How the multitude achieved the first real liberation of Macedonia (from its borders)

by Akis Gavriilidis

We’re a mixture here: Syrians, migrated Greeks, Armenians, Medes

C.P. Cavafy, In a Town of Osroini

For the past 20 years, the Republic of Macedonia was mentioned in the news, if at all, only due to nationalist or ethnic conflicts. These reports were dominated by the stupid, but no less obstinate, objections by Greece as to what the “right” name for the Republic should be, and the concomitant petty quarrels between the two countries for the title of the genuine descendant of Alexander the “Great” (murderer) and of the legitimate owner of some graves and their content. These had led to mutual suspicion and hatred, in the context of which the borders between the two countries had been under strict surveillance, and movement across them –both physical and mental- severely limited and often plainly prohibited.

This invisible human-tight wall separating the two territories was brought down and swept away the last few days, due to the unpredictable intrusion of an uninvited third (fourth, fifth …) factor: the thousands of refugees from the Middle East on their way to North-Western Europe. People mainly from Syria, but also from places that, in the modern language of nation states, are defined as “Afghanistan”, “Irak”, “Turkey” –places that formed part of Alexander’s empire-, followed the latter’s path toward the opposite direction and finally stormed the border separating the two modern nation-states who dispute for his heritage. This peaceful, unarmed invasion soon rendered futile any resistance by the militarized police of European states, whether members of the so called “Union” or not.

(AP Photo/Vlatko Perkovski)

(AP Photo/Vlatko Perkovski)

But, even more importantly, this invasion was able to produce “alliances” –to use a traditional term from the militarist vocabulary- within each society.

According to the 24.08.2015 report by the Greek daily Efimerida ton Syntaktòn, a “miracle” happened between the border posts of Idoméni and Gevgelija.

This miracle would arguably not be possible without another miracle: the local societies in Greece, and mainly on the Eastern Aegean islands and in the Greek province of Macedonia, displayed an admirable sense of solidarity and practical assistance to the refugees who arrived there, in terms of both logistics and human care. In a situation of severe crisis, and in a country with a strong neo-Nazi party, this sounds almost incredible. What possibly played a role here was that large parts of the population in these areas are 3rd and 4th generation descendants of more than one million refugees who did the same itinerary during the 1920s, under the infamous Lauzanne Treaty for the “population exchange” between Greece and Turkey. These people practically saw before their eyes a modern repetition of their grandparents’ adventure, who had to abandon their homes and cross the Aegean after a 10-year long mortal conflict.

Of course, no historical background guarantees in an automatic and linear fashion that people will react in any certain way in the future, especially in a climate of constant orientalist-xenophobic propaganda by the mainstream media, conservative politicians and orthodox Taliban[1]. But the actual, micro-political mobilization of local societies was able to overcome all this, to be attuned to the movement of the migrants and facilitate it, reducing this hate speech to a position similar to the barking in the well-known Arab proverb “the dogs bark, but the caravan goes on” –which found an almost literal application here.

In combination with the declared decision of Germany to suspend the Dublin procedures for Syrians, I don’t know if it is too early or too optimistic to say that these events constitute a first major blow to the European border regime. This blow was not brought about by any unified subject, a party or an army, nor had it been proclaimed as a political project before. Instead, it was produced by the linked activities of a motley crew consisting in young and old, women, men and children, workers or unemployed, activists, NGO members, international and national bodies officials and “simple” citizens from several countries. It resulted from the collaboration of a non pre-defined set of people who possibly did not even meet each other. To make this long expression shorter: it was performed by the multitude.


What seems already certain to me anyway, is that the movement of the Syrian migrants across the Greek-Macedonian border produced the first real liberation in (of) the geographical area of Macedonia during the last 100 years: it liberated Macedonia from its borders.

And, by the same token, it also liberated us from the border obsession.

Throughout the 20th century, the term “liberation of Macedonia” was exclusively used as a synonym for its incorporation to a state formation[2]; in northern Greece at least, every village and town is filled with aggressive macho statues of various assassins, bandits and other members of nomadic war machines captured by the state apparatus in order to “liberate” the respective inhabitants (from the existence of any fellow villagers who were not particularly keen for this incorporation).

Already for the past few years, the contact of Greek –and other European- solidarity activists with Middle Eastern migrants had enriched our vocabulary, as it had acquainted us with a new term coming from a non-European language: Azadi, which is Farsi/ Pashtun (and also Kurdish) for “freedom”. Some of us had chanted this word as a slogan during the 2009 Noborder camp in Lesvos, outside the infamous Paganì detention facility. Now, the neutralization of the state polices and the passage to the North by the Syrians taught us also a new practical conception for exercising freedom: freedom can consist in moving, not in sedentarization; in mixity, not in purity. So it liberated us from the pensée unique that the only way to be free is to create a little shop of your own called nation-state, and keep everybody not belonging to your nation outside.

I think we must sincerely thank them for this gift some day.

[1] For example, the Archbishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki stated that “We love the refugees but there is not enough space for all of us”.

[2] With the important exception of the 1903 Ilinden uprising, which, although was proclaimed in order to give “Macedonia to the Macedonians”, was not equating this to the domination of any particular ethnic group. In this sense, the border crossing by the Syrians could be read as a revival of the Ilinden spirit. But this is an object for larger discussion which cannot be raised here.

Syrian refugees onboard

Syrian refugees onboard «Nissos Mykonos», heading from Samos to Piraeus, charging their batteries (photo of the author)


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