by Akis Gavriilidis
In an interview to the Macedonian Television in February 2011, the British diplomat Robin O’Neil declared:
“The Greece-Macedonia name row is the most bizarre diplomatic dispute in Europe today. No one outside of Greece can perceive why should Macedonia change its name. What is Greece’s national interest in doing this? Greece has not suffered in any way as a result of Macedonia’s existence under the current name in the past 20 years, and Greece never opposed Macedonia’s existence as part of SFR Yugoslavia».
He also said that “the consistent Greek opposition to Macedonia’s NATO and EU accession is especially difficult to understand” (ibid.).
O’Neil here states the obvious as regards diplomatic practice and international relations, but what he says is also valid epistemologically. I think that his statement is a very useful way to start a treatment of the issue from a political theory point of view as well: in fact, if diplomats had a hard time to figure out what Greece is trying to achieve or to avoid by its reaction, social theorists did not do much better up to now.
Of course, it is fair to say that they did not bother much about this question. In Greece itself many (self-proclaimed) specialists were mobilised –almost in the military sense of the term- and/or volunteered, to examine the issue and write extensively about it. But their work was of a purely apologetic nature, and what they wrote was repetitive ad nauseam, in any case not really worth of being qualified as “scientific” in any meaningful sense, although –or maybe precisely because- a claim to such a character is very heavily made in their discourses. In this plethoric claim, scientificity is being conceived in a naïve, positivist way, and the findings of history, archaeology, ethnography, literature, linguistics, and other similar disciplines, are supposed to prove unanimously beyond any doubt the official truth of the state. (I consider probable that similar phenomena must have taken place in the Republic of Macedonia too, through the mechanism that Spinoza would call “the imitation of passions”, but unfortunately I don’t know Macedonian so I cannot be more affirmative about this conjecture).
On the other hand, non Greek social scientists did not lean on the question very much, partly because they were not very interested in it anyway, and also partly because they were seeing that this is a very loaded and sensitive question for Greeks, so they preferred not to mingle.
In this way, those who had a picture of what was going on in Greece, for a long time were too partial –or too discouraged- to analyze it, whereas those who were impartial, were too far away from the issue to analyze it. But I think that this analysis, which is still pending, is extremely useful to do, indeed I consider this phenomenon as a true goldmine for social and political thought, and it takes somebody who is close enough –and knows the language, of course- to be able to see it, and not so close as not to be “burned” by it.
I hope I qualify as one.
So I maintain that the question posed in the above interview, the question “Why did Greece oppose –and still opposes- so fiercely the event of a state being recognized with the name Macedonia”, is a genuine theoretical question, and a very fruitful one; indeed an aporia. The fact that this dispute was already very heavily invested, both affectively and theoretically, and in it the social sciences were invoked constantly to prove the “right” of each side, renders the problem all the more complicated, but, for that same reason, more interesting for political theory.
In the present article I will try to take this incomprehension seriously, and develop some lines of thought that could help address it. From the start I admit that these lines, or any others that I know of, do not exhaust the issue and do not provide a totally satisfactory construction covering all the aspects of this refusal, which seem to be multiple and possibly independent from one another, but converging to this unique formation.
I.1. Defining the problem
But first of all, let me situate the theoretical problem and identify which exactly is the phenomenon that I consider calling for an interpretation. As such, I define the fact that from the beginning of the 90s on, after the republic of Macedonia declared –and implemented- its intention to become an independent state following the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, a very fierce reaction against this intention emerged within the Greek society, especially in Northern Greece, then the whole of the country and the diaspora, which eventually was translated into state policy with the acceptance of practically all political and intellectual leadership (including the clergy); this policy was that Greece will under no circumstances accept the existence of a state calling itself Macedonia, or even using this term (e.g. as an adjective) in its denomination.
Very soon, a fixed discourse surrounding and explaining this denial was produced and started being repeated continuously, to the point it obtained a status of an official self-evident national truth, reproduced in countless articles, books, TV shows, films, stickers, songs, and massive rallies. The manifest content of this discourse goes that:
- This name belongs exclusively to Greece, to its cultural tradition, and this has always been so since at least 2500 years; therefore, the use of this term by somebody else is an illegitimate appropriation.
- The use of the term Macedonia to describe a nation and a state was a deliberate and arbitrary choice; the people who did it were not really Macedonians, but started claiming so out of the blue, from a certain point in time on. These people also invented an artificial language and tradition and started calling them Macedonian.
- Most importantly, the reason why they did all this otherwise inexplicable masquerade was that they had sinister plans: they wanted to gain the acceptance and sympathy of powerful foreign actors, mainly of the Europeans and Americans, in order to attack Greece and annex part of its territory, in particular the northern part of it which bears also the name “Department of Macedonia” (Mακεδονία), using as a pretext the existence of a minority of the same ethnic origin and speaking the same language (that very language which was nevertheless declared “inexistent” and “invented” under point 2).
This activity went so far as inventing genuine urban legends, which also acquired the status of self-evident truth by repetition. One such myth was the “historical fact”, to be found still today in many Greek speaking websites, that, during the 60s, general De Gaulle had vetoed the UK bid for membership to the then EEC, because it wanted to use the name “Great Britain”, which was a usurpation of the traditionally and exclusively French name Bretagne/ Brittany! Of course, this explanation is a retrospective projection with no historical basis whatsoever; the reasons for that veto were totally different. But this is a very useful invention of an “historical precedent” which can help justify the “incomprehensible refusal” and make it less unusual. Many years later, Andònis Samaràs, the Greek foreign minister at the time, narrated with obvious pride to journalist Alexis Papahelas, for his TV program “Fakeloi” [files], how he had explained this “historical precedent” to fellow ministers at an EU Council, who criticized him for vetoing Macedonia’s accession. Apparently, Mr Samaràs kept believing in the truth of this story all these years, and never came across anybody who would advise him to the contrary.
A first thing we have to note about this discursive outbreak is this pre-posterous (in the temporal meaning of the term) structure it is characterised by. This was a narrative about history, indeed one that claimed an uninterrupted continuity and validity of a centuries old history, but it itself has in turn its own history, and a very short one: nobody took the above statements as true, or, better, nobody cared whether they were true or not, before 1990. I can tell that for having seen it with my own eyes. I was born in Thessaloniki in 1964 and lived there until 1993; during the 80s, two or three people –e.g. Papathemelis, already mentioned, and Nikolaos Martis, another conservative politician and self-proclaimed historian and folklorist- were touring towns and villages of the Greek Macedonia giving passionate lectures about the “usurpation of our national heritage by Skopje”, whose attendance was limited to a few dozens of persons, usually retired military officers, priests, schoolmasters and other elderly members of the local elites. The whole activity was not much different from the functioning of a rather harmless religious sect.
Within a few years, this marginal belief was launched to the centre of political life and became a mainstream “religion”, and a passionate object of identification, for the vast majority of Greeks in Greece and abroad.
This is in itself a most unusual phenomenon. The sole fact that the Macedonian Republic was before a member of a Federation and was now becoming an independent state, made of course some difference; but this could not by itself justify this impressive change of mood.
Certainly, this evolution was part of a larger picture, and linked to a whole series of destabilising events and wars in the Balkans. But still, this was not a reason for such disproportionate reaction. On the contrary, one could say that precisely this, i.e. the danger of war, would be one more reason for Greece to recognise Macedonia so as not to add further sources of instability. Also, the instrumentalization of fear by ruthless politicians who wanted to build a career on nationalism, such as the aforementioned Samaràs, currently (spring 2011) opposition leader, no doubt played a role, but not even this was sufficient as an explanation. Opportunistic politicians have always existed, but they did not always manage to stage events and demonstrations with the participation of hundreds of thousands of people.
Precisely this participation leads us to note the very intense affective dimension of this issue. Whoever assisted these frenetic at least three or four years in Greece, could not fail to notice that there was a very active, widespread and genuine sentimental involvement of the population, it was not just the effect of propaganda.
For the purposes of this article, I will hereinafter refer to this ensemble of (pseudo)scientific claims, statements, silences, affects, institutional practices and social mobilisations that were released around this issue, as a discursive formation (following Foucault’s terminology). In what follows I will try to analyze it in terms of two axes: on the one hand the linguistic, and on the other hand the affective facet it combines.
II. The “linguistification of the political field”
It is very interesting to note that the whole phenomenon, the whole “discursive formation” we try to analyze here, is very much a question of language; its stakes, from a certain point of view, are “played” totally within language.
