Battlefields of memory : The Macedonian conflict and Greek historical culture

Abstract: In 1991, a diplomatic controversy arose between Greece and the newly independent Republic of Macedonia, regarding naming, minority rights and the use of historical symbols. The claims of the new state to the name Macedonia and the historical heritage associated with it were perceived as a threat against Greek national identity and history itself. Within months, the so-called Macedonian question came to dominate the Greek domestic and foreign policy agenda. In Greek public debate, the conflict blended with concerns about the nation’s past, present and future, which played into the challenges brought about by the end of the Cold War. The Macedonian conflict can thus be understood as symptomatic of a crisis in Greek historical culture, as well as a catalyst for broader concerns about the role of history in contemporary society. This study explores the contexts in which the conflict evolved and how history was perceived, narrated and used by institutions, communities and individuals who sought to influence public opinion and policy-makers. The theoretical point of departure is the concept of historical culture, defined as the totality of discourses through which a society makes sense of itself, the present and the future through the interpretation of the past. In the study of historical culture, the notions of narratives and uses of history have been employed, with the notion of boundary-work as a supplementing analytical tool. The material of the study is primarily drawn from mainstream press, but also includes historiography. The study shows how the Macedonian controversy was intertwined with the identity- and memory-political demands of substate actors. Particular attention is paid to the emergence of a narrative on genocide among Greeks of Pontian origins. This happened in an age when traditional notions of national pride were being challenged by transnational history-cultural concerns about human rights and the notion of national guilt. The study also sheds light on how academic historians dealt with issues brought about by demands for politically committed scholarship, objectivity, legitimacy and the need to adjust in a transnational setting.