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Who Are the Macedonians? Hardcover – September 1, 1995
About the Author
HUGH POULTON is a former researcher on Eastern Europe for Amnesty International, specializing in the Balkan countries. His publications include The Balkans: Minorities and States in Conflict.
Hugh Poulton is a former researcher for Amnesty International, specializing in the Balkan countries. His publications include Top Hat, Grey Wolf and Crescent: Turkish Nationalism and the Turkish Republic and The Balkans: Minorities and States in Conflict.--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
This has been so in spite of difficulties presented internationally by the country's southern neighbour, Greece, which has impeded its entry into international bodies because of an objection to the use of the name `Macedonia' - as a result, the temporary designation of `former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia' (FYROM) has been adopted as a compromise enabling the new state to take its place at the United Nations, inter alia. The potential for crisis, against the background of war elsewhere on the territories of the former Yugoslavia, and the difficulties presented by Greece have made Macedonia the focus of significant international attention in the 1990s. It is therefore welcome that Hugh Poulton has filled a crucial gap in the contemporary literature by providing a commendable introduction to the subject.
The title itself is a matter of some importance. The volume is essentially a synthesis of that which exists within books on other or broader subjects - particular pillars appear to be Ivo Banac's The National Question in Yugoslavia and Richard Crampton's A Short History of Modern Bulgaria, each the best of its field - supplemented by some research on ethno-national communities in the period of transition from Yugoslav Republic to former Yugoslav Republic. Whereas most books would use a straightforward title, for example, `The Macedonians' and then pose the defining question within the text, Poulton puts it up front: who are the Macedonians? This immediately tells the reader two things. The first is that there must obviously be some dispute, or uncertainty, about what constitutes a `Macedonian'. The second is that the author is seeking to avoid assumption, prejudice, commitment, or the perception of any of these in approaching the subject. This also implies his determination to make it clear that a major part of the problem is that there are three possible answers to the question - that, in itself, reveals why Macedonia has been a focus for attention and the nature of its problems.
The Macedonian state to which reference has been made so far reflects only one use of the label `Macedonian'. As Poulton lays out from the beginning, the term can also refer to a far broader geographical region incorporating parts of Greece, Bulgaria and (only slightly) Albania. In this context, the country which emerged on the international scene in the 1990s is only one part of an historic region - it is usually known as Vardar Macedonia, with Pirin Macedonia in Bulgaria and Aegean Macedonia in Greece. Thus, in part, Greek objections to the use of the name `Macedonia' are said to be based on fears that such use implies territorial claims on Greece itself.
The final possibility for answering the question in the title concerns the ethno-national community known as Macedonians - the Slav majority within the state which speaks a southern Slavonic language, most closely related to Bulgarian (indeed, said by some to be no more than a dialect of Bulgarian). Neither Greece nor Bulgaria has conventionally recognized the existence of this community, describing them as Slavophone Greeks, or simply as Bulgarians. Serbia (and Yugoslavia), although at certain stages seeing them as southern Serbs, eventually encouraged the strengthening of Macedonian identity and culture as a means of securing the population's support vis à vis Bulgaria, in particular. With around two thirds of Macedonia's population ethno-national Macedonians, this makes it the majority community, but only one of several. Of the others the ethnic Albanians are the most significant. The internal mix of populations, as well as the presence of small ethnic Macedonian minorities in neighbouring countries, is one component of the potential combustion which the international community feared in the 1990s.
With three possible answers to the question posed at the outset indicating the potential for trouble, Poulton continues to offer a clear and readable account of the evolution of lands and peoples on it from ancient times and the great Macedonian Kings, Philip and Alexander, through to the independence of the modern state. In particular, he usefully pricks the Greek position on the identity of ethnic Macedonians by drawing attention to Greece's attempt in 1925 to show the League of Nations how well it treated its minorities by citing the example of the Macedonians - who according to Athens's representative to the League spoke a language which was `neither Bulgarian, nor Serbian, but an independent language', although Greece, in practice, did nothing. Poulton also conveys a strong sense of the way in which an ethno-national consciousness developed among the Macedonians through events and political action, such as the impact, at a late stage in the evolutionary process, of the Bulgarian occupation of Vardar Macedonia and the impact of this on identity. At the same time, however, the author shows us how this evolution interacted with the conflicting positions in neighbouring territories.
The neighbouring territories of the contemporary Macedonian state and that land itself were all once part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Poulton sets out the core of the Macedonia question well in his analysis of the way in which parts of what were to become Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria gained their independence from the Turks in the course of the nineteenth century, leaving geographic Macedonia, both broadly and narrowly defined, as an object of aspiration for all of them (and for Albania, as well, once it gained independence in 1913). The crux of the Macedonian question, as Poulton identifies it was in the unresolved status of territories with a mixed population coveted by a set of bordering states.
It is the ghost of that question formed in the nineteenth century, regenerated through events in twentieth century history - the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, the First and Second World Wars, the Greek Civil War, the communist revolutions in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and the dissolution of the old Yugoslav federation - which has prompted international attention in the 1990s (although the discussion of contemporary Bulgaria omits reference to the positive role in the 1990s of the UDF government and President Zhelyu Zhelev, above all in breaking the historical mould when Sofia became the first country, leading both Russia and Turkey at the same time, to recognize Macedonia's independence). Although that international attention is mentioned, it is one of the book's few weaknesses that major international attention only receives passing reference - for example, the precedent-setting deployment only seems to merit one mention, although the index falsely suggests that there are a couple of others (these are simply to the UN, not the peace operation). Perhaps this should be seen as the subject for a study in its own right - it certainly merits more serious attention. This possible weakness notwithstanding, Hugh Poulton has produced a valuable and reliable overview of the historical and ethno-national setting for those addressing the Macedonian question in the 1990s.
Review copyright International Relations 1997-98
Poulton successfully lays out the current competing theories surrounding the debate on Macedonian national identity. For this, his work is quite instructive as it presents the material in a clear and concise manner that is accessible to the layman as well as the expert. However, beyond this there is little to commend the work. The research is not that extensive and could have contained much more detail. In addition, it adds little to the overall academic debate as it does not present any groundbreaking theory. If you are layman only interested in learning a few facts about the general issues surrounding Macedonian identity, this is an easy and quick read. If you are a specialist looking for insight into the larger nationalist debate, look elsewhere.
Most recent customer reviews
Unfortunately, the author did not do his research very well since the only true Macedonians left are to be found on the mountainsides of the...Read more