For one example, as soon as Greek nationalism was lead to contest the proclaiming of Macedonia as a sovereign state, it was immediately lead also to challenge the very existence of a Macedonian language.
But the link to language is not only limited to the fact that the discourse in question takes (the Macedonian) language as one of its objects, (which is already a very important point), but, on a deeper level, also consists in the fact that language is the very field where this struggle is being carried out, and the object of the struggle itself. The political aim of this movement, its explicit claim, concerns a name; more precisely, it demands that a certain name not be used, therefore it targets the linguistic practice of others. Even more, not just any others, or some of them, but of all the others –of the international community. This impersonal expression (how should Macedonia be called?) refers immediately, and necessarily, to the whole of humanity, because if one state, or even one person, says “Macedonia”, the claim is not satisfied.
So this is a demand addressed to nothing less than “the big Other” itself, to put it in Lacanian terms. In fact it is an objection to its very structure, a non-acceptance of it.
In this sense, it is a demand that shows us how inextricably sovereignty is linked (through language) to performativity. Therefore, one could pertinently read it through some very interesting remarks that Judith Butler had written several years ago, referring to a totally different subject:
I read the figure of sovereignty as it emerges within the contemporary discourse of the performative in terms of the Foucaultian view that contemporary power is no longer sovereign in character. Does the figure of the sovereign performative compensate for a lost sense of power, and how might that loss become the condition for a revised sense of the performative?
The interest in this figure of the performative follows from a conviction that a similar way of regarding speech as conduct is at work in several political spheres at the same time and for political purposes that are not always reconcilable with one another. Utterance itself is regarded in inflated and highly efficacious ways, no longer as a representation of power or its verbal epiphenomenon, but as the modus vivendi of power itself.
We might regard this overdetermination of the performative as the ‘linguistification’ of the political field.
We will come back to both of these theoretical references, i.e. Lacan and Butler, later. But, to begin with, one has to note that the rejection of the name in question, curiously enough, was not accompanied by any definite alternative name that should be used instead. In the beginning, some intellectuals tried to invent one, (which is already a self-defeating endeavour, because if you invent a name you cannot claim it to be “the right one”, the one that has always been used), such as “Vardaria”, or other more imaginative ones. But in principle most people didn’t really bother very much. What mostly mattered for them was to remain faithful to this censorship they imposed to themselves and to each other.
Here, one parenthesis is needed: of course, as is known, for the purposes of international relations, the acronym FYROM (former Yugoslav Republic of M.) was created. But here we are concerned with the discursive practices within Greece and/or within Greek language; within what we could call “the Greek cultural intimacy” (to follow the anthropologist Michael Herzfeld’s term), not in communications with the hostile and incomprehensive international community. As far as this practice is concerned, “FYROM” was practically never used; it is considered as a “default” provisional solution, which we unwillingly accept and pretend to follow for the sake of foreigners, but do not really believe in or endorse in practice in our everyday performances. The rest of the world, on the other hand, saw the term “FYROM” in exactly the same way, only “from the other end”: they used it as a compromise with the incomprehensible Greeks, and only when a Greek official was around and likely to object. Otherwise, they kept saying “Macedonia” as they used to do before.
So, without an alternative name, the campaign against the republic of Macedonia started having at least one problem, or one “performative contradiction”: in order to attack somebody, you have at least to name them. If we reject the name “Macedonia” and don’t propose any other instead, how can we carry out these attacks, and whom are we going to criticize?
In practice, most people started using spontaneously syntagms such as “the so-called [or: the false/ the self-proclaimed etc.] Macedonians” –or the similar. But they soon realized that this was not a good enough solution for them, because even so the prohibition was violated on a second level, at the very moment when it was formally complied with: the taboo word was nonetheless pronounced, albeit to be negated at the same moment. So little by little, a practice was established and eventually became a universal rule; a device was stabilized to counter this perceived threat and to prevent the illegitimate contestation in a performative or, better, in a perlocutionary way: the “bad” word was substituted by the term “the state[let] of Skopje”, and later plainly “Skopje”; the capital was used as a synecdoche for the whole of the country. At a next step, adjectives were also produced: the inhabitants started being called “Skopjans” even if they were e.g. from Bitola or Tetovo, the language “Skopjan language”, etc.
And, most importantly, the whole issue was given the rather ridiculous name the Skopjan (question) .
This leads us to another possible illustration of this performative contradiction. This syntagm, as in the other cases, came to substitute the expression the Macedonian (question), which had been previously replaced by the intermediate form “the so-called Macedonian question” or “the non-existent (to anyparkto) Macedonian question” . But those who declared this issue as “non-existent”, were soon –or perhaps not that soon- to discover that their claim was truer than they would wish; this question was constructed as such only in –and through- their own discursive practice. Anywhere else, it was indeed a literally non-existent issue, in the sense that nobody else except Greek nationalists saw any problem to use the name “Macedonia”. If they did not bring up this question in the first place, nobody else would.
This brought them to the ambivalent, almost impossible, position of being constantly obliged to bring up themselves an issue, only to declare that this is not really an issue; to speak about something, only to imply that there is nothing really to be said about it, everybody knows the answers.
This is why this is a discourse that can be prolonged ad infinitum. Once it is installed, it contains in itself the mechanism for its eternal reiteration; as soon as it is enunciated, it annuls itself and at the same moment produces the void that calls for a new enunciation to fill it, like the loops in minimalist music. It is an insatiable discourse, a discourse that literally can get no satisfaction. As I said before, it was produced at a certain point in time; but as it has no time and no evolution in itself, it is in a sense a-temporal, in the sense that Louis Althusser had claimed that ideology has no history –a claim which is itself inspired from the Freudian thesis that the unconscious has no history.
This is also why this performative contradiction can be compared to the paradox –or the pun- expressed by phrases such as “There are no cannibals left in our area, we ate the last one last week”. The performative nature of such statements, their nature as a gesture, is in a certain tension with their verbal content; and this tension is precisely the tension between the symptom and the absent cause it is trying to efface.
The use of the term “symptom” of course refers to a very precise theoretical setting: that of psychoanalysis. Indeed, I consider that it would be useful to draw from this theoretical tradition, as it provides us with tools suitable for analyzing such a problem as that of a discrepancy: the discrepancy between one’s discourse, on the one hand, and one’s material practice on the other. Indeed, one possible description of the symptom is: an act –including speech acts, of course- which does not fit in the rational account we give about ourselves to others and/ or to ourselves, what seems inexplicable, or not totally explained on the basis of our conscious thoughts.
This could be easily clarified with a counter example. We should carefully distinguish the incomprehension of this symptom from a disagreement to –or rejection of- a political view. Greece –or some people in Greece- want its territorial sea to be extended to 12 miles. Turkey does not agree with that. But everybody understands why Greece would prefer to have 12 rather than 6 miles of territorial sea; only, other interests and (conscious) desires are opposed to that. This is an international dispute.
We can talk about a symptom when a subject –in this case, a state and/or a society- invests an incredible amount of time and energy to a goal which seems pointless to others, when others are not able to tell what this subject would have to gain if they obtain that.
This is not to say that this is an irrational reaction, at least not in a normative sense. This term is (mis)used frequently in the framework of a modernist-“Europeanist” kind of discourse, which may even invoke psychoanalysis itself, whereby manifestations of populism, nationalism, traditionalism and similar stances are categorized as backwardly pre-modern phenomena, falling out of the paradigm for what a civil(ized) society and state should look like. But my concern in this article is not to put forward any moralist view on how a society should look like. The way I would like to utilize psychoanalytic theory is not to give lessons to peoples in a self-colonizing/ self-balkanizing way, (which, by the way, would not be very consistent with what psychoanalysis is about), but to release a potential for materialist critical understanding. The reason why I am interested in this discrepancy between deeds and reasons given for them is, first and foremost, to try and work on it, to produce any additional reasons and layers of meaning not contained in the necessarily non exhaustive list the subject provides for her practice, not necessarily to judge this practice as “unjustified” morally. (It may be so in an ethical understanding of the term, but we will come back to that towards the end). The fact that a subject cannot give a full account of the reasons why they are doing something does not mean that these reasons do not exist. Only, they exist on another scene, they are displaced.
It is interesting to note that, even before Lacan’s effort to introduce a semiotic approach to psychoanalytical theory, the question of substitute names had already received much of Freud’s interest and attention; especially in his Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens, the founder of psychoanalysis provided numerous examples, including from his own personal experience, thoughts (or non-thoughts), parapraxes, paramnesias etc., among which several have to do with names of persons, but also of places.
