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When is the Nation? A Theoretical and Empirical Inquiry

Anna Triandafyllidou

International Students Association Conference
Los Angeles, California
March 2000

International Students Association



Theories on nation formation may be roughly divided into two main schools: modernists and perennialists. The former claim that nations and nationalism are socio-political phenomena characteristic of the modern era while the latter sustain that nations have always existed albeit in different social or political forms than that characterising modern nations. Different theorists provide for different definitions of the nation, however, either of the two schools has difficulty in answering one fundamental question: When can we say that an ethnic or cultural community becomes a nation? In short, when is the nation? From which historical moment onwards can we say that the nation has been consolidated? The aim of this paper is twofold. The first section will discuss briefly definitions of the nation according to these two strands of theories. It will also discuss whether it is useful and possible to fix a historical point in time when a nation comes into being or whether this is a futile analytic exercise to the extent that national identity, like any form of identity, is dynamic and constantly in evolution. The second section is concerned with a case study aiming at highlighting the problems and possible answers to the question when is the nation with reference to Greece. More specifically, the study concentrates on the first two decades of the twentieth century, which marked the consolidation of Greek national identity and led to the fusion of the notion of the Greek nation with that of the independent Greek national state. Recent developments in the notion of the Greek nation and identity are highlighted in the concluding section and the futility of the when is the nation question discussed.

Draft version. Please do not quote without permission of the author.



1. Introduction

Theories on nation formation may be roughly divided into two main schools: modernists and perennialists. The former claim that nations and nationalism are socio-political phenomena characteristic of the modern era (Anderson 1983; Gellner 1983; Kedourie 1993 et al.) while the latter sustain that nations have always existed albeit in different social or political forms than that characterising modern nations (Armstrong 1982; Hastings 1997; Smith 1986). Different theorists provide for different definitions 1 of the nation, however, either of the two schools has difficulty in answering one fundamental question: When can we say that an ethnic or cultural community becomes a nation? In short, when is the nation ? From which historical moment onwards can we say that the nation has been consolidated?

The aim of this paper is twofold. The first part of the paper will discuss briefly the definition of the nation according to these two strands of theories. It will also discuss whether it is useful and possible to fix a historical point in time when a nation comes into being or whether this is a futile analytic exercise to the extent that national identity, like any form of identity, is dynamic and constantly in evolution. The second part of the paper is concerned with a case study aiming at highlighting the problems and possible answers to the question when is the nation with reference to Greece. More specifically, the study concentrates on a specific historical period, namely the first two decades of the twentieth century, which marked the consolidation of Greek national identity and led the fusion of the notion of the Greek nation with that of the independent Greek national 2 state.


2. Perennialists vs. modernists and the when is the nation issue

In order to answer the question “when is the nation?” one has first to define some set of analytic or descriptive criteria according to which, a group, community or other collectivity may be recognised as a nation. The problem is not a simple one not least because a great variety of different types of groups have asserted their nationhood during the last two centuries. Besides, the legitimacy of the scholar to recognise or deny the national character of a given group is naturally questionable. However, leaving aside political and moral considerations, for the purposes of this study, I shall seek to classify the definitions of the nation provided by the main theorists in the area and examine the extent to which one may answer the “when is the nation” question on the basis of such criteria.

Definitions of the nation 3 may be of an objective or subjective type (Hobsbawm 1991: 5-7). The former establish objective criteria, namely a set of features that a collectivity should have to qualify as a nation while the latter define the nation in relation to its members’ sense of belonging. A similar distinction is introduced by Gellner, who proposes two provisional definitions: the cultural, which views a shared culture as the main feature for identification of two individuals that belong to the same nation, and the voluntaristic, according to which “two men (sic) are of the same nation if, and only if, they recognise each other as belonging to the same nation (..) nations are the artefacts of man’s convictions and loyalties and solidarities”(Gellner 1983: 7). Seton-Watson (1977) also points to the voluntaristic notion of the nation at the collective level: “the nation exists when a significant number of people in a community consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they formed one”( ibid.: 5). The subjective nature of the nation, i.e. the fact that it does not consist of a set of specific features that characterise fellow nationals but rather that it concerns the sense of solidarity and common belonging that bind them together, is pointed out also by various scholars (Bauer cit. in Nimni 1991: 148; Connor 1978; Habermas 1992: 2; Ha’am cit. in Smith 1983: 11; Renan 1990 [1882]).

