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Journal of Modern Greek Studies 18.2 (2000) 465-468
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Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990
Anastasia N. Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1999. Pp. xxiii+ 334. 14 b/w plates. $20.00 (paper).
Very few ethnographies arrive with the political baggage of this one. I will not recount the various twists that preceded its publication as these are well known to the readership of this journal. Because of its news worthiness, public commentators have already weighed in on its merits, notably Mischa Glenny in the Times Literary Supplement. Nationalists of all the countries implicated in the book have voiced their opinions. It is time to look at Karakasidou's work in the less vituperative context of Europeanist anthropology at the turn of the century. In that arena, this is a welcome and important focus on the southeast Balkans. It conforms to a tradition of focusing on a single community to explicate a web of crosscutting local ties that belie the universalizing claims of ideologues for [End Page 465] homogeneous identity. On my shelf, it sits next to Halpern and Halpern's A Serbian Village in Historical Perspective (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972), Cole and Wolf's The Hidden Frontier (New York: Academic, 1974), Rogers' Shaping Modern Times in Rural France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), and Verdery's Transylvanian Villagers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983).
What these studies have in common is a commitment to unraveling the complexity of people's lives. They succeed as studies of cultural dynamics because they order that complexity for us, showing how a systematic reconstruction of events in time and space over a series of generations makes present day discourse appear timeless and ubiquitous. Nowhere in Europe is this careful dissection of local life more revealing of the ideological foundations of identity than in the southeast Balkans. We do not usually interpret this region as a post-colonial configuration of politics and culture. Yet the successor states to the Hasburg and Ottoman empires have shown themselves to have a lot in common with those of the overseas empires of Britain, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Institutions and artifacts derived from the former empires, such as the autocephelous churches, millet-like political roles for religious hierarchies, local economic dependence on distant metropolitan formations, and the forced relocations of communities abound in the region. These features serve a different master in the post-colonial world, "an 'imagined' world in which the holders and wielders of power [Karakasidou's tsorbadjidhes ] were assigned a strategic position" (Eric Wolf, Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999: 278).
Karakasidou's study concerns the town of Guezna/Assiros in the Langadhas basin, north of Thessaloniki. The question she poses in her research is what determined the identity that the people who live in this town claim for themselves? The reason that this question is not as self-evident as Greek nationalists would like to think is that the forces determining ethnicity and national identity have changed over the past 100 years. These forces are the focus of the book. The theory of ethnicity advanced by Karakasidou is interactionist: "The particular set of historical relationships found in a specific field of interaction may vary, but the developmental process of social groups can necessarily be understood only in relation to other developing groups, not only those in the past and present, but also those still in the process of becoming" (20). This developmental process, in turn, is made up of "material factors involved in the reproduction of life and the production of society, whether on a local or on a grander scale" (20). She differentiates between ethnicity as an analytical category and as a self-ascribed, ethnic designation, preferring to use it consistently in this work as an analytical category. According to this usage, ethnicity is "observed or analytically derived...