In a curious way, several of these places are situated in the Balkans in general, and in the future (at the time) or former (today) Yugoslavia in particular. One of them is very famous; it is the example with which practically the book starts (Chapter I – “Forgetting of proper names”), consisting in his forgetting the name of the Italian painter Signorelli, which was overdetermined i.a. by the names of Bosnia and Herzegovina, facilitated by the “translation” of the Italian Signor to the German Herr for “Lord, Master” (ibid., p. 37 ff). But there is yet another one:
One day I found it impossible to recall the name of a small country of which Monte Carlo is the chief town. The substitute names for it ran: Piedmont, Albania, Montevideo, Colico. Albania was soon replaced in my mind by Montenegro; and it then occurred to me that the syllable ‘Mont’ (pronounced ‘Mon’) was found in all the substitute names except the last. Thus it was easy for me, starting from the name of Prince Albert, to find the forgotten name Monaco” (p. 96).
It seems, hence, that, in some strange way, questions of Herrschaft (sovereignty), when combined with the Western Balkans, lead to some “name trouble”, and to the suppression and replacement of national names and/ or their “chief towns” (I suppose the English translator uses here the literal counterpart of the German Hauptstadt rather than the more usual term capital), or the former by the latter. Not to mention the invention of names for non-existent “small countries” –or the invention of non-existent names for existing ones.
The reason why Freud goes through all these, and many more, displacements, condensations and overdeterminations, is a scientific promise, indeed a very ambitious one.
The process that should lead to the reproduction of the missing name has been so to speak displaced and has therefore led to an incorrect substitute. My hypothesis is that this displacement is not left to arbitrary psychical choice but follows paths which can be predicted and which conform to laws. In other words, I suspect that the name or names which are substituted are connected in a discoverable way with the missing name (p. 38).
In spite of these bold declarations, at the limits of positivism, I consider that psychoanalytic insight can be fruitful, and help us, maybe not to “predict” the course of the signifiers or to discover “laws” to which they conform in a deterministic way, but at least to shed some light on certain dimensions of the “name trouble” of Greek nationalism. Of course, in the latter case we don’t have a temporary forgetting, but a permanent –and permanently impossible- suppression of the name; the substitution of Monte Carlo for Monaco is not the same as the substitution of Skopje for Macedonia, this is just a coincidence (as is the occurrence of the letters M-O-N in both cases). Also, importantly, the question of the correctness of the name (as in the expression “incorrect substitute» used above) is not posed the same way, as we shall see in the following chapter. But the productivity of the absent cause, and the proliferation of names and of discourses it produces, is present in both cases.
II.2. What is Greek for “Macedonia”?
A violent tension toward the Name (e.g. “Frenchman”, “Corsican”, “Kosovarian”, “Quebecois”) emerges within the contraction of the contract which, because it is contracting and contractual, that is to say, not generative, foundational or identifying, but enunciative, leaves the name of the people on the edge of language, devoid of propriety and consequently designating the one of the people as non-one, neither unique nor unitary –untranslatable, therefore, but opening upon an indefinite translation within the people, who do not cease being unnamed.
Equally present in both cases is the role of another, more technical way of transferring meanings and signifiers.
What is noteworthy in this geographical and semiotic traveling provided by the Freudian text is the importance of translation, even of translation of names. In principle, names are fixed; they are not supposed to change when we pass from one language to another. But there are exceptions, and some of these exceptions facilitated the passing of meaning –and of psychical energy- across the various signifiers at play here. In another account of the same forgetting of name, Freud explains that what favored the slipping from Albania to Montenegro was the symmetrical opposition of the meaning of the respective names (albus=Latin for white, negro=black), whereas certain thoughts of his related to Munich (called München in German, but Monaco in Italian –exactly the same as the princedom at the Mediterranean coast, headed by the Prince Alb-ert) had overdetermined the “object choice” of this forgetting.
Translation has a potential for transgressing, or by-passing, a name blockage, whether it is conscious or unconscious; Freud knew that very well, and used it to his favour, in order to explain his forgetting back from the name of the chief town/capital to that of the country as a whole. This potential is also known to the censorship imposed by Greek nationalists to themselves and to everybody else, and this knowledge led them to some (mis)translation solutions which one could qualify as inadmissible or just funny, depending on one’s temporal and/or sentimental distance from the facts. For example, especially during the 90s, whenever a clip with an official or diplomat (a foreign official or diplomat, of course) speaking in English or French about the Macedonian question was shown on Greek TV news, each time the person in question used the term “Macedonia”, this term in the subtitles was unexceptionally rendered as «Skopje”, without anybody feeling they had done anything wrong.
In fact, can we really blame the translators for that? And for which wrong exactly? In principle, this act seems as a flagrant violation of the ethics –and even the elementary professional standards- of translation. But, if we think of it, it seems that these translators have a stronger case than it would appear. Not (only) because if they remained faithful to the original they would lose their job, but also because here it is not so self-evident what “faithfulness” means! It is often said that the activity of the translator is not innocent, and it often involves political choices. For one example, Naoki Sakai has recently stated that “the representation of translation brings about socio-political effects and serves as a technology by which the individual imagines his or her relation to the national or ethnicized community”. But one can hardly imagine a clearer example for this involvement than the present case. Because, after all, is not this the word that most –if not all- the members of the respective linguistic community, i.e. the users of Greek, use for “Macedonia” when they speak and write? So, if one conceives translation according to the communication model, or the “scheme of co-figuration”, as Sakai calls it, one could plausibly argue that this was the correct Greek translation of the term. To put it in another way: if there is a problem with this translation act, it lies at the level of the language itself, of the language community as a whole, not of the individual translator.
Expecting from the state TV employees a different translation politics, (a heterolingual approach to the ethics of their profession, to use again Sakai’s term), would be perhaps too much. But the problem was not only ethical; it was also practical (besides, this was just a manifestation of the ethical dimension). Because, especially when people follow this practice in written texts, as they soon started doing, (e.g. when such statements were quoted in newspapers and, later, Internet sites), this, among other things, only contributed to the further affirmation of the censorship, to its enlarged reproduction, and thus to its naturalisation and oblivion. From a certain point on, the presence and intervention of the (mis)translator was no longer visible, (given that, in the case of the written form, by definition the recipients have no simultaneous access to the original); so most of the addressees got the misleading impression that this was the word that the original speaker/ writer had actually used. The TV and computer screens functioned as an artificial world, where, like in a dream, one’s wish appears as already fulfilled: like a self-fulfilling prophecy, this performance created, or reinforced, to its recipients the impression that not only them, but the whole world is already conforming to their demand and have stopped using the taboo word.
It is really hard to tell whether–and to what extent- people are really persuaded about that. But some evidence can be drawn from another instance of this “ostrich (broadcasting) policy” given the summer of 2009, when the European Basketball championship was taking place in Poland. During that event, the national team of Greece had to play against that of Macedonia. ERT, the Greek national channel, was showing the game live, transmitting the image it was receiving from its Polish counterpart. This image, of course, included an electronic “card” showing the names of the teams every time the director wanted to inform the viewer about the score, the time remaining etc. These names were given with the accepted three-letter abbreviations for international sports events, that is, GRE and MKD respectively.
After about fifteen minutes, the speaker who was describing the match felt the need to … apologise to the public, who, as we were informed, flooded the channel’s offices with angry phone calls of protest for the use of these guilty three letters alluding to the M word; the speaker, who apparently shared their indignation and found it totally justified, explained that these denominations was not the choice of ERT, “that was how they were receiving the image”, and “unfortunately there was nothing they could do”. But after some more minutes, due to the insistence of the viewers, it proved that there nevertheless was something they could do: using electronic means, the technicians at the Athens studio intervened on the image and literally erased the MKD sign; they made it disappear from the picture! They did not replace it with any other abbreviation, they just left a blank next to the number of points scored by Macedonia. So, for about three 10-minute periods, as far as ERT was concerned, the Greek national team was playing against … nobody, against the team with no name!
These angry reactions suggest that the Greek public was indeed persuaded that the entire world not only must, but have already stopped saying “Macedonia” (or maybe, that they never did at all?). But what is even more impressive, to my view, is that, after this ridiculous patchwork solution, everybody was satisfied! The protests ceased, and all viewers dedicated themselves to enjoying the match, even more so as Greece marked a clear victory. I am frankly not really sure what exactly to make out of both this objection and its withdrawal. It is not clear which percentage of the people who protested really expected from the Polish TV to share their obsession, and which percentage did really know that the problem exists but were satisfied by just hiding it from their vision, even if this would not change its essence.
