Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ethnic Creationism: Risto Stefov´s polemics about Greece, Macedonia and FYROM

by Tymphaios
in American Chronicle

Ethnicity is not based on genetic make-up. In no country is one required to take a genetic test before he is accepted as a citizen. Even Hitler did not require any such tests. For Risto Stefov, however, and some of his colleagues, the fact that Greeks cannot prove a genetic identity to someone (not defined thus impossible anyway) who was Greek, means Greeks are not Greeks. Therefore the Greek word Macedonia and the Greek administrative district of Macedonia (in Greece) with its Greek history are up for the taking. The only merit of such an extreme form of racism is that it does not openly ask for the extermination of Greeks as it mercifully makes Greeks non-existent by an act of free will. Nevertheless, through this invention, part of Greece, Greek property (in the administrative district of Macedonia) as well as Greek heritage and history may be appropriated just the same.

Unfortunately for Risto Stefov and his friends, ethnicity is not decided by a set of genes and besides we know nothing about how genetically homogeneous the original Greeks (whoever Stefov thinks these might have been) were. This racial, or even racist, attitude towards the definition of ethnicity, ignores thousands of years of linguistic and cultural continuity and the self-definition at all times of Greeks as Greeks. Stefov conveniently also ignores the geographic continuity, for Greeks never lived just around Athens and Sparta by their own accounts and the accounts of others. A fuller case can be made elsewhere and others have responded to Stefov´s racist ideology. In this response, I will limit my reply to a one of his comments.

Risto Stefov in his essay #9 on Greek heritage writes:
"In the book "The Empty Cradle of Democracy" by Alexandra Halkias on page 59 we read "Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the average inhabitant of Greece called himself of herself Roman (Romios), and the (Greek) language Romeika."

"…though this was not articulated in racial terms but on the basis of a common language, history and consciousness. In effect, at this time, whoever called themselves a Greek was a Greek. It is because of this that many Greek-speaking Albanians, Slavs, Romanians and Vlachs were easily assimilated and became important players in Greek patriotism at the time. (Dakin 1972, 8)""


Although these statements support the Greek position, that the Greek language has been spoken uninterruptedly since ancient times in Greece and indeed in Macedonia, it must have been what little Stefov could find that he might turn against the Greeks. There is nothing contained in his two quotes that says that Greeks were not Greeks or that the Romeika was not the Greek language. In fact the first quote explicitly says the Greek language was called Romeika. Since the Emperor Theodosius, the official language had been Greek and the culture was also Greek. Romioi (Romans) was a word Byzantines used and which is equivalent to Greek or Hellene. These three words were used interchangeably, sometimes in the same page or the same paragraph in Byzantine times.

Anna Comnena, the Byzantine historian, uses "Romaios" (Roman) interchangeably with "Hellene":
"Now the man [Bohemond] was such as, to put it briefly, had never before been seen in the land of the ROMANS, be he either of the barbarians or of the HELLENES". [Anna Comnena, Alexiad, Book 13, X]

"Throughout the whole of the day the Turks kept attacking the ROMAN army without any success, for they were unable to break it up either entirely or even partially, so they ran back to the hills without accomplishing anything and lighted a great many bonfires and howled all through the night like wolves and occasionally made jeering remarks at the ROMANS; for there were some semi-barbarians among them who spoke HELLENIC."[Anna Comnena, Alexiad, Book 15, XII]

Frantzis in his Chronicle (15th C) describes the events around the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. He refers interchangeably to Romans, Hellenes or Greeks and even expresses the idea of the "patrida" (homeland):
V.5. "Ioannes Justiniani … was appointed to guard with four hundred soldiers, Italian and ROMAN, the region of the Gate of saint Romanus…"

V.8. "Iakovos Kokkos the Venetian… having obtained three very fast light ships, placed four hundred courageous young men in them, GREEK and Italian"

VIII.11. "He wants to devour us and this city, that the thrice-blessed Constantine the Great that king dedicated and granted to the panagnos and yperagnos despoina Theotokos and aeiparthenos Maria, that she may be the lord and aid and roof of our homeland (patrida) and sanctuary of the Christians and joy of all the HELLENES, the most glorious [city] amongst all that are under the rising sun."

