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Review: In Search of a Convenient Past: Nationalism, Violence and Historical Writing in Twentieth-Century Europe Author(s): Polymeris Voglis Reviewed

work(s): Greece since 1945. Politics, Economy and Society by David H. Close Outcast Europe: The Balkans, 1789-1989. From the Ottomans to Miloevi by Tom Gallagher Fires of Hatred. Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe by Norman M. Naimark Political Uses of the Past. The Recent Mediterranean Experience by Jacques Revel ; Gi ... Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 40, No. 2, Domestic Dreamworlds: Notions of Home in Post-1945 Europe (Apr., 2005), pp. 381-388 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: Accessed: 12/12/2009 15:47
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Thousand CAand @ 2005 SAGE Publications, London, Oaks, of Contemporary Journal History Copyright New Delhi, Vol40(2),381-388. ISSN 0022-0094. DOI:10. 177/002200940505 1576

Polymeris Voglis

Review Article In Search of a Convenient Past: Nationalism, Violence and Historical Writing in Twentieth-century Europe
David H. Close, Greecesince 1945. Politics, Economyand Society,London,

Longman,2002; pp. xviii + 307; ISBN0 582 35667 9 Tom Gallagher, Outcast Europe: The Balkans, 1789-1989. From the London and New York, Routledge,2001; pp. xvi + Ottomans to Milogevid, 8 ISBN 0 415 27089 314; Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred. Ethnic Cleansing in TwentiethCentury Europe, Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press,
2002; pp. 248; ISBN 0 674 00994 0 Jacques Revel and Giovanni Levi (eds), Political Uses of the Past. The Recent Mediterranean Experience,London and Portland, OR, Frank Cass, 2002; pp. viii + 125; ISBN 0 7146 5271 7

In 2002, Atom Egoyan, the Canadian film-maker of Armenian descent, made a film called Ararat. As in all his other films, there is no straightforward narrative, nor a clear cut between reality and imagination, experience and memory, truth and deception. Many personal stories are intertwined and traumatic pasts haunt the main characters of the film, who try to find a way to come to terms with their past and the silence that surrounds it. Ararat evolves around the process of making a film about a historical event: the Armenian genocide by the Turks in 1915. For Atom Egoyan, 'Ararat is a meditation on the spiritual role of the art in the process of struggling for meaning and redemption in the aftermath of genocide. . . . What is destroyed in genocide is not only human lives, but the very imprint of humanity in us." The film was shown worldwide except in one country, Turkey; almost a century later, the Turkish government still denies the Armenian genocide, and for that reason banned the film in Turkey. In late December 2003, more than a year after the official release of the film, Turkish officials decided to approve the release of Ararat but with some scenes cut, like one showing Ottomans raping an Armenian woman. However, it seems very unlikely that the film will be released in the foreseeable future. A few weeks after that decision, a showing


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of the film was cancelled because of the fear that it might cause riots in cinemas. The Armenian genocide remains banned from Turkey's national historiography and past. The Armenian genocide is the first case that Norman M. Naimark examines in his book Fires of Hatred. Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe. However, the main focus of the book, as the title suggests, is not genocide but ethnic cleansing. The difference between the two, according to Naimark, is that whereas genocide 'is the intentional killing off of part or all of an ethnic, religious, or national group', ethnic cleansing aims 'to remove a people and often all traces of them from a concrete territory' (3). The author, however, acknowledges that it is not always easy to distinguish between genocide and ethnic cleansing, since sometimes ethnic cleansing can be genocidal not in its intention but in its consequences. Naimark discusses at length five cases: the Armenian genocide and the expulsion of Greeks from Asia Minor, the Holocaust, the deportation of the Chechens, Ingush and Crimean Tatars in the Soviet Union, the expulsion of Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia at the end of the second world war and the ethnic cleansing during the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It goes without saying that these cases are not comparable. The deportation of half a million Chechens and Ingush cannot be equated with the annihilation of European Jews. Naimark's goal is to study the mechanisms and forces behind these very different cases and what made them possible. For most of Europe, the second world war was the end of a process that had started with the first world war. If the purpose of the first world war was, as A.J.P. Taylor put it, 'to decide how Europe should be remade', then the purpose of the second was to 'decide whether this remade Europe should continue'.2 The remaking of central, eastern and south-eastern Europe concerned the drawing of new borders and the acquisition of new lands and people. It could be argued that this was the purpose of most wars. So what was so particularly different about the twentieth-century wars that allowed the extermination or the forced deportation of millions of people? Naimark argues that it was the combination of extreme nationalism and the development of the modern state. Extreme nationalism was based on the exclusion of ethnic and religious difference. The assimilation of the 'other' was simply unthinkable. Extreme nationalism flourished in the context of the Great War and its outcome was the establishment of a series of new states. The postwar statebuilding did not fulfil the tenet of extreme nationalism, one nation in one state. Despite the expulsion and 'repatriation' of thousands of people after the Great War, within the new borders lived (sometimes large) minorities and outside 'unredeemed brethren'. The exchange of populations was not an option in times of peace because it could provoke a new war, and for that reason it happened only between Greece and Turkey, and after the defeat of the Greek army and expulsion of Greeks from Asia Minor. When the war broke out
2 A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (London 1961), 19.