Because, of course, the viewers bothered by the appearance of the MKD sign, could not ignore (or could they?) that everybody else in the rest of the world were seeing this sign, and that in any case the championship continued, and in this continuation the Macedonian team gave other matches as well, where the same abbreviation was used. But they did not telephone the Polish TV to ask from them to abolish this sign from their picture as well. Apparently, they didn’t care whether the whole world was seeing it, provided that they don’t see it.
Whatever the case, I hope these examples are convincing evidence that this very peculiar phenomenon is an interesting field for modern thought about language and about the social bond. In its development, especially in the work of Lacan, the psychoanalytic theory gave great importance to the question of language; cf. the famous formulation that “the unconscious is structured as a language”. As is obvious by this indefinite article, the question “which language” is not pertinent here; although Lacan’s seminars abound in terms and phrases in other languages than French, (especially German, English and Italian), no difference is made according to whether one’s unconscious is structured as this particular rather than some other language, or possibly as more than one languages. So in this approach there doesn’t seem any space for considerations concerning the national organisation and construction of language, and the relationship between different languages.
In the psychoanalytical literature, there is at least one major contribution which deals with precisely this topic, or rather, which tries to take into account the fact that an analysand –albeit somebody else’s analysand- was familiar with more than one languages, and hence so was his unconscious. Accordingly, if the analyst is to be able to understand the formation of his symptoms and translate them to a more meaningful account, s/he will necessarily have to have recourse to translation in the strict sense of the term, or take into account translation acts already performed by the person’s unconscious: translation between Russian, English and German. This contribution is the revisiting of Freud’s famous “Wolfman” case by the Jewish-Hungarian couple of Nicolas Abraham et Maria Török, published in French in 1976. It is not a coincidence that this work attracted the attention of Jacques Derrida, who, along with other three people, was directing the collection where this work was published, and who wrote an unusually long foreword to it. Many years later, Derrida, without doing any direct reference to that foreword, came back to the discussion of the same issues and dedicated a whole book on them, drawing examples and material from his own personal case as a French speaking Jew in Algeria. There, in one of his favorite paradoxes, Derrida stated that “we only ever speak one language, but this language is not ours”. Which can also be formulated as: “we never speak only one language”, because no language is one and the same thing with itself.
Lacan himself also insisted that “there is no meta-language”, and rightfully so; but may be his remarks permit us to conjecture the existence of a “trans-language”, a space between (nationally constructed) languages, and/ or a language besides, above or below each nationally constructed language, producing something like a différance, a distance of each language from itself, which emerges each time a work of translation is needed –especially of a translation so crucial and loaded with consequences as the examples we gave in this chapter. In theorizing this space, these trans-national/ trans-linguistic relations, a deconstruction approach could be useful, and this is what Derrida attempted to sketch in his aforementioned book.
One of his fellow-directors in Flammarion’s “La Philosophie en effet” collection, Jean Luc Nancy, also pursued a similar vein, and his discussion led to an enigmatic but fascinating passage a formulation paraphrasing that of Lacan’s: «the unconscious is structured like a people”.
In effect, the creed, considered not as adherence to a fantastic knowledge but as affirmation of that firmness where all knowledge is lacking, is the act (and not the representation) of that which Hegel names politische Gesinnung, «political disposition», which consists of «a confidence (das Zutrauen), i.e., consciousness that my substantive and particular interest is contained and preserved in the interest and end of another». But consciousness as a confidence is a consciousness that puts the very moment of the self within the other (…). Such consciousness contains a moment of unconsciousness: certitude in the other, that is, outside of all certitude. Is this not the occasion to recall that, if the people exist somewhere in Freud –between the masses, authority and identification- they do so not simply «within the unconscious», but as the latter? We should say: «the unconscious is structured like a people –as a peopling, population and populace».
This excerpt too is taken from the same article by Nancy, which, as already mentioned, bears the very aptly chosen –and very pertinent to our discussion here- title «The so-called/self-saying people» .
IΙ.3. A tribe of psychotics
As we saw, Freud’s promise in analyzing name trouble was to move from the “incorrect substitute” and to accede to the “correct original” of the name.
This brings us before the rather unusual question: how can we tell a correct name? Under which conditions –if at all- can a name be called true or false?
In a short, extremely dense –and interesting- chapter of his Sublime object of ideology, Slavoj Žižek raises precisely the question of how do names refer to objects. Then he outlines the answers given respectively by two opposing doctrines:
The stake of the dispute between descriptivism and antidescriptivism is the most elementary one: how do names refer to the objects they denote? Why does the word ‘table’ refer to a table? The descriptivist answer is the obvious one: because of its meaning; every word is in the first place the bearer of a certain meaning –that is, means a cluster of descriptive features (‘table’ means an object of a certain shape, serving certain purposes) and subsequently refers to objects in reality in so far as they possess properties designated by the cluster of descriptions. (…) The antidescriptivist answer, in contrast, is that a word is connected to an object or a set of objects through an act of ‘primal baptism’, and this link maintains itself even if the cluster of descriptive features which initially determined the meaning of the word changes completely (p. 89).
Žižek aligns with neither of them, remarking that “to defend their solution, both positions have to resort to a myth, to invent a myth: a myth of the primitive tribe in Searle, a myth of [an] ‘omniscient observer of history’ in Donellan”.
Soon we will discuss in more detail Searle’s myth –and Žižek’s criticism, even irony, against it. For the time being, we have to notice that the discursive formation of the Greek refusal, in a strange way, manages to combine both myths, the negative aspects of both approaches: as is clear, in the claim that “Macedonia is Greek and has always been”, the meaning of “Macedonia” is construed as, precisely, a permanent and pre-given “cluster of descriptive features”; if a people, a language, a geographical area, a state, corresponds to these, then they are worth of being adjudicated that name. The competence of judging whether or not these conditions are met is assigned to “science”, that is, precisely, to the fiction of an “omniscient observer of history”, a “subject supposed to know”.
During the 90s, in the course of the massive campaign against the “usurpation of Greece’s historical heritage”, stickers were produced and put all over places, mainly airports, railway stations etc. where foreign tourists were likely to see them, with on them the slogan: “MACEDONIA IS GREECE. READ HISTORY!”
This naïve and rather authoritarian imperative to the reader (of the sticker, and prospective reader of “History”), lies of course on the essentialist belief that there is a higher instance, “historical truth”, where people can recourse to in order to resolve political problems without any residue. As though the sole act of reading, (and reading history, of all things), is something univocal, undisputed, self-evident, which will “teach” everybody and put an end to antagonisms.
In order to entertain such a belief, you have among other things to forget that, if anybody is able to read history, this is because somebody else has written it before! Unless of course this self-evidently true History was not written by any human, but by the ultimate guarantor of meaning, i.e. God himself.
Which brings us to the affinities of the Greek refusal with the second myth.
The ‘myth of the primitive tribe’, presupposed by the descriptivist position, in Searle’s own account goes as follows:
Imagine that everybody in the tribe knows everybody else and that newborn members of the tribe are baptized at ceremonies attended by the entire tribe. Imagine, furthermore, that as the children grow up they learn the names of people as well as the local names of mountains, lakes, streets, houses, etc., by ostension. Suppose also that there is a strict taboo in this tribe against speaking of the dead, so that no one’s name is ever mentioned after his death. Now the point of the fantasy is simply this: As I have described it, this tribe has an institution of proper names used for reference in exactly the same way that our names are used for reference, but there is not a single use of a name in the tribe that satisfies the causal chain of communication theory.
Everybody who has followed the account of the Greek “name trouble” with Macedonia, cannot fail to be impressed by this need felt by Searle, in a totally different context of abstract semiotic analysis, to presume the existence of a taboo in order to explain the function of names.
Žižek too stops before this reference and exploits it to his own purposes, when he goes on to refute the descriptivist myth by putting forward the “Lacanian approach” which “would emphasize another feature”:
there is simply something missing in Searle’s description of his tribe. If we are really concerned with language in a strict sense, with language as a social network in which meaning exists only in so far as it is intersubjectively recognized –with language which, by definition cannot be ‘private’- then it must be part of the meaning of each name that it refers to a certain object because this is its name, because others use this name to designate the object in question: every name, in so far as it is part of common language, implies this self-referential, circular moment. ‘Others’, of course, cannot be reduced to empirical others; they rather point to the Lacanian ‘big Other’, to the symbolic order itself (p. 93; emphasis in the original).