These two different types of definitions provide for two kinds of answer to our question: According to the objective or cultural view, the nation comes into being when it satisfies a set of criteria and, in particular, that of a common culture shared by a given population. Subjective definitions, in contrast, would assert that a nation exists if and when the members of one collectivity perceive themselves as members of that nation, or, which is nearly the same thing, share a feeling of belonging to it.

Anthony Smith (1991: 14) provides for a more detailed, objective-cum-subjective definition of the nation, which includes a list of criteria that should be satisfied for a group to be recognised as a national community:

“a named human population sharing an historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members”

Even though Smith’s definition is essentially of the objective kind, it includes a subjective element to the extent that a shared culture, a single economy and a common set of rights and duties entail awareness of membership to the group. Besides, the enumeration of a set of criteria allows for its operationalisation: one may recognise as nations only the communities that satisfy the above set of criteria.

A number of alternative definitions are however given by scholars, who emphasise the functions that a nation should fulfil. Thus, Hroch (1996: 79) points to the fact that a nation must provide equality, a sense of symbolic and institutional legitimacy (Connor 1994: 82), a base for the social integration and sovereignty of its members (Habermas 1996: 284) or a moral identity (Gellner 1996: 117).

Clearly, the above summary of definitions of the nation is far from being exhaustive. It provides, however, for an overview of the main approaches and points to the multifaceted and complex nature of the phenomenon. I shall now turn to consider how such definitions may provide an answer to the question of timing: when can we say that a nation comes into being.

It may seem natural from the above definitions that the student of nations and nationalism can isolate a historical moment, a point defined in space and time, when it can be said that a nation is formed. Regardless of whether the nation emerges from a pre-existing ethnic group, as primordialists would argue, or it is awakened from its lethargy, as the perennialist view would sustain or, is formed to respond to the needs of men and women in the modern era, as modernists may suggest, there seems to be an implicit agreement that there is a moment when nationhood comes into being. This threshold, this moment of realisation of the national potential can be located in time and space, if one undertakes the necessary historical-sociological exercise.

In my view, however, this risks of being a futile analytical exercise, which disguises the true nature of nations. As a matter of fact, the student of nationalism may privilege one or other definition of the nation, operationalise its specific elements or criteria and classify human collectivities in accordance to these. But the nation is a form of collective identification, bounded historically, that is, however, in a process of constant mutation, reaffirmation or transformation of its character, including the re-definition of the features that bind fellow nationals together, the scope of the nation and/or its past. This is not to say that the nation is an artificial product of human will. It is not a mere artefact of social or political engineering. The nation is inscribed into a pre-existing matrix of cultural and social organisational forms, including their material aspects that characterise a given population. It is however a collective identity and as such it is constantly in the process of becoming. For the sense of belonging to the nation to survive, it has to constantly reproduce itself both symbolically and materially.

Thus, rather than trying to locate a point in time when the nation comes into being , one should study the nation as a process. In other words, nation formation is not a historical phase that precedes the moment of birth or reawakening of the nation. It is rather constitutive of the nation as such. In order to cast some light to this point, I shall explore the dynamics of formation of the Greek nation. The following sections will concentrate on the beginning of the twentieth century and the process of crystallisation of the Greek nation and national identity. I shall thus highlight the dynamic character of the process of nation formation, the role that others played in it and the development of different views of nationhood. Eventually, I shall argue that although one may identify the period between 1900 and 1920 as that of consolidation and crystallisation of the Greek nation, a closer look at contemporary Greece reveals that the process of formation of the Greek nation is constantly in action.


3. Greece: creating a nation and a nation-state

Before examining the specific period that is of interest to us here, it is worth outlining the main features of Greek national identity as this developed during the nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, Greek identity encompassed both ethnic and civic characteristics. Even though early Greek nationalism in late eighteenth century was marked by the influence of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment (Veremis 1983: 59-60; Kitromilides 1990: 25-33), the Greek nation was eventually defined with reference to common ancestry (Veremis 1983; 1990; Kitromilides 1983), culture and language (Diamandouros 1983: 55; Kitromilides 1990: 30). Greek national consciousness was built throughout the nineteenth century with reference to the Great Idea of liberating the nation’s irredenta, 4 namely the regions inhabited by Greek-speaking Christian Orthodox populations that had not been included in the independent Greek state at the moment of its creation (1829). Moreover, the independent Greek kingdom accepted eterochthones, i.e. ethnic Greeks who were born outside the territory which later became the independent Greek kingdom, on an equal footing as autochthones, namely those born within the national territory (cf. Clogg 1992: 48). In other words, Greece became the national centre: the political and cultural basis for the Greek populations living in the Near and Middle East as well as in the Balkans (Kitromilides 1983).