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again in Europe the mechanism of violent population-engineering was once more set in motion. The racialist nationalism of the nazis was succeeded by the forced deportation of minorities during and in the aftermath of the second world war. The first was unprecedented in its lethality but both managed to redraw the ethnological map of Europe. Countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia which before 1939 had been ethnically heterogeneous (about one third of their populations consisted of minorities), by 1948 had become almost homogeneous.3 Naimark, however, rightly points out that although nationalism was a necessary condition for ethnic cleansing, it was not sufficient. The development of the modern state made ethnic cleansing possible in the twentieth century. After the first world war and during the interwar years the role of the state changed, together with its scope for intervention and its powers. In the unstable international environment of the interwar era the concern of governments about the security of the state increased together with their power to control the population - especially the minorities which were seen as a potential 'fifth column'. Ethnic cleansing requires the power of the modern state, military and technological. Like 'industrial killing', ethnic cleansing presupposes an infrastructure which the state fully developed in the twentieth century: bureaucracy and censuses, propaganda and monitoring of the population, technological advancement and rational organization, mass mobilization of society and mass production. After the end of the second world war, the European countries became ethnically homogeneous as they had never been before in their history. Yugoslavia was one of the very few states in Europe which consisted of different ethnic groups and nationalities. Generally in the Balkans there was a long history of peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups since the time of the Ottoman Empire. Many scholars of the Ottoman Empire overstate the official tolerance towards different religions and peaceful coexistence under the Sultans, and downplay the religious inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims. However, it is also true that there were no serious ethnic conflicts, because 'there was no concept of nationality among the Sultan's subjects, and because Christianity stressed the "community of believers" rather than ethnic solidarity'.4 The economic decline of the Ottoman Empire and the spread of nationalism among the Balkan peoples led to the corrosion of Ottoman authority and, through a series of revolutions and wars, to the establishment of new states in the Ottoman lands. These new states were dedicated to the expansion of their borders and the incorporation of populations in ethnically heterogeneous lands. This constituted the background for new wars against either the Ottomans or the newly-founded Balkan states. Tom Gallagher in Outcast Europe: The Balkans, 1789-1989 tells this well-known story by shifting his focus from the endogenous factors of Balkan nationalisms to the often-forgotten, exogenous factors: that is, the role
3 See the essays in Philip Ther and Ana Siljak (eds), Redrawing Nations. Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948 (Lanham, MD 2001). 4 Mark Mazower, The Balkans (London 2000), 15.