Consequently, Žižek ascribes to this myth a misrecognition of the constitutive lack which is not a “parasitic” function, but “a necessary constituent of every ‘normal’ use of names in language as a social bond”; this “tautological constituent is the Lacanian master-signifier, the ‘signifier without signified’”. Now what is interesting in this refutation is the “ironic part of it” (p. 94), where the author, based on this misrecognition of the lack, concludes that “Searle’s mythical tribe is thus a tribe of psychotics which –because of the taboo concerning names of dead persons- forecloses the function of the Name-of-the-Father –that is to say, prevents the transformation of the dead father into the rule of his Name”.
Žižek’s insight can take us a bit further in the analysis of the discursive formation we are concerned with. According to what precedes, an ambition such as the one formulated by Freud about finding “paths which can be predicted and which conform to laws” and definitely resolving the problem would hardly have a sense in this case; so may be we should deconstruct or, at least, displace this promise itself. We could formulate the paradox and the incomprehension of the Greek symptom as follows: it is a denial (or maybe, more accurately, a Verleugnung – disavowal) of a specific signifier, but at the same time it is a disavowal of the linguistic –and the trans-linguistic/ translational character of this demand, in so far as the supposed “proof” for the well-founded of this refusal, its justification, is assumed to be somewhere outside language, in a non-linguistic reality of “hard facts” free of particular interests and desires, which will guarantee the truth of a name and the rights of each side to claim it. The totality of the Greek refusal discourse consists exclusively in this, namely, in searching incessantly for an “Archimedean point”, for evidence that the use of the term “Macedonia” is inaccurate, does not correspond to “historical reality” (conceived as something unproblematic, irrelevant to any activity of writing –and/ or translation).
I maintain that the Greek society, to this extent, that is, in so far as it was (is) captured by the obsession of the refusal/ disavowal of the name “Macedonia”, constitutes the perfect example, the incarnation of this “mythical tribe of psychotics”. Their name trouble concerns nothing else but a non acceptance of the symbolic order. It is a claim for a name of the fathers, or of the forefathers, but these fathers are conceived as totally reduced to, and identical with, empirical fathers, with historical persons that have actually existed (Philip, Alexander etc.). In another formulation, this discursive formation cannot accept the “emptiness” of the master-signifier, it expects it to be “full”, and seeks constantly to establish itself this fullness, by throwing volumes of signified material into the gap of the signifier. This claim is the tool for a revolt precisely against the Name of the Father and its valence, which is unbearable to the subject; it is the self-proclamation of a privilege, of an exceptionalism: “we are not the same as everybody else”. The point which makes “us” different from “everybody else” is very familiar, it is the constitutive psychosis of practically every nation formation: the megalomaniac fantasy of the Elect People/ Nation.
A “rigid designator” (Žižek, p. 95) which has been very crucial for the self-perception of the modern Greek nation is the belief that they are the continuation of ancient Greek civilisation; hence, they are those who have given the lights of civilisation to all of humanity. This provides them with an allegedly 3000 years old stable identity.
I believe that the reaction to the formation of a Macedonian nation, shows that Greek nationalism was (is) not based on “the transformation of the dead father into the rule of his Name”, to put it in Žižek’s terms; namely, that what mattered for those reacting was not the immaterial-spiritual content of ancient Greek civilisation (in which case they should be glad that somebody else too is inspired by it, or a part of it, and also conceive themselves as offspring of the same forefathers); besides, my guess is that most people who react against the “usurpation of Greek national heritage” for the most part probably ignore its content. What they care about is an exclusive right of ownership over it, the possibility to affirm: “this empirical person has been our father, not yours”; this is why they focus on biological kinship. This exclusive right is expected to provide them with the necessary titles of superiority over other nations and assure them the preservation of a specific kind of “national enjoyment”, or jouissance.
III. The threat for national jouissance
This last remark brings to the fore yet another discrepancy within the discursive formation of the refusal. Even if we take for granted that the ascendance from ancient Greeks and the link to their civilisation is important for modern ones, whatever the reason and the modalities, how is it that the use of the name “Macedonia” for another modern nation is perceived as a threat to this relationship? Macedonia was only a marginal part of ancient Greek history; for several Greek authors, including modern ones, it was not really a part at all. Even if they were “wrong”, it does not necessarily follow that Greek national enjoyment will be stolen by that; in principle, modern Macedonia may be called Macedonia, and Greeks may still believe they are the source of European or universal civilisation.
To begin with, here we find once more the structure of synecdoche (the part for the whole). But the explanation for the emergence of this fear cannot be drawn from an analysis limited to the symbolic order; associations and interpretations can be prolonged ad infinitum, and it is always possible to find new displacements and new paths followed by the chain of signifiers. But the energy that sets this process in motion and fixes the Imaginary to this rather than that path, does not come from the signifiers themselves.
The question of the “object choice” of this –and any other- psychotic symptom is a very complex and difficult one. Here I will only put forward two hypotheses which can shed some light to this question, without exhausting it.
III.1. Whose father? Whose name?
One very clear dimension of the channelling of psychical energy towards the Macedonian question is a a phenomenon thematised from very early on by Freudian theory as projection.
According to a useful definition, projection in “the properly psychoanalytic sense” is an “operation whereby qualities, feelings, wishes or even ‘objects’, which the subject refuses to recognize or rejects in himself, are expelled from the self and located in another person or thing. Projection so understood is a defence of a very primitive origin which may be seen at work especially in paranoia, but also in ‘normal’ modes of thought such as superstition”.
I maintain that the accusations of Greek nationalists against the Macedonian nation construction are very clearly a projection of their own activity, the activity which led to the formation of Greek nationhood in the 19th and early 20th century, and which they are still building on, but would rather forget.
It should be recalled here that the populations which later formed the Greek nation state were not called “Greeks” up until the 18th century; they called themselves Romioi, Rum in Turkish, meaning, Romans (former subjects of the Eastern Roman Empire, that we now inaccurately call “Byzantine”). The shift towards the name Greeks (Ellines) was a deliberate choice by the Rum elites during the last decades of the Ottoman rule over what is today Greece, in order to obtain the sympathy of Western European powers, who greatly admired ancient Greece. Moreover, the reason why they needed this sympathy was in order to ensure also their help in the effort to secede from a multiethnic state formation, create an independent state and then expand its boundaries at the expense of the neighbouring Empire, using as a pretext the existence in it of a minority speaking a language –or several languages/dialects- similar to theirs.
As regards the criticism about the “artificial language” in particular, it is also useful to recall that, for more than a century, the official language of the Greek state was a language no mother ever used to speak to her child, but an archaic version invented by intellectuals and learned with great effort –if at all- at school by the rest of the people; in the beginning of the 20th century, the glossiko zitima (language question) was often a cause for passionate discussions, public events and even demonstrations with people wounded and killed! Even today, the question which is the “right” Greek language and the proper way to use it is the source of many debates in the media. And so on for the rest of the claims listed above (under 1.1).
In other words, the discursive formation is a way for modern Greeks to attribute to the “so-called/self-saying” Macedonians the intention to do to them what the “so-called/self-saying” Greeks/ Ellines did against the Ottomans/ Turks one century ago. Their repeating that the “Skopjan” identity is arbitrary and artificial, is a perlocutory means for them to affirm: “ours is authentic and natural”.
In his 2010 film “Kynodontas” (Canine), the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos stages a family living somewhere outside Athens, where the parents have persuaded their 3 children –by the time of the film already in their adolescence- that kids should not leave home until they lose their canine tooth, because the outside world is incomprehensible and dangerous for them. In what could be read as a satirical parable for modern Greek society as a whole, this family ends up using language not as “a social network in which meaning exists only in so far as it is intersubjectively recognized”, to repeat Žižek’s terms, but precisely as private. Once in a while, the kids ask the meaning of a specific word, and the parents, very much like the “tribe of psychotics” in Searle’s hypothetic example, define some of them at their own arbitrary will, and so they transmit to the next generation a distorted meaning of the words both by ostension and/ or by an “act of primal (re)baptism”. E.g. the son hears the word “zombie”, and asks his mother: “what is a zombie?”. The mother answers: “a zombie is a little yellow flower”. Towards the end of the film, he sees some yellow flowers in the garden, cuts one and offers it to his sister, saying: “I brought a nice little zombie for you”. And so forth.
This film illustrates the “desire for walls”, (besides, the villa where the family lives is actually surrounded by tall material and/or symbolic walls); also, importantly, it shows how language can substitute or supplement the function of walls in this effort for a withdrawal to a reassuring interiority, to “fantasies of innocence, protection, homogeneity, and self-sufficiency” (Brown, pp. 107-108) when no such protection is possible.
