- The Macedonian Conflict. Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World
In 1983 Ernest Gellner could still argue, in Nations and Nationalism, that we live in a world of nationalism, a world in which the congruence of “nation” (people) and “state” (political structure) is so ingrained that we take it as an axiomatic principle of political legitimacy. Even by then, however, it might have been more accurate to suggest, as many scholars now do, that we live in a world of “ethnicity,” a world in which every “people,” every ethnic group, strives to wrest some degree of autonomy or recognition from the state or, more significantly, in defiance of the state. “Ethnicity” and “nationalism” are thus pitted against each other, but they are in fact the products of a remarkably similar process, and in The Macedonian Conflict. Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World, Loring M. Danforth presents us with a superb case study both of the conflict between nationalism and ethnic aspirations and of the curious parallelisms in their development. Professor Danforth’s book is, however, more than a scholarly work of anthropology and contemporary history. It is a level-headed, humane, and very timely political intervention in a quarrel that continually threatens to become more than a war of words. For that reason Danforth is unlikely to win many friends among partisans of either side; nevertheless, he must surely win the respect not only of those who claim to be “dispassionate” but also of those who are capable of comprehending the social and historical factors that shape their passions.
At least for Europe, nation-states crystallized out of the fragmentation of older, more embracing political forms—the multiethnic, multilinguistic empires of Christendom and Islam in which the political structure (the state) and the nations (peoples) encompassed had no necessary unity. To that extent, nationalism could be viewed as a triumph of localism: a Finland for the Finns, an Italy for the Italians and, of course, a Greece for the Greeks—“national” territories and “national” states liberated from “foreign” rule. But who were the “Finns” or the “Italians” or the “Greeks” who won their sovereignty? For nationalists the answer is self-evident: they were Finns, Italians, and Greeks. The categories are natural kinds. For most social scientists—and, in the present case, for Danforth—such peoples are also historical constructs. In Gellner’s robust argument, it is states that create peoples, not peoples states; but even if, as Danforth suggests, Gellner’s formulation is too simple, it is nevertheless the case that nationalism’s nineteenth-century triumph itself entailed a suppression of other forms of [End Page 355] localism, since the nation-state’s existence, its very rationale, demanded that the populations of a Finland or an Italy or a Greece be “Finnish” or “Italian” or “Greek.” National homogenization being the price of national independence, nation-states had to transform themselves into the “natural” (national) unities they claimed to be. In this game there were winners and losers. The “Greeks” achieved their state, but the Vlachs, Pomaks, and Macedonians did not (as elsewhere the Basques, Catalans, and Bretons did not). The choice for such “residual” peoples was to assimilate, to become Greek—or, importantly, to “discover” that they were “Greek” (or “Spanish” or “French”)—or else to bide their time.
Ethnicity thus starts where nationalism left off: a second round of frag-mentation, a second round of claims to recognition and to independence of a sort, but under somewhat different circumstances. Macedonia, the geographical area, was partitioned after 1913 among three newly formed nation-states (Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria), all of which had won their territories from the Ottoman Empire in the name of their peoples. Those who now claim a Macedonian identity—as distinct from a Greek-Macedonian, a Bulgarian, or a Serbian identity—do not, therefore, contend with the “foreign” and therefore (in contemporary terms) clearly “illegitimate” rule of an empire but, on the contrary, with the rule of nation-states whose own legitimacy rests precisely...