The modern institutions transplanted into the new-born Greek state as well as the Greek Enlightenment movement, although alien to the traditional, rural and deeply religious Greek society of the early nineteenth century, marked a continuity between classical and modern Greece. The ancient glorious past was thus incorporated into the conception of the nation as its genealogical and cultural cradle. Nonetheless, the construction of the national identity was completed only through the integration of the Byzantine period into the historic trajectory of the Greeks. The ‘invention’ of such a united and unique community started with the work of the Greek historian Constantine Paparrigopoulos (Veremis 1983: 60-61; 1990: 12) and was continued throughout the nineteenth century by means of the national educational and cultural policy.

Despite the contradiction between the particularistic claims of Greek nationalism and the universalistic tendencies of the Christian Orthodox religion, the integration of the Byzantine past into the national consciousness led to the gradual identification of the flock with the ethnos. 5 Even though this identification was problematic (Kitromilides 1990: 51-59), the separation of the Greek church from the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1833 confirmed the close link between Hellenism and Orthodoxy.

Towards the turn of the century, the process of formation of a Greek nation in the context of the new independent state had gone a long way forward, delineating the (supposed) historical trajectory of the nation, providing for a unitary version of the national history, in which diverse elements were incorporated. Moreover, the development of a national education system and national conscription had contributed significantly to the incorporation of the masses into what was initially a restricted movement of political elites and intellectuals. Nonetheless, the process was far from being complete because the boundaries of the Greek nation were still unclear. This related to a lack of clarity with regard to the national identity features. As a matter of fact, there was an underlying ideological and political struggle between those that viewed the nation as a cultural and ethnic community, defined territorially and politically within the restricted limits of the independent Greek state and those that supported a fully irredentist vision, whereby the Greek nation included all the neighbouring populations that were related to Greek culture or ancestry.


4. A nation in crisis

The path towards national integration during the nineteenth century proved particularly difficult because the limited economic and military forces of the Greek state could not meet the disproportionate ambitions of its governments. Moreover, the regime of conditional sovereignty that had been imposed to Greece by the foreign Powers further undermined the prestige and legitimacy of the kingdom as the political agent of the nation (Diamandouros 1983). Towards the end of the century, the situation got worse because the development policy adopted by the Trikoupis government in the 1880s led to the effective bankruptcy of the state in 1893. The national humiliation was complemented by the military defeat by the Turks in Thessaly in 1897 and the country’s submission to the financial control of the International Monetary Fund. It became then obvious that the Greek nation-state was not able to fulfil the task it had set for itself, namely the liberation of ethnic Greeks living in the Ottoman empire.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, the nation collapsed into a severe economic, political and, most importantly, identity crisis (Augustinos 1977: 24; Veremis 1983: 66-7). The state had lost its credibility as the main representative of the nation. Moreover, it was no longer trusted as a reliable administrator of its own affairs (Veremis 1990: 15). Its double, financial and military, failure put into question its role as the national centre (Kitromilides 1983). The situation was deteriorated by the uprisings in Crete, 6 which increased the strain in the relationships between Greece and the Ottoman empire. Moreover, an important source of worry for Greeks were the claims raised upon the territories north from the Greek borders, that had been long coveted by Greek nationalists, by Serbia, Bulgaria and Albania.

The early twentieth century and, in particular, the period between 1904 and 1908 was marked by the armed conflict between Greek and Bulgarian bands for supremacy in Ottoman Macedonia. 7 These bands of guerrilla fighters were composed by local men, Cretans and, more often than not, under cover Greek army officers supplied by the government of Athens. Gradually, the Greek bands got the upper hand in the conflict preparing thus the annexation of the region to Greece through the Balkan wars (1912-13) (Clogg 1992: 75).

The ‘Macedonian struggle’ played an important part in revitalising the Greek national identity to the extent that it introduced a new Other, namely the Slavs, and more particularly the Bulgarians, against which the nation felt united. For many Greeks, the Macedonian issue was seen as a test of the nation and they felt their duty to respond (Augustinos 1977: 123). As a matter of fact, the ‘Macedonian struggle’ emphasised the unity of the nation, if one considers that many ‘Makedonomachoi’ (Macedonian fighters) came not only from mainland Greece but also from Crete. It also provided for new heroes like Pavlos Melas, a Geek army officer, son of an influential family, that had long been committed to the Great Idea and its realisation, who was appointed commander-in-chief of the Greek bands in the areas of Kastoria and Monastir in August 1904 and was killed there by Turkish troops in September of the same year. Pavlos Melas and his fellow fighters stroke a chord with most members of the Athenian bourgeoisie who participated in social gatherings organised in support of the Macedonian cause (Gounaris 1997).