So does the discursive formation of Greek nationalism. In much the same way as the psychotic family in the film, the Greek society has developed a kind of private language in order to correct the “injustice” of the Big Other and to defend itself from its unbearable rule, as expressed most of all in the destabilising idea that names are radically contingent. This is a private language for a private father, a language that is centred around our Name, not his (“our name is our soul”, was one of the slogans of the [anti]Macedonian campaign in the 90s –meaning, of course, that this link between name and soul is valid only for “us”; their name is insignificant, instrumentalised, and can be changed at will).
By so doing, it is interesting that Greek nationalists ascribe a performative function (or intention) to the use of the name by Macedonians, but only in order to negate it for themselves, to naturalise their own name and identity choice. One could say that they act very similarly to the “economists” as described by Marx in one of his early writings:
Economists have a singular method of procedure. There are only two kinds of institutions for them, artificial and natural. The institutions of feudalism are artificial institutions, those of the bourgeoisie are natural institutions. In this, they resemble the theologians, who likewise establish two kinds of religion. Every religion which is not theirs is an invention of men, while their own is an emanation from God. When the economists say that present-day relations — the relations of bourgeois production — are natural, they imply that these are the relations in which wealth is created and productive forces developed in conformity with the laws of nature. These relations therefore are themselves natural laws independent of the influence of time. They are eternal laws which must always govern society. Thus, there has been history, but there is no longer any. There has been history, since there were the institutions of feudalism, and in these institutions of feudalism we find quite different relations of production from those of bourgeois society, which the economists try to pass off as natural and as such, eternal.
What is also interesting, and pertinent, in this excerpt, is the reference to the erasing of history through its naturalisation, and/or through a hierarchisation and privileging of certain facts as “history” over others. The Greek campaign demanded from foreigners to “read history”, but it was itself very selective as to what “history” consists in; most importantly, it refused to see that, if what happened in the 3rd century B.C. is “history”, the existence of the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for about half a century is no less “history”, and a history that most people tended to consider as more crucial for determining their stance as regards the current dispute.
So the point of all these performances was to guarantee a stable identity against this contingency. But, as we know, to quote once more Žižek,
this guaranteeing the identity of an object in all counterfactual situations –through a change of all its descriptive features- is the retroactive effect of naming itself: it is the name itself, the signifier, which supports the identity of the object. That ‘surplus’ in the object which stays the same in all possible worlds is ‘something in it more than itself’, that is to say the Lacanian objet petit a: we search in vain for it in positive reality because it has no positive consistency –because it is just an objectification of a void, of a discontinuity opened in reality by the emergence of the signifier. It is the same with gold: we search in vain in its positive, physical features for that X which makes of it the embodiment of richness; or, to use an example from Marx, it is the same with a commodity: we search in vain among its positive properties for the feature which constitutes its value (and not only its use-value). What is missed by the antidescriptivist idea of an external causal chain of communication through which reference is transmitted is therefore the radical contingency of naming, the fact that naming itself retroactively constitutes its reference. Naming is necessary but it is, so to speak, necessary afterwards, retroactively, once we are already ‘in it’.
(ibid., p. 95; second emphasis mine).
III.2. Chosen traumas
The structure of projection is equally present in another process that I consider as a determinant for the development of the symptom.
As exposed, the affective dimension of the discursive formation can be classified mainly as a fear –maybe several fears. Irène Diamantis, in her analysis of phobias, uses a powerful image to describe them in the term “hemorrhage of the Imaginary”. This is a term that can very well describe the flow of a perceived threat, a persecution idea, unleashed within the Greek society by the declaration of Macedonian independence; a flow one would be tempted to classify under a specific term such as e.g. onomatophobia. We also saw that the mechanism of displacement was called for to discharge this tension, which led to the formation of a synecdoche “the state of Skopje” (the part for the whole). But, indeed, there is a precedent for this substitution in the Greek language and society.
It will take a long introduction to be able to explain which precedent; this is a question that could justify a whole book. In the limits of this article, I will try to mention very briefly some elements which are pertinent to our topic, with the danger of oversimplifying.
The part of geographical Macedonia which now belongs to Greece was annexed to it in 1912, when ethnic Greeks were only one of several population groups living there –at places, not even the largest group (in Thessaloniki, they were the 3rd largest, after the Jews and the Turks). According to a well known practice of nation states in the Balkans and elsewhere, this situation started to change, gradually in the beginning and then abruptly in two cases: the 1922 population exchange between Greece and Turkey, after which most of the 1.2 million Rums sent to Greece were “encouraged” to install themselves in northern Greece, and the extermination of almost all Greek Jews by the Nazis during the 1940s.
These 1.2 million refugees included a very particular ethnic group, the Pontians (Πόντιοι in Greek), who used to live at the southern coast of the Black Sea. These people had a very particular dialect (language?), incomprehensible to standard modern Greek speakers, as well as a particular culture (music, dances, customs, cuisine, etc.). Furthermore, immediately before their coming to Greece, during the invasion of the Greek army in Asia Minor, these people had aspired to create an independent state of Pontos; this project was defeated.
All of these events created a great deal of resentment within the settlers in Greek Macedonia against the Greek state, which, as they considered, had betrayed them and then made of them second class citizens in a foreign land where they had to start over from square one. This resentment was often crystallized in the expression “the Athenian state” or “the state of Athens”, used quite often by Thessalonians even today.
During the 90s, it was largely the descendants of these people who were particularly active in denouncing the threat posed by the “state of Skopje”. I think it is not unjustified to suppose that, in so doing, they took advantage of their accumulated “know-how”.
It is also important to note that, about the same time and in the same area, people of Pontian origin devised and started propagating a new discourse about the events of the 1910s and 20s, consisting in the denunciation of the “Pontian genocide” allegedly committed by Kemal Atatürk. This is no coincidence; I consider these two phenomena related, as they constitute two ways of dealing with the same material, of handling the same transgenerationally transmitted trauma and its memories.
According to the Turkish-Cypriot theorist Vamık Volkan,
[w]ithin virtually every large group there exists a shared mental representation of a traumatic past event during which the large group suffered loss and/or experienced helplessness, shame and humiliation in a conflict with another large group. The transgenerational transmission of such a shared traumatic event is linked to the past generation’s inability to mourn losses of people, land or prestige, and indicates the large group’s failure to reverse narcissistic injury and humiliation inflicted by another large group, usually a neighbor, but in some cases, between ethnic or religious groups within the same country.
It appears that, around 1990, several temporalities coincided, different circles were coming to an end and new assemblages were being configured; my hypothesis is that the campaign against the “state of Skopje” was also an implicit/ perlocutionary revolt against the state of Athens, a way to draw its attention to its responsibilities and its past ill doings against the Greek district of Macedonia and/or the people who settled there, a way to tacitly blackmail it in supporting the cause of the imaginary state of Thessaloniki, itself a substitute for another much desired state that never came to being, the state of Pontos.
This modifies the picture, as it shifts attention towards “humiliation inflicted by another large group within the same country”: seen from outside, the discursive formation of the anti-Macedonian campaign appears as an archetypal expression of Greek nationalism. But if we take into account this dimension, it may be that this formation constitutes a social poetics. In other words, a strategy that only adopts rhetorically and tactically the vocabulary of nationalism, in order to express through its form a desire of a different content, to pursue an agenda that resists the Greek national ideology, that insists on maintaining an ethnic particularity in spite of national homogenisation.
This is a large topic which cannot be fully dealt with here. What is important to keep from what precedes is that it introduces the problematic of the divided (national) subject. Up to now, our discussion was more or less following the way the problem was posed in terms of international relations: “why should Greece want Macedonia to change its name?” But now, the question emerges: What is “Greece”?
And, with it, a relativisation of diplomatic language, according to which every country is construed as a sovereign individual, and as a subject of international law formally equal to other states-subjects. Here, the subject of this utterance appears itself as problematic; it is not so self-evidently a unified entity always identical with itself.
IV. Problematising hegemony and sovereignty:
The communism of language
If the above considerations stand, what would this mean for the future of the dispute in practical terms?
Of course, I am not a prophet to predict how things will develop. But I think that this approach can mean both good and bad news as regards the question “where do we go from here”.
The good news is: the question of the name of the republic of Macedonia, its inhabitants, and their language, is practically already resolved, as much as it can be and as much as it ever will be.