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of the GreatPowersin manipulating Balkannationalisms for the advancement of their interestsin the region. In fact, it was the combinationof economic backwardness and nationalismthat made the Balkanstates seek the 'protection' of the Great Powers and their increasinginvolvement(Englandand Russia in particular)through sponsoringcompetingBalkannationalismsin orderto securetheirinterestsin the long processof the demiseof the Ottoman power in the Balkans.Along with the interventionof the Great Powers, as Todorova has aptly shown, came the constructionof the Balkansin Western imaginationas a place of 'ancient hatreds',violence, corruptionand backwardness.5 Following a century of wars and ethnic conflicts, the situation in the Balkanswas stabilizedafterthe end of the first world war. Territorial aggrandizement and nationalismcould at last give way to economic development, social reform and co-operationamong the Balkan states. Due to this long process of nation-buildingthrough war, the Balkan states were ethnically more homogeneousthan the new states of central and easternEurope.The kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Sloveneswas the exception. In fact, it was a state without any historical precedent, born out of an 'alliance of conof the Serbsin venience',as Gallagher puts it, that favouredthe predominance a highly-centralized state (91). However, stability and peace in the Balkans not by nationalism were againthreatened, this time but, as the authorreminds The intervention. second world war and the Axis occuus, by outrightforeign pation brought economic havoc, death and terror and inflamed nationalist aspirationsin the region. The Ustase 'state' in wartime Yugoslavia or the Bulgarianoccupation of Macedonia and Thrace in Greece did not reflect of veryrecentnation'ancienthatreds'but the manipulation by nazi Germany alist aspirationsor grievances. The end of the secondworld war, with occupation by the Soviet army and the establishmentof communist regimes in the Balkans,apartfrom Greeceand Turkey,markeda new eraof foreigninterventionand the divisionof the Balkansalong Cold Warlines. Gallagher shows clearlythat, far froma monolithicbloc, therewere severaldifferences amongst the communistBalkancountries.Only Bulgariawas a loyal ally of the Soviet Union in the peninsula.Yugoslavia,and laterAlbaniaand Romania,followed differentpaths of 'nationalcommunism'.Of the three countries,Yugoslavia was the most attractiveto the West. It was the first to breakaway from the Soviet bloc; it had close economicties with the West;Tito was a charismatic seemedto guaranteethe co-operationof different leader;the federalstructure nationalitiesand ethnicgroups,and the relativefreedomand experiments with of factoriesquietenedcriticsin the West. The successof the self-management the Yugoslav model was only apparent.Gallagherarguesthat Tito believed
that regional pluralism within the one-party context and the promotion of smaller republics as a counterweight could defuse rival nationalisms, particularly between Serbs and Croats (228). When in the late 1960s and early 1970s
5 MariaTodorova,Imagining the Balkans(New York 1997).

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the opposition of the regime, the leadership demanded the democratization refused democratic to comply. Instead of introducing Titochoseto reforms, in order stirup the rivalry his gripon between the Serbs andCroats to retain in 1971: As a and Tito remarked 'TitocomSerb communist loyalist power. and Croatian-Serb Albanian-Serb mitteda historical errorby encouraging willpaya heavy conflict. Yugoslavia priceforit.'6 wasin thegripof a nationalist feverof a different Around thattime,Greece kind altogether. Greecebelonged to the 'FreeWorld'and was ruledby a withtherecent of Greece, this Forthosefamiliar military history dictatorship. was no contradiction. The 1940s were crucialin the shapingof postwar the of a communist-led resistance movement Greece. Thedevelopment during in theGreek of violent conflicts thatculminated Axisoccupation ledto a series firstby the British CivilWar(1946-49).The Greek supported government, Greece on the sideof the and laterby the USA,won the CivilWar,putting and DavidH. Civil War were The of the West. far-reaching, consequences of the political, an excellent since1945 provides Closein his Greece survey of in postwar Thepostwar socialhistory Greece. economic andsocialchanges of historians andhis contributhe interest hasonlyrecently attracted Greece fromthe other to theauthor, differed tion is veryvaluable.7 Greece, according more in threerespects. it was and Balkan countries First, ethnically religiously small thanks to the of more coherent and predominance homogeneous socially of parliamentarism andthird, it hada longhistory Second, familybusinesses. state it was distinguished a administration (6-7). by highly-centralized afterthe of a dictatorial Greece didnot seetheestablishment regime Although in similar the faqade of a parliaCivilWar(asso oftenhappens cases),under discrimination of the and repression mentary regimetherewas systematic - the Communist remained outlawed leftistopposition Party,for instance, until 1974. Nationalism becamethe unifying ideologyin the campof the - not the aggressive, cenirredentist nationalism of the nineteenth winners anti-communism. Extreme anti-communism but rather a tury, state-sponsored in extraparliamentary like arenas nurtured authoritarian tendencies, especially in domestic intervened the monarchy, the USA,whichconspicuously affairs, in the 1950sandearly influence increase andthearmy, whichsawits political to thesocialunrest, 1960s.Themilitary politicoupin 1967wastheiranswer the mid-1960s. Theideology of cal polarization andgovernmental instability of the colonels'dictatorship (1967-74) was based on an obsessiveantinationalism because of theGreek-Turkish communism anda moretraditional The of the islandof in Turkish invasion the question. Cyprus entanglement in the summer of 1974 andits partition by the couporgatriggered Cyprus the Cypriot nizedby the dictatorship in Athens with a viewto overthrowing
6 Misha Glenny,The Balkans1804-1999. Nationalism,Warand the GreatPowers (London 1999), 593. 7 Two pathbreaking books in the social historyof postwar Greeceare LinaVentura,Ellines kai metanastessto Velgio (Athens1999) and Efi Avdela,Dia logous timis. Via, synaisthimata Ellada(Athens2002). axies sti metemfyliaki


