In Skopje, a government plan costing several hundred million euros is creating a brand new, ancient city center; the project is called ‘Skopje 2014.’ So far, some thirty government buildings and museums, as well as countless monuments in the classic style have been erected in the Macedonian capital, in an attempt to put Skopje on a par with Rome and Athens. In some cases, existing socialist structures were incorporated into the new builds. A city looks for a future in history – Macedonia is inventing itself as a nation with historical status based on a model of antiquity that never existed in that form. Would that be something new? Will we buy that (hi)story?
Matter versus Ideas
In an interview, the French film director Jean-Luc Godard brought a solution for the European financial crisis into play: ‘We have logic thanks to the Greeks. We owe them something for that.’ According to Godard, Aristotle came up with ‘a great word’: The word ‘therefore’. It is used millions of times ‘to make our most important decisions’, he said. ‘It’s about time we started paying for it! If every time we use the word “therefore”, we have to pay ten euros to Greece, the crisis will be over in a day – and the Greeks will not have to sell the Parthenon to the Germans!'(1) This by all means well-meant, benevolent philanthropy is based on the presumption that the Greeks of the modern era are direct descendants of Pericles, Aristotle or Socrates and not a mixture of Slovenians, Byzantines, Turks, Albanians… who speak a language related to Old Greek. This notion has become a rock-solid dogma for educated Europeans and the EU administration also argued to this effect in 1980, when it integrated the comparatively poorly developed country into the European Union. Based on this example, one can see to what extent the history of a country has taken leave of this contemporary past, which is still very much alive, and how its idealised form has an effect on the present, cemented and disguised as general knowledge. An unpaid invoice, which cannot possibly be paid straight off. For a service, which in this way suddenly has a direct buyer. In view of all kinds of inconsistencies, the neighboring states are complaining as to why such solidarity is being shown towards contemporary Greece and why Greece alone is being thanked for the achievements of the ancient period. Why not also pay Macedonia and Albania the ‘therefore’ utilisation fees? Turkey also has good reason to smile, with its countless archeological excavation sites. One could get all of them into the EU together, like a shot. Macedonia has also maintained its original name. So if it comes down to the name – then at least Macedonia should be paid off! However, the contrary is in fact the case: Macedonia’s entry into the NATO and the EU is repeatedly prevented by Greece’s veto. The justification is the latter’s sole claim to the ancient heritage: Macedonia would have to change its name.Turkey and Albania on the other hand are reticent with their claims, as they currently favor other narratives and myths. The longer one contemplates the relationship between heritage and the earth, the more difficult it becomes to determine Europe’s origins at all, because on the other hand one should also ask to what extent the ancient world has anything to do with Europe today. Could the Inuits become the lawful heirs of ancient Greece? That sounds absurd. And could the Europeans be the lawful heirs of ancient Greece? Of course – although Greenland also belongs to Europe. Despite the fact that Greenland is located on the North American plate, it is not part of North America. One can surely not define the ancient world based on a tectonic plate. Because, incidentally, the west is not always in the west but also sometimes in the far south or in the far east, if one considers Australia and Japan. Hence it is quite normal that the terms lose their original meaning over time. However: in order to be able to negotiate at all, it then again makes sense if the criteria remain recognisable and comprehensible, even if they develop new meanings. The classical ancient period had little to do with what we call Europe today. It was much more orientated towards Asia and North Africa. It was not concerned (2) with today’s Europe. If we regard contemporary Europe, only Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia and Turkey belonged to the Hellenic kingdom. With the exception of Italy, these are all countries that Europeans today consider to be essentially their border region. Seen from the perspective of the average Austrian, these countries should stay on the other side of the border and should never be allowed to become part of Europe. So where does the view that the ancient world belongs to Europe take effect at all? The classical ancient world, which began in ancient Greece, is generally considered to be the beginning of the western civilisation, as it had a huge influence on language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, natural sciences and the arts. Accordingly, this feeling of belonging is generated by ideas alone and not the connection to the earth (blood and earth), which is why we also speak of a community of values (3). None of the heirs, in the sense of ‘inherited’ earth, was concerned with fostering these precious values. The ruins standing around were perhaps