This very sentence, and in particular its last part, is simultaneously the bad news: the “incomprehensible refusal” necessarily failed; but this does not (necessarily) mean it will stop, because possibly “its failure is its very function”. On the level of the Imaginary, this defeat/ frustration of desire is a condition for the perseverance of the subject as a subject of a specific national jouissance, separate from –and superior to- other sovereign subjects, who are hostile to him/her. But on the level of the Symbolic, everybody knows that this name is, and can be, no other than Macedonia(n).
Why is that so? Because of what I will call the communism of language.
Here of course communism is used in a new sense, not the one that divided populations in each side of the border since the 40s: in the sense of language as a common production, or as a production of the common.
This idea of communism –although not the term itself, of course- can be found in an impressive passage from Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise:
No one has ever been able to change the meaning of a word in ordinary use, though many have changed the meaning of a particular sentence. Such a proceeding would be most difficult; for whoever attempted to change the meaning of a word, would be compelled, at the same time, to explain all the authors who employed it, each according to his temperament and intention, or else, with consummate cunning, to falsify them.
Further, the masses and the learned alike preserve language, but it is only the learned who preserve the meaning of particular sentences and books: thus, we may easily imagine that the learned having a very rare book in their power, might change or corrupt the meaning of a sentence in it, but they could not alter the signification of the words; moreover, if anyone wanted to change the meaning of a common word he would not be able to keep up the change among posterity, or in common parlance or writing.
The “masses” [vulgus] must not be construed here as a particular set of empirical persons as opposed to others, but rather as a trans-individual bond.
The fact that language is preserved by this bond, in other words the fact that words and their meaning is not private but the result of networking and co-operation, means that it is not up to any particular individual, be it a sovereign subject/state, to impose, approve or block any particular meaning or use of words or names. In order to do so, they would have to get into the minds of seven billion people and police constantly their everyday language practice. Not even God could do that.
Another way to explicate this conception of common would be to compare it to the ancient Greek notion of mētis, as it is used by the American anthropologist James C. Scott (who is following the analyses of Jean-Pierre Vernant and Marcel Detienne on this matter), and notably the following passage:
unless there is a central committee of grammarians with draconian police powers, the language is always being added to as new expressions and novel combinations are invented and puns and irony undermine old formulas. (…) Influence over the direction of a language is never equally distributed, but innovation comes from far and wide, and if others find a particular innovation useful or apposite, they will adopt it as part of their language. In language as in mētis, seldom is the name of an innovator remembered, and this, too, helps to make the result a joint, mutual product.
The rejection of private property as regards language was already present in Slavoj Žižek’s analysis. But I maintain that the “language communism” approach provides us a better framework for understanding the necessary failure of the “name trouble” discursive formation.
Indeed, after rightfully rejecting the two theories, Žižek goes on to advance another factor which for him determines the meaning of signifiers; this factor is hegemony. Examining a concrete historical example, France during the 2nd World War, Žižek concludes:
never do we reach the point at which ‘the circumstances themselves begin to speak’, the point at which language starts to function immediately as ‘language of the Real’: the predominance of Pétain’s symbolization was a result of a struggle for ideological hegemony (Žižek, p. 97).
I am not a specialist in 20th century French history. But this particular case study on the Macedonian dispute does not seem to confirm this interpretation: here, the meaning of signifiers was not a result of “a struggle for ideological hegemony”. And a reason why I consider this finding interesting and of a more general applicability, is that in this case a struggle for ideological hegemony did take place, and an extremely intense and arduous one; only, the outcome of the dispute was not determined on the field of this struggle, but on another scene: the struggle was irrelevant.
In fact, the notion of “struggle for ideological hegemony”, borrowed from Ernesto Laclau although he is not cited here, sounds like an unsatisfactory substitute for antagonism.
Žižek seems to feel at a certain point that he has performed his Lacanian duty by highlighting the aleatory-but-necessary nature of the signifier, and that now he is free to go on and introduce theoretical tools, and a conception for the social, stemming rather from Carl Schmitt or Lenin, or even Hobbes, not so much from Lacan. Indeed, the use of “struggle” can function itself in an essentialist way as an alternative ultimate source of meaning, as an invariant factor of transitive causality. For example, the phrase
the key to Pétain’s success was that his symbolization of the trauma of defeat (…) prevailed. In this way, what had been experienced a moment ago as traumatic, incomprehensible loss became readable, obtained meaning (ibid.),
seems, ironically, to be itself a circular argument, a tautology after which there is nothing more to be said: Pétain won because he was stronger –because his ideas prevailed. But in our case, Macedonia did not win because it was stronger; in fact, it did not win at all. What “won” –if we absolutely insist on using this term- was the very nature of language as a network, as collaboration, as a trans-individual bond. Which would be much more useful to approach through notions coming from Hannah Arendt or, even better, Paolo Virno.
Indeed, in this dispute between two sovereign states, both sides mobilized academicians, diplomats, sports and art performers, they did not spare efforts or resources for lobbying and propaganda … in order to persuade others that they are the rightful owners of the name. But the reason why the name Macedonia was practically accepted by everybody was not because the republic of Macedonia succeeded in persuading them it was “right”, or because the international community examined and accepted the “historical truth” of its claims, but on principle. Not a principle of international law, but an implicit principle of absolute egalitarianism and non-exceptionalism which renders possible any language and any exchange within, and between, human communities: the principle that if a subject recognizes herself, and everybody else also recognize her, in a certain signifier, for several decades, without any confusion, then this is her only possible name. It is pointless to qualify a people as “so-called”, because every people is so-called/self-saying; there is no need, nor possibility, for a further endorsement by “history” or any other science. We cannot change that by any voluntarist decision because only one member of the community declares he is not happy with this signifier –without even being able to say which other he would prefer in its place.
The inability of one member of the community to cope with the radical contingency of (its) naming, and of (its) identity, is not enough reason for the other members to accept a “solution” which on the one hand would not really be a solution for this specific problem and, on the other hand (most importantly), would make contingent every other name, would lead to a generalization of doubt, where signifiers would be just floating, open to contestation by anybody, where nothing would be stable.
This is why the Greek position is an impossible demand, and this is what everybody has “a great difficulty to understand” –let alone accept: it is a demand for an infinite suspension, for a hole in language. Language may have a “constituent lack” at its center, but this is no justification for anybody to demand the creation of new holes at a defined point of their liking.
Of course, as we all know, the two parties all these years are having –or are pretending to have- negotiations in view of a commonly agreed solution, occasionally with the mediation of foreign diplomats. (This mediation effort was the framework for the formulation of the phrase which served as starting point for this article). But, as everybody understands, this procedure is absolutely pointless; it is a kind of a farce, whose only aim is to help Greece find a way for a respectable retreat and “phase out”, draw back from the untenable position and save its honor. (Which they have already done the first step for, by withdrawing the veto as regards an adjective or a composite name). In any case, this negotiation performance has no influence at all as far as its declared object –i.e. linguistic practice- is concerned. If the impotence of sovereignty and of the voluntarist illusion goes for one participant, it is also true for two of them: it is not up to two people to modify the Big Other by just signing an agreement. Even if we suppose that the two parties conclude tomorrow these negotiations –which is hardly probable anyway- and a treaty is signed where a name such as “Northern Macedonia” or “New Macedonia” is ratified, this will affect only the boards put outside the doors of embassies all over the world and on tables before the delegations in international meetings. The discursive practice of 7 billion people will not change: when describing a basketball match, nobody will say “the Northern/NewMacedonian player made a three point shot”; everybody will say “the Macedonian player made a three point shot”, as they already did before, except probably for Greek speakers who will say “the Skopian player”, as they already did before. What determines this practice is a mētis: states have a right to veto decisions in international organisations, but they don’t have any as regards the infinite micro-linguistic acts which produce language.
If the above analysis is correct, I consider this as an extremely interesting and optimistic conclusion with a more general bearing and scope than this specific case study. It is correct to ascertain, with Jean Luc Nancy, that
[t]he oxymorons of the concept(s) of the people represent the concreteness of their reality (contact and contract are the forms of this concreteness). The people cannot be founded or proved; they exist, the factuality of contact attests to this while the ideality of the contract constitutes its truth, which is given precisely in the non-resolution of contact in interiority, naturality or figurality, as well as the non-resolution of the contract in any founding origin.
But, taking into account the specific commensurability of the notion of the people to that of the state, we could conclude that the Macedonian case testifies to the states’ lost sense of power, to the erosion of sovereignty before the “linguistification of the political” (Butler), or to the erosion of “stateness/ statualità” before the force of the “grammar of the multitude” (Virno). This way, it may give us some ideas as to how social and political struggles are or can be best carried out, irrespective of the particular state interests invested in this specific dispute.