The following passage written by Ion Dragoumis, a nationalist intellectual and diplomat, during his service as a consular officer in Macedonia, expresses eloquently, albeit too passionately perhaps, the influence that the ‘Macedonian struggle’ had on Greek national consciousness:

You have to know that if we hurry to save Macedonia, Macedonia will save us. She will save us from the dirt in which we roll, from the mediocrity and the dead spirit, from the shameful sleep, she will free us. If we hurry to save Macedonia, we will be saved! (Dragoumis 1992: 10-11)

According to Dragoumis (ibid.), the struggle against the Bulgarian and Ottoman Others was the means to ‘awaken’ the national consciousness and save the nation from the Eastern military and political threat and the Western corrupted mores.

Under the pressure of the Bulgarian threat in Macedonia, Greece had to revise its foreign policy priorities and thus opted for a strategy of co-operation with the Ottoman empire (Veremis 1990: 17). The contradiction between the compromising attitude and weakness of the independent Greek kingdom and the nationalist fervour inspired by the Macedonian question and the struggle of Cretans for “enosis” led some intellectuals to propose the idea of the stateless nation as an alternative to the nation-state (Veremis 1990: 16), emphasising thus the ethnic and cultural component of the nation and downplaying its territorial unity. Ion Dragoumis and Athanasios Souliotes were the two main advocates of this idea (Augustinos 1977: 117-34).

Dragoumis’ writings, 8 even though they represent neither the nation nor the whole political class, express eloquently the contradiction between the nation and the state:

Concerning the government, I feel disgusted, I despise it. When I think of the government I feel down, retreat and fade. I get up, rise and blossom when I feel the Hellenes. (Dragoumis 1992: 36).

In the context of the demoticist movement, 9 a number of intellectuals expressed their concern with regard to the decline of the nation and the ways to revitalise it. Kostes Palamas stands out among other poets not only for his monumental literary work but also for his sensibility and insight. Two of Palamas’ works, the “Dodecalogue of the Gypsy” (1907) and the “King’s Flute” (1910), testify to the poet’s concern with regard to the nation’s present and future and the need for national rebirth (Augustinos ibid.: 40-65). Even though a detailed analysis of Palamas’ view of the nation goes beyond the scope of this paper, it is worth noting that he saw regeneration coming through pain and suffering that would be inflicted to the Greeks by the Turks. In a similar vein, Perikles Giannopoulos, another important intellectual of this period (Augustinos ibid.: 66-83), blamed the Turks for all the evils that had befallen the Greeks in their history and suggested that the era of Ottoman rule led to the breakdown of cohesiveness and solidarity among the Greeks. As a matter of fact, Giannopoulos was critical of the Orthodox church and the West too, accusing the church for betraying the national cause and the West for corrupting the Greek culture.

In conclusion, during the first decade of the twentieth century, the Greek national identity underwent a deep crisis: the nation-state had lost its credibility and the idea of the nation had lost its clarity and vitality. Greeks were surrounded by hostile Others albeit they were (or felt) unable to deal with them. A provisional solution to this identity impasse was provided through the accentuation of ethnic, religious and cultural elements of the national identity at the expense of its political and territorial aspects.


5. Nationalist Revival

The national crisis was concluded in 1909 with the military coup of Goudi. The coup was enacted by the Military League, it involved a sizeable proportion of the Athens garrison and, even though it originated from professional grievances among army officers, it eventually imposed to the government a number of non-military reforms (Clogg 1992: 75-6). In effect, the army rose against the corrupt and inefficient political class, under the pressure of the specific domestic and foreign policy circumstances 10 (Dertilis 1985: 213-4). As a matter of fact, the coup may be seen as the turning point from national crisis to revival. It marked the beginning of a new period for Greece, during which, under the leadership of Eleftherios Venizelos, 11 and by means of both military campaigns and diplomatic manoeuvres, Greece managed to achieve a large part of its nationalist aspirations. At the election of August 1912, Venizelos and his liberal party won almost 300 out of 364 seats in parliament. The new government’s agenda included both domestic socio-economic reform and the aggressive pursuit of the Great Idea.

During this period, the view of the nation-without-state was abandoned, not only because the Greek state acquired new strength and prepared to fight for the liberation of the irredenta, but also because of the forced Ottomanisation policy inaugurated by the Young Turks, despite their initial promise for equality for all ethnic or religious groups living in the former empire. Thus, the Turkish threat of suppressing the ethnic Greeks reinforced the territorial and political dimensions of the Greek nation (Veremis 1983: 66). Besides, the optimism and dynamism injected to the Greek public life by the new government (Clogg 1992: 79) strengthened the identification of the nation with the state and re-introduced the role of this last as the national centre.