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theendof thedictatorship andtotally Makarios, president Archbishop spelled discredited thenationalist ideology. Therestoration of parliamentary in 1974ushered in a neweraof democracy andpolitical in socialreforms Greece. between the stability Despite hostility Greece andTurkey andtheoccasional outburst of nationalist Greek rhetoric, with the introduction of socialand political societywas morepreoccupied The darkside of the Greekeconomic reforms. miracle of the 1960s, Close as wellas its being wasthevasteconomic flawed, seriously inequalities argues, of hundreds of poorfarmers andthe emigration of thousands (44-56).In the 1970s and 1980s, the lower classespressed hardfor the redistribution of wealthandreforms thatwouldundotheinjustices whichtheLefthadsuffered in the previous decades. The problem was that the necessary economic and in socialreforms whichtheSocialist the introduced the 1980s made Party only of the structural and Greek worse took problems economy placeduringan economicrecession.Close discussesat lengththe economicproblemsof the 1980s:de-industrialization, of failingcompanies, nationalization heavy and expansion of an inefficient borrowing, highinflation publicsector.The of the country economic was significantly betterin the 1990s, performance dueto thestructural Closeargues, fundsprovided the Union,the by European reduction of theeconomy's influxof a fiscal and the sector, tight policy public of thousands of immigrants hundreds who Albanians) provided (mostly cheap labour.Fromthe 1990s, Greece was no longerthe relatively homogeneous thatit hadbeenformanydecades. andillegal country Legal immigrants today 10 percentof the totalpopulation. attitudes amount to perhaps Xenophobic in Greece in the 1990switha revival towards foundfertile immigrants ground in the Balkans of nationalism andthewarsin Yugoslavia. Thedefence of the national debates butalsoof 'Greek became anissuenotjustof public identity' in defenceof the name of the The demonstrations politicalmobilization. former of Macedonia or someyearslaterthe ralliesorgaYugoslav Republic to protest nizedby the Church the elimination of religious affiliation against of themedia fromthenewidentity showed howthenationalist rhetoric cards, andpolitically caninstilor manipulate thefearsandinsecuricircles powerful tiesof a society under transformation. rapid in Greecerepeatedly The sponsorsof these ralliesand demonstrations to invoked their claims on historical orthattheOrthodox history justify rights of theGreek faithwasa constituent national a based not on identity history reasonbutrather on emotion andexamples of loyaltyandself-sacrifice, and one underpinned Naimark andGallagher considerations.' by current political of the 'Memorandum stress the importance of the Serbian Academyof
Sciences'in September1986 in promotingSerbiannationalism,especiallyin Kosovo. It spoke of a 'genocide of the Serbianpopulation in Kosovo' and warnedthat 'an "ethnically statedgoal of pure"Kosovo, that unambiguously
8 Effi Gazi, Scientific National History. The Greek Case in Comparative Perspective (18501920) (Frankfurt a.M. 2000), 25.

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the Greater and actionsof Albaniaracists,alreadyoutlinedin the programmes the PrizrenLeagueof 1871-81, will be achieved'.Threeyearslater,it was the turn of SlobodanMilo'evi6to invokehistory.On 28 June 1989, at the 600th anniversaryof the Battle of Kosovo, he addresseda mass rally with the following words: 'Kosovo heroismdoes not allow us to forget that, at one time, we were brave and dignifiedand one of the few who went into battle undefeated.... Six centurieslater, againwe are in battlesand quarrels. They are not armed battles, though such things should not be excluded yet.'9 History servesto legitimizedecisions,to claim rights, to establishanalogies and continuities, to outlineexpectationsand the originsof a currentsituation. In that sense history,perhapsmore than any other discipline,is vulnerable to This is the theme of a coluse and can be a keen of ally politicians. political
lection of essays in the volume Political Uses of the Past. The Recent

