Between the Cracks: Macedonia and the 'Mental Map' of Europe

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT:

As arguably the most peripheral region within the Balkans, itself the most peripheral subset of Europe, Macedonia at the turn of the century was represented as the crossroads of East and West. Macedonia's perceived schizophrenia crystallized during the Ilinden Uprising of 1903, a rebellion that brought the provinces of Ottoman Macedonia to the attention of the European press. The seeming brutality of the violence, and the diplomatic questions related to the future administration of Macedonia, produced conflicting interpretations among journalists as to the 'allegiance' of the region. The discourse over the rebellious provinces in the Ottoman Empire involved two parallel lines of thinking, one placing it within the periphery of Europe, the other at the core of "Near Eastern" politics. This article explores the approach of the British press towards the perceived ambiguities of Ottoman Macedonia and sheds greater light upon the imagining of the geographic dimensions of contemporary Europe and the Middle East.

The contemporary narrative of the classroom situates the Balkans on the periphery of European history. As either a site of imperial expansion or nationalist revolutions, the Balkans is a sideshow to the evolution of the Great Powers of Europe. It is only in the classical period - representing a time and 'civilization' alien to the present - that the Balkans take centre stage. As a microcosm, Macedonia is the embodiment of this problematic shift in historical and geographical attention. The name Macedonia is deeply embedded in the European classical narrative, representing the birthplace of Alexander and the heart of the Ptolemaic world. Yet after the Ottoman conquest in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the relevance of Macedonia within European history fades. A similar ambivalence towards the Balkans can be seen in relation to Middle Eastern historiography. Despite the centrality of the southern Balkans, and Macedonia in particular, within the history of the Ottoman Empire, most surveys of Middle Eastern history exclude discussion of southeastern Europe. Seemingly, Macedonia, as well as other regions within the Balkans, simply falls between the cracks.

Macedonia's evolution from prominence to obscurity is a by-product of the nineteenth century rethinking of historical, cultural and geographic boundaries on the southeastern periphery of the 'Great Power' states of Western Europe. While nineteenth century scholars attempted to recast classical Greece as a purely "European" civilization, devoid of any connection with North Africa or the Levant, the history of neighbouring Macedonia was simultaneously located as a disputed territory between East and West.1 According to the principle actors who revised the notion of Macedonia, primarily journalists, scholars, travellers, and diplomats, the region could not be reduced to conform to one manner of "civilization" over another. Like the dish that would take its name, the macedoine comprised a jumble of parts that made it unclassifiable.

Understanding the construction of the 'mental map' of Macedonia provides an essential insight into the modern (re-)imagining of the geographic dimensions of contemporary Europe and the Middle East. As arguably the most peripheral region within the Balkans, itself the most peripheral subset of Europe, Macedonia at the turn of the century was represented as the crossroads of East and West. Macedonia's perceived schizophrenia crystallized during the Ilinden Uprising of 1903, a rebellion that brought the provinces of Ottoman Macedonia to the attention of the European press. The seeming savagery of the uprising, and the diplomatic questions related to the future administration of Macedonia produced conflicting interpretations among journalists as to the "allegiance" of the region. While the nature of the violence enacted during the Ilinden Uprising fixed Macedonia within the Balkans, strategic and to a degree, cultural associations suggested that the crisis must be managed within the broader scope of the "Near East. …