘nation-building process at a local level’. But, there seemed to be a hidden agenda, an unspecified yet ever present issue of whether, contrary to the official Greek declaration, ‘ethnic minorities’, especially of the Slavic-Macedonian kind, actually exist within the country. This very tentative, yet potentially explosive, underlying subject became even more sensitive and explosive due to its coinciding with the declaration of independence by the former Yugoslav state of Macedonia (referred to as FYROM). But, even without this timing, there would have been a strong reaction to the book because it cuts to the very core of how Greeks perceive themselves as a homogeneous, unified nation and culture.

It is difficult to sing the praises of this book on its technical merit or its contribution to either anthropology or history. It falls between the cracks of both disciplines and thus delivers no great contribution to either. From an anthropologist’s point of view, for example, there are several methodological difficulties such as the inconsistency implied in the notion that ‘identity is fluid’ yet it is also a ‘historically rooted construct’ (p.20). She argues that there have always been ‘shifting loyalties’ in the region, and yet, on the other hand, states that they all feel Greek! Further, Karakasidou claims to ‘avoid essentialising’ (p.21) by not using the terms for identity that the locals have themselves. Her treatment of the pre-1912 ethnic majority and still sizeable minority of ‘Slavic-speakers’ is extremely cautious and even high handed. For example, she writes, ‘I have opted not to refer to them as Macedonians . . . a self ascription by inhabitants of Western Greek Macedonia today’. Rather, she creates a term for them – ‘ former Slavic speakers’ or ‘Slavic speakers’ and even ‘the local Macedonians’. Later, she adds, ‘I have, therefore, decided on Slavic speakers . . . because it is the lesser of all evils, so to speak’. But, she continues, they are now all the same, they all ‘feel’ themselves (and thus identify themselves) as Greek, as ‘fully-fledged members of the nation of Hellenes’ (p.21). How can this be? And how was it that the Greeks succeed where, everywhere else, it is not possible to reconcile

identity, self-identity and citizenship of a state. She assumes that they ‘all feel Greek’ and therefore receives the expected answer to having such an assumption – a bit like asking: ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’.

Is she reducing local self-identity merely to a whim or a psychological complex? What is the main issue for the researcher? Why write the book? Surely, the begging issue for a researcher would have been to explore these perceptions and what it conveys about their particular identity, especially as there has been an incredible denial of their very existence. Instead, she totally avoids these factors and makes a rather incomprehensible jump to the construction of identity within the framework of the market place (the ‘guvezna market’). The argument that the market place has far greater weight for identity construction than other arenas is, in my view, illogical. She does not convince me that just because different groups interact in the same market place and abide by common rules and language within it (a bit like citizenship), that they see themselves as being the same (somewhat like a Jew and a Catholic merging into a common type).

What is perhaps a far greater strength of this book is its interesting study of authorship; the writer researching her own culture and the necessary objectivity and courage required to be a scientist. Further, it is an important step in the ‘debate’ as to the claimed homogeneity of the Greek nation, and, in fact, any other nation. She is partially aware of these pitfalls, but like most of us becomes weak in the knees at other times. Indeed, in the book’s postscript she confesses to the extreme pressure that she experienced in presenting this material. She should be admired not for her ideas, but for the very fact that she was, in many respects, going against herself and all she had been taught about her own culture.

The fervour required to show ones ‘loyalty’ to being Greek is obviously constant and insatiable. Karakasidou had challenged that simply by making a very soft-voiced claim that ethnic minorities exist, albeit no longer feeling themselves as anything but Greek! She wants to be fair but cannot quite articulate her case because it is too dangerous for herself, her family, and those that were the subjects of study. Ultimately she is pleading for our intuitive understanding of what she is trying to say, without her having to say it outright. For her to do so would immediately suggest to her countrymen that she advocates the destruction of her country. Contrary to what she claims, the text is actually primarily about ‘imposed’ identity and the repressed identity of minorities, and the role this process of homogenisation plays in nation building.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Australian Anthropological Society

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