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Macedonia’s continuing power to excite

Cambridge University Press’s recent decision to back out of publishing a monograph on Greek Macedonia has whipped up a storm of controversy. Several leading academics have canceled their affiliation with the Press; others threaten to do so. The Press has also managed to alienate the British Foreign Office, the intelligence services, and the Greek government. It has been accused of self-censorship and commercial expediency. Not bad for an institution that proudly boasts that it is the oldest press in the world and that it is devoted to “the acquisition, advancement, conservation, and dissemination of knowledge in all subjects”! 1

Macedonia has evidently lost none of its power to excite.

The Press, it seems, took fright at the prospect of publishing an ethnography of northern Greece because it feared the negative publicity that might result in Greece itself. The suppressed author, Anastasia Karakasidou (whose “Politicizing Culture: Negating Ethnic Identity in Greek Macedonia” appeared in JMGS 11 [1993]) had been harassed and had even received a death threat in the past. Also, at the height of the nationalist fuss in Greece over Macedonia two years ago several foreign firms had been boycotted for a time. Thus after the manuscript had been read and passed for publication by outside academics, the Press, instead of proceeding immediately to publication, took the highly unusual step of getting security advice.

Failing to consult any academic experts inside or outside Greece, it simply contacted the chargé d’affaires at the British Embassy in Athens. The manuscript there received something less than a rigorous analysis. “We have not had time to read the text,” the diplomat replied in a confidential letter to the Press’s sales representative in Greece. “But the subject matter (ethnography) has the potential to be controversial and raise strong emotions in Greece . . . There is therefore a possibility that publication might provoke a reaction against the author or her publishers.” 2 [End Page 229]

The chargé d’affaires had apparently not set foot recently in any bookshop in Athens, since he would have seen there numerous books for sale on the Macedonian issue. Yet Cambridge University Press seized on this vague advice and informed the author that it could not publish her work. The Press was not only—perhaps not even primarily—worried about security. It had its lucrative and profitable English-language market in Greece to think about too, all those private frontistíria where tens of thousands of Greek children go each week after school to brush up their English. What, after all, could explain why the Press was so scared to tackle the Macedonia question, when Guatemala, Sierra Leone and the Middle East featured prominently and unproblematically on their list? The answer may lie in Greece’s very substantial importance for the sale of CUP’s English books and exams.

The irony is that by behaving with such lack of judgment, the Press aroused considerable anger in Greece itself, where people were understandably irritated at being regarded as trigger-happy, intolerant maniacs liable to fly off the handle at the sight of an academic monograph. As the Greek Ambassador in London noted in response to the decision, “The worst possible fate that could befall a CUP book on an anthropological subject in Greece would be indifference.” 3

Although it can be argued that the issue of Macedonia was secondary and had merely been used by the Press to cover commercial motives, clearly it was the sensitivity of the Macedonia question and its public reemergence in recent years that made the issue a plausible fig-leaf. The whole affair has highlighted the need for the sort of serious intellectual inquiry that was blocked by CUP’s action. As this issue of JMGS shows, such an inquiry has, in fact, been under way for a number of years among scholars of the Balkans, stimulated on the one hand by political developments in the region and, on the other, by the resurgence of interest in nationalism and ethnicity.

The rise of nationalism

Did the nation create the state or the state the nation? Both positions have their adherents where Macedonia is concerned. As Basil Gounaris...

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