 Some people think they can even give the exact date for that; for example, the former MP and minister Stelios Papathemelis proposes “the 2nd of August 1944” (“Pros Skopia: Ổs edô kai mi parekei” [To Skopje: Enough is enough], Eleftherotypia newspaper, 27-9-91).
 In this sense too, Robin O’Neil is absolutely right to point out that “Greece never opposed Macedonia’s existence as part of SFR Yugoslavia” (see fn. 1).
 See: Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, transl. A.M. Sheridan Smith, New York: Pantheon Books, 1972, Part II (esp. p. 38).
 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech. A Politics of the Performative, Routledge, New York & London 1997, p. 74.
 See: Michael Herzfeld, Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-state, New York and London: Routledge, 2004 , esp. chapter 1.
 In this, they followed a firmly established linguistic pattern in the discourse of Greek nationalism, which had been rehearsed for almost twenty years in Cyprus: when the Turkish occupation authorities proclaimed the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in the 1980s, a similar colossal effort was undertaken, and a great lot of attention was invested, in order not to ever permit this Republic to be named as a proper Republic in Greek language; every time Greek speaking politicians, diplomats, journalists, and persons in general whatever their capacity, referred to this power formation and its institutions, they took great care to add the epithet “so-called” before it. So if one listens to, or reads, reports in Greek Cypriot media, one is bound to come every two lines across expressions such as “the pseudo-parliament”, “the so-called police”, “the self-proclaimed prime minister” etc.
 For the definition of “perlocutionary acts» see J.R. Searle, Speech Acts, Cambridge University Press 1969, p. 25.
 Which, incidentally, is a very awkward solution in Modern Greek, linguistically speaking. Although up to now it has been a very diffused practice to use the neutral form of an adjective by itself, dropping the noun, in order to refer colloquially to an important issue of international politics (e.g. “to Kypriako [provlima]” = the Cyprus problem, “to Mesanatoliko” = the Middle East question), or even of domestic politics (“to asfalistiko” = the social security issue, “to metanasteftiko” = the migration issue), it sounds extremely inelegant to use the neutral form of an adjective which simply denotes the city where somebody was born. As this somebody is always gendered, it is only natural to say “Skopianos” = a man from Skopje, or “Skopiani”, a woman. But “to skopiano” is an absurd construction, created and used only to describe the international dispute; it is not used anywhere else, and besides no such adjective exists in Greek for any other city in the world. We can say “o Parizianos” = the man from Paris, but nobody ever says “to Pariziano”.
 In respect of these issues, I take the liberty to refer to my article (in Greek) “To yparkto, to tehnito kai to ‘anyparkto’. Merikes skepseis yia to ‘legomeno makedoniko’” [The existing, the artificial and the ‘non- existent’. Some thoughts about the ‘so-called Macedonian question’], Theseis review, Athens, no 38, January-March 1992.
 Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, published in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press 1971.
 Example borrowed from Michel Pêcheux, “The Mechanism of Ideological (Mis)recognition”, in Slavoj Žižek (ed.), Mapping Ideology, London/New York: Verso, p. 151.
 Cf. Thanos Lipowatz, “Enlightenment and irrationalism in culture” [in Greek], Kathimerini newspaper, 09-01-11.
 Dušan Bjelić –in “Madness as a political factor”, Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 15 (March 2010), p. 20-36- points out usefully some such instrumentalizations of psychoanalytical theory within the former Yugoslavia; he concludes, though, that these are not misuses but the very essence of psychoanalysis which is by definition racist and colonialist. I find his remarks extremely interesting, but obviously do not share the rather simplifying conclusion.
 Engl. trans.: Sigmund Freud, Psychopathology of everyday life, Penguin, Harmondsworth 1976 .
 Jean Luc Nancy, «The so-called/self-saying people», in: Naoki Sakai-Jon Solomon (eds.), Tanslation, Biopolitics, Colonial Difference (Traces 4), Hong Kong University Press 2006, p. 253.
 Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Penguin, Harmondsworth 1974 , p. 141.
 It is very interesting to note, in passing, that the signifiers of whiteness, which determined Freud’s name trouble, are precisely signifiers very heavily loaded with meanings linked to Herrshchaft in the sense not only of sovereignty, but of domination as well, more specifically linked to Eurocentrism and to racial superiority.
 Naoki Sakai, “Translation”, Theory, Culture & Society Vol. 23(2–3), p. 72.
 Appearing in several points of his work; e.g.: Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A selection, transl. Alan Sheridan, London, Tavistock 1997, p. 59, or The Seminar, Book XX: Encore, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, NY: Norton, 1998, p 48. This phrase, alone or in various combinations, has also served as a title for at least one book and several articles.
 Le Verbier de l’homme aux loups, éd. Champs, Flammarion, Paris 1976. Some useful but scarce remarks on this topic are also made by Irène Diamantis in Les Phobies ou l’impossible separation, Flammarion – Champs, Paris 2009 , p. 121 (and the whole of that chapter entitled “Xénophobie. La langue étragère”).
 Jacques Derrida, Le monolinguisme de l’autre ou la prothèse d’origine, Éditions Galilée, Paris 1996. Engl. trans. Monolingualism of the other, or, The prosthesis of origin, Stanford University Press 1998.
 Derrida, Le monolinguisme …, pages 21, 25, 123, and passim. My translation.
 In: Naoki Sakai-Jon Solomon (eds.), Tanslation, Biopolitics, Colonial Difference (Traces 4), Hong Kong University Press 2006, p. 255.
 Verso, London/New York 2002 , p. 89 ff.
 John Searle, Intentionality, Cambridge 1984, p. 240, quoted in Žižek, ibid., p. 92; emphasis in Žižek’s quotation and, presumably, also in the original.
 See J. Laplanche & J-.B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, Karnac Books, London 2004, entry “disavowal”.
 On these issues see in particular: Yannis Stavrakakis – Nikos Chrysoloras, “(I can’t get no) enjoyment: lacanian theory and the analysis of nationalism”, Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (2006) 11, 144–163.
 Laplanche – Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis (op. cit.), entry “projection”.
 See on this point, N. Sigalas, “I diamorfosi tis neo-ellinikis ennoias tou ellinismou” [The formation of the neo-hellenic concept of Hellenism], Ta Istorika 2001, 34: 3–70; and «Hellénistes, hellénisme et idéologie nationale», in Ch. Avlami (ed.), L’antiquité grecque au 19éme siècle: un exemplum contesté?, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2000, p 239-291.
 See Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Zone Books, New York 2010, esp. ch. 4 (entitled “Desiring Walls”).
 “ Hémorragie de l’imaginaire” (Irène Diamantis, Les Phobies ou l’impossible séparation. Flammarion – Champs, Paris 2009 , p. 78 and passim).
 Vamık Volkan, “Transgenerational Transmissions and Chosen Traumas: An Aspect of Large-Group Identity”, Group Analysis, Vol. 34, No. 1, p. 87. Emphasis mine.
 For this notion see also Herzfeld, Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-state, New York and London: Routledge, 2004 , p. 183 ff.
 As is underlined by the putting forward of a specifically Pontian (not “Greek”) genocide.
 I have tried to do that in some more detail in my article “Emeis oi epoikoi” [We settlers], Eneken, 15 (Jan. 2010).
 To paraphrase what Michel Foucault has said about the prison (see Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison, Trans. A. Sheridan, 1977, New York, Vintage Books. p. 271).
 James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, Yale University Press, New Haven 1998, p. 334.
 E.g.: “the contemporary working class, the current subordinate labor-power and its cognitive-linguistic collaboration, bear the traits of the multitude, rather than of the people. However, this multitude no longer assumes the «popular» vocation to stateness [statualità]” (A Grammar of the Multitude. For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, by Paulo [sic] Virno, http://www.generation-online.org/c/fcmultitude3.htm#GrammarOfTheMultitude-div2-id2868466, Copyright © 2004 Semiotext(e) –my emphasis).
 We can also express that in terms of another essential thesis exposed in the 7th chapter of the Theologico-Political Treatise: the distinction between meaning and truth. For Spinoza, the meaning of a term is produced by its use, and is irrelevant to its truth.
 «The so-called/self-saying people», ibid., p. 252.
The above article was my contribution to the collective volume
Mircela Casule et al., eds., The Name Issue Revisited, Macedonian Information Centre, Skopje 2013.