The second quotation where Stefov refers to the Vlachs and Arvanites of Greece is meant to "prove" that Greeks are no longer pure or ancient, for this is clearly part of his creationist principle. For the sake of the reader, there are in Greece two kinds of Vlachs, Greek speaking ones and Latin speaking ones, who are actually bilingual. The Greek speaking are the majority but are still referred to as Vlachs and as it suits Stefov, they become non-Greeks. It matters to Stefov little that the Vlachs themselves speak Greek and consider themselves more Greek than Greek. Many of the benefactors of the Greek State and society since the liberation of Greece were Vlachs. One of the founders of the Philike Etairia, Skoufas, was also a Vlach. Why are these less Greek than El Greco? Vlachs were people who used Greek or Latin in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Some may have served in the Roman legions, many traveled considerably or were nomadic, others were Greek fugitives or folk of the countryside. It is hardly surprising that they identified themselves with the Romans, later Byzantines, and with the Greeks. In any case a Greek in the Roman empire was not a matter of genes (as Stefov wishes it should have been) but a matter of language and culture. The same was true during Byzantine times and not so surprisingly during the Greek struggles for liberation from the Ottoman yoke. The very idea of political freedom has its origins in Greece, even if it has become a universal idea. However, the desire of bilingual people living among the Greeks (the latinisng Vlachs and Christian Arvanites) to be educated in the Greek language and the Greek culture so as to become a living part of Greece, that for Stefov is very very bad.

Unfortunately for Stefov, his ethnic creationism is an old myth he needs to resuscitate to save in his mind the macedonist ideology in FYROM: if no Greeks exist, then Macedonia is up for the taking. Greece has adhered to the ancient and Byzantine idea of a free society and had been proclaimed in this way during the revolution for independence. Some of the first Greek Ministers were Vlachs and one was a prominent Suliot revolutionary leader, by some regarded as half-Albanian in origin. The first Greek Constitution regarded everyone who was a Christian, or had struggled for liberty, and lived in Greece and those who might have not been but adopted the Greek nationality, as Greek citizens. What makes the Greek people is not a genetic examination - that makes nobody a citizen of any country. The principle is the struggle for the Greek idea, which is the idea of political freedom, of equality, of free education, of freedom of thought and of free enquiry, using the medium of the Greek language. This was the idea of Greece since the time of Isocrates in the 4th century BC. It is the same Greece, even if the Greeks of the 4th C BC died a long time ago. Greek language and the Greek idea were as alive in 1821 as they had been before.

The nationalistic principles of the nineteenth century, in which an ethnicity was genetically unchangeable through time, is a fossil of pre-scientific thinking. Thanks to Darwin and the scientific revolution he brought about, we know a little bit more now than people knew in the 19th century. Humans, like other species, are not static. The ancient Greeks had no special properties all of which disappeared with them when Demosthenes, or Alexander or someone or other died. Linguistic, historic and cultural continuity is what determines the survival of an ethnicity not a unique "blood" or an exclusive set of genes. Like species, so human "ethnicities" evolve over time. Risto Stefov´s quest is a constant search for a genetic contamination from Albanians or some other "impure" ethnicity, so that like a creationist he may say: aha, Greeks as known today were never created by God, or Greeks of the ancient times have no connection to today´s Greeks because they did not call themselves Romioi, presumably did not mix with Albanians, etc. So therefore they were a different "race". He cuts a lonely figure in such a quest, because this kind of thinking is more and more recognized as belonging to those racist theories promoted by the fascistic states of mid-20th century. Stefov´s ethnic principle is like that of Creationism in the sense of lines that are not evolving but can only stay or disappear. Today this is a thought rarely entertained even by ordinary laymen.

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