important to them because they could use them to protect their washing from the wind and dirt while drying it, or because their goats then had something to climb on. The well-preserved buildings were used as churches and mosques or barracks. These users also maintained great silence with regards to the ‘values,’ for more than 1500 years. The basic material for our community of values was provided by the Arabs, in Sicily and Spain. It then moved on, was disseminated and received its own context. Hence neither the Greeks nor the Turks, or anyone else from this area was their lawful bearer or authorised ambassador. According to this, today Europe would have to pay a utilisation fee and transfer fees to North Africa and invite these countries to join the European Union, should one want to or have to pay anyone at all.The mixture of ideas founded on blood and earth, with its universal (4) body of thought (such as natural sciences, philosophy etc.), muddles many things and also contributes to the indistinguishability of the ideas in question. In addition, this mixture creates a kind of double entity: the ideas of exclusiveness, uniqueness and uninimatableness, which always accompany blood and earth, reinforce aspects of separation. This however does not cancel out the universal but rather allows the other (the non-exclusive) to appear as not universal (not human). It asserts the claim of being able to judge others without having to make reference to clear and negotiable criteria. In a foreign envelope, in a foreign container, contents can be transported which would never have been able to succeed without the universal encasement. These characteristics of extreme cunning reappear in the unpredictable nature of nationalism: it expands and divides, both at the same time. During the ancient times, similar techniques were also used to foster earth-related, raceoriented relationships: The sense of belonging felt by the League of Corinth (5) or the shared identity of the small states, always in conflict, was generated by comparing themselves with the Persians. The Hellenes were: intelligent, manful, levelheaded, just… And the Persians: despotic, exorbitant, barbaric, cowardly, perfidious, covetous, rapists… The horror image of the ‘raping Asians’ served as a negative image, the image of hordes from the East, threatening the entity of Europe that was worthy protection, seeking to violate it, seems to incessantly mutate and again and again find its place in history.
(1) Jean-Luc Godard in Die Presse from 15.07.2011, quoted from an interview with Fiachra Gibbons in The Guardian from 12.07.2011.
(2) With his famous invasion of Asia, Alexander the Great advanced as far as India. Aristotle’s assumption that Europe was located on two continents was topped by that of his student, Alexander of Macedon, when he also conquered Egypt. He also wanted to be buried here, in the sacred site of Ammon in the Siwa Oasis. The Hellenic
Kingdom stretched across three continents.
(3) The organisation of democracy in Europe cannot be ascribed to the influence of Athens alone. Hence ‘in ancient Athens only free men were allowed to vote: 80 to 85 per cent of the inhabitants were slaves, women and children and therefore excluded from political participation. […] Therfore historians of ancient periods consider the difference between the democracy of Athens and today’s forms to be insurmountable. “The representative form of our modern democracies is more strongly linked to the history of ideas of the 18th and 19th century via the Roman Republic”, confirms [the historian for the ancient period] Ernst Baltrusch. Hence the terms freedom and equality influenced the founding fathers in the US struggle for independence and during the French revolution. “The collapse of the royalty, the battle of the Republic against the hated monarchy, the conspiracy against Caesar: those were the ideals of Washington and Lafayette.” […] Yet Rome is also hardly suitable for justifying the myth of Europe.’ (Matthias Thiele, “Mythos Europa,” in Fundiert: Das Wissenschaftsmagazin der Freien Universität Berlin 01 (2015): “Europa”, 12 f.)
(4) Greece’s exclusive claim to its heritage, the claim that was also initiated and cultivated by the European superpowers at that time, is also in line with their geopolitical interests. Hence they protected themselves on the one hand from the Ottomans while on the other hand they could in this way lessen the historical influence of the Vatican and the churches on Europe and more easily secularise the European states.
(5) However it was about the unity of Greeks, Macedonians and Thracians. The federation of states called itself ‘The League of Corinth.’ Although back then the name ‘Europe’ had already been used in this context.
Adnan Softić is an author, visual artist and director. He graduated in film studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg. In his works he is consistently dealing with historical and remembrance politics issues. His installations and multimedial works are on display in numerous exhibitions in Europe.
Nina Softić graduated in Fashion Design at the HAW Hamburg. In 2010 she began to collaborate with her husband Adnan Softić on his artistic work. She is covering fields such as project developing, research work and visualization, including image, video and film editing aspects of their projects.