October 18, 2008
Indeed, it is most ironic that Botev chose to deface the symbol of the cross, given that it was the Greek missionaries Cyril and Methodius who, during the early years of the Byzantine Empire, took the time out to learn the Slavonic dialects of the Balkans and introduced Christianity to the erstwhile pagan Slavonic peoples of the region. In doing so, they also introduced as an ancillary to their spiritual enlightenment, the rudimentary form of the alphabet which is still used by the majority of Slavonic peoples to this day and also, a good dollop of Byzantine civilisation, which still forms the basis of Balkan culture to this day and of each states´ national identity. A field trip to the surviving Byzantine and Ottoman-era churches of the regions of Achrida (modern day Ohrid) and Monastiri (modern day Bitola) are most instructive in this regard. One of the first things that the visitor will notice is the predomination of Greek inscriptions in the frescoes of these churches. Given that Hellenism and Christianity are inextricably linked in the popular consciousness of the region, Botev´s defacement of the cross is a powerful manifestation of the identity hysteria and schizophrenia currently afflicting his compatriots. In their quest to disassociate themselves from and denigrate their neighbours, they are in actual fact, impugning the substructure of their own culture, as they come to realize that its foundations are Hellenic - something which according to them, should be hated. Consequently, they entrap themselves in a vicious cycle of self-loathing and fantasy.
Ironic too is the choice of the swastika as the design with which to deface the cross. For during the Second World War, the majority of the Slavonic inhabitants of the region sallied out to meet and welcome the Bulgarian army and is Nazi allies as liberators. It is estimated that up to 40% of the soldiers comprising the Bulgarian occupation battalions of the region during the war, were drawn from the enthusiastic local population. Thus again, Botev´s self-loathing and schizophrenia of identity assumes a telling parable. At a time, not so long ago, when there was no nonsense about ethnic identity or naming disputes, the people of this region identified themselves as Bulgarians and as such, actively assisted the armed forces of their compatriots in carrying out Nazi kreigpolitik. Botev´s defacement of the cross by transforming it into a Nazi hakenkeuz, is thus nothing more than another manifestation of self-loathing and guilt, as well as a vain and rather childish attempt to transfer guilt and an unacceptable past upon modern-day perceived enemies, in the hope that its descendants no longer have to face it. It is in short, an evasion of responsibility.
The swastika itself, is a defacement of the Christian cross. In its name, countless atrocities were committed on millions of innocent and defenceless people. Thus, the conversion of a symbol of peace and love into a symbol of hatred and evil is a particularly offensive and insensitive one, considering that the Bulgarian army was allied to the Nazis who perpetrated the greatest genocide ever in the history of humanity: the Holocaust.
Fittingly, the Jewish community of Greece has this to say about Botev´s artistic efforts: "The defacing of the national symbol and the attempt to depict the Greek prime minister to a Nazi officer constitute unacceptable actions and an insult to the Greek people as a whole including members of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki… These actions become more heinous because Greece was among the first countries in Europe to clash with the tide fascism and the first to defeat Axis Forces on the battlefield in WWII, [referring to the Albanian front (1940-1941], where Jewish and Christian Greeks fought side by side. Furthermore, the use - for the sake of creating impressions --of symbols that are directly linked with the period of the worst crimes committed against humanity is an insult to the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust and those who survived the horror of the Nazi concentration camps. Our Community welcomes the stance adopted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a descendant of the Mallah family from Thessaloniki, who backed Greece's positions on the self-evident Greekness of Macedonia."
If the Greek people are to be offended by anything, it should be the smug and self-righteous assurances by various NATO powers, that the non-resolution of the naming dispute between Greece and the No-name Republic does not give Greece the right to veto its accession to NATO. A not very ample amount of street-logic could be easily employed in order to argue the point successfully. Quite simply, NATO is a club and Greece is a member of it. Each member of the club is allowed a certain amount of face control. This is known as a veto. Just as a bouncer is entitled to exclude non-members from entering a club on members night because he doesn´t like their face, taste in footwear or the ultra-violet aura surrounding their person, so too can members of NATO, exclude others from entering their club.