Mediterranean Experience,editedby JacquesRevel and GiovanniLevi.In the introductory HartogandJacquesReveladdressthe question chapter,Franqois of the political use of historicaldiscourseand make clear that the volume concernsnot only the historywritten by academichistorians,but mainlythe history producedin the public sphere, and how history and public history influence each other. Consideringthe fact that professional historians no in the modernand longercontrolthe historythat is beingproduced(especially not to defend 'true' the editors call historians period), upon contemporary ask about the of but to 'questions regime historicityin which these history arise' (6). questions of nationalidentiNationalhistoriography was pertinent to the construction ty. Antonis Liakosin his essay discussesthe underlyingassumptionsand the continuousrestructuring of the past in the nationalnarrative.His position is that any national narrative,in order to serve its purpose in constructinga nationalidentity,'shouldhaveinternalcoherenceand no temporaldiscontinuities' (28). In fact, the problem for Greek historiographywas the relation betweenancientand modernGreeceor, to be more precise,what happenedin in between.Therevivalist in the firstdecadesof the ninethe centuries approach teenth century(the resurrection of the Greeknation afterbeing subjugated by the Romans,the Byzantines andthe Turks)couldnot answerthe problemof the continuity of the Greek nation satisfactorily.ConstantinePaparrigopoulos undertookthe task of fillingthe gaps. In his monumental Historyof the Greek in the the second half of the nineteenth Nation, published century,he established in of Greek the the Greek nation the by 'inserting' history Byzantine continuity Thenext stepwas a looserdefinitionof the nation,the cultural Empire. concept of Hellenismor, evenbetter,successive Hellenisms basedin the firstplaceon the Greek languageand later on the ChristianOrthodox religion. This cultural
approach to the national identity also helped to explain the existence of the nation during the four centuries of Ottoman rule. Giovanni Levi in his essay takes issue with public history in order to address
9 Gallagher, Outcast Europe, 247; Naimark, Fires of Hatred, 149, 152.


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of revisionist One can hardly with his the question historiography. disagree on thecurrent of remarks historical the First, producproduction knowledge. tion of historical historians hasbeenoverwhelmed knowledge by professional of historical information school Second, by themassproduction bythemedia. curricula underwent a profound towards a fact-oriented and change approach an oversimplification of the past.Third, thereis a growing to minitendency mizedifferences andconflicts in European witha viewto establishing history a common the turnto the studyof memory Fourth, European identity. quite individual oftenstripped fromits broader socialframework, assertexperience andfragmentation of memory. Theoutcome of these ingtheindividualization waveof historical in trendsis the current the revisionism, studyof especially civil wars and revolutions. 'Thecommontheme',Leviwrites,'has beento in conflict makethe parties equal- andto makebothof themnegative.... Theresulting of the butrather a picture pastis not an inverted interpretation all of whichareviewed out of positions, as negative. Thepastis laden leveling with hideousness' in his essayshowshow the relation Pavone (69). Claudio between the two levelsof publicuseof the pastis further by the complicated nature of as a scientific and at the same history very discipline (being literary and the of historical the situation time) conditioning writing by contemporary in whichthehistorian means thatthehistorian notonlywrites lives.Thelatter in whichthepastis usedbutthathe or sheparticipates in the withina context in of the as use is the case national church historyor public past, history, for instance. to the examination of Italian Turning publiccommemorations, Pavone showshowthe fascist pasthasbeenusedby revisionhistoriography, thatthe two Revisionists haveput forward the argument ist historiography. of responsisideswereequalandthushaveeliminated theproblem opposing thepastandpacified conscience (83). bilityvis-a-vis everyone's of thetwenty-first Fromtheperspective andafter60 yearsof peace century and stabilityin Western centuryin Europe,the violenceof the twentieth fanned thewars to a The that seems to remote belong past. ideologies Europe of millions of of the twentieth have the century people disappeared; suffering in academic interest collective todaybutdoesnot arouse maytrigger passions in the us is far from wars reminded that nationalism Yet, Europe. Yugoslavia sawnewforms of violence andwar.On deadandthedawnof thenewcentury uniof theconvenient of theotherhand,fromtheviewpoint present European is and the need for a convenient fication, prosperity peace, past stronger a irrelevant andincomprehensible. Thequestion pastthatwilllookverydistant, is how andto whatextenthistorians canprevent thisfromhappening.
Polymeris Voglis teachesModernHistoryat the University of Thessaly,Greece.He is the authorof Becominga Subject.PoliticalPrisonersduringthe GreekCivil War(New Yorkand Oxford 2002) and is currently in Greece. a book on the postwarreconstruction preparing