The first Balkan war (1912) was waged between the allied forces of Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro against the Ottoman empire. The Ottoman army being heavily outnumbered by the allied forces of the Balkan states, was soon obliged to retreat. The Greek troops captured Salonica in November 1912 and the city of Ioannina, the capital of Epirus, in February 1913. The Greek navy soon established its superiority in the Aegean by gaining control over the islands of Chios, Samos and Mytilini. The gains of the allies over the Ottoman empire were recognised by the Turks at the Treaty of London in May 1913.

The second Balkan war took place between Serbia and Greece, on the one side, and Bulgaria, on the other. Serbs and Greeks agreed on dividing the spoils of Macedonia to their favour and forced the Bulgarians to a territorial settlement highly unfavourable to them (Treaty of Bucharest, August 1913). Moreover, during the same period, Greece saw its sovereignty over Crete recognised but failed to annexe the northern part of Epirus which was given to the independent state of Albania.

At the end of the Balkan wars, Greece had managed to fulfil a large part of its irredentist dreams at the expense of the Ottoman empire (and partly the Bulgarians). During the years 1909-1913, the nation had been united and had supported the government wholeheartedly in its nationalist enterprises. Greek national sentiment had been strengthened in front of the enemies. 12 During this period, Greek national identity remained inextricably linked with the Great Idea project, which included the liberation of Minor Asia Greeks.

At the outbreak of the First World War, the Greek government decided to take side with the Entente forces, even though the King and part of the political class opposed this decision. Despite the country’s successes in the foreign front, discord started emerging in domestic politics. The prevalence of the Great Idea as the national state ideology was attacked by part of the political world &-; mainly the king and his supporters – which opted for a ‘small but honourable Greece’ (Mavrogordatos 1983b: 90-1). The emerging ‘national schism’ 13 between Venizelists and anti-Venizelists did not prevent Greek troops from landing to Smyrna in 1919, with the support of the Allied forces. In August 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres was signed with the aim of installing peace between Greece and the Ottoman empire. According to this Treaty, the region of Smyrna was to remain under Greek administration for five years from then, after which it would be formally annexed to Greece if the local parliament, that would have been created in the meantime, so requested. The Greek government had good reasons to believe that this would happen (Clogg 1992: 95), albeit the Turks never ratified the Treaty. Furthermore, Venizelos lost the election of November 1920 and the ‘small but honourable Greece’ supporters came to power.

The gradual erosion of national unity in the period between 1914 and 1920, expressed in the term of “national schism”, was related to the conflict between the Prime Minister and the King regarding the country’s alliance with the Entente or the Central powers. Furthermore, internal divisions became wider as weariness from the constant state of war grew and also because of the vindictive behaviour of some of Venizelos’ supporters during his second term in office (1817-1920). Moreover, the continuous interference of the Great Powers into the country’s affairs contributed to a sense of loss of the national pride (Clogg 1992: 87-95). Thus, the Great Idea lost its impetus and people started reconsidering their national identity seeking to balance the irredentist overtone with the territorial and civic concept of the small but honourable Greece.

Nonetheless, the royalist government elected in November 1920 pursued the Minor Asia campaign. Despite the fact that the allies declared their neutrality in the Greek-Turkish conflict in April 1921, the Greek army’s offensive of March 1921 led the Greek troops at the Sakarya river near Ankara. However, the major offensive launched in August 1922 soon turned into a rout. The Greek forces had to withdraw from Asia Minor and large numbers of ethnic Greeks inhabiting the region fled as refugees towards mainland Greece.

The defeat of the Greek army at Asia Minor and its consequences, namely loss of the territorial gains of the Treaty of Sèvres and exchange of the Greek populations living in the empire with the Turkish populations living in Greece, 14 marked irrevocably the Greek history but also and most importantly the Greek national identity. The Great Idea was definitively abandoned and the territory of the state was incorporated into the dominant nationalist discourse as one of the features of the nation (together with ethnic origin, culture, language and religious faith). The fact that the birth of the modern Turkish nation from the remains of the Ottoman Empire was intertwined with the destruction of the Greek irredentist project confirmed the role of the Turks as the threatening Other par excellence for Greeks. At the same time, the conflict with the Turks contributed to the consolidation of Greek national identity because it strengthened the identification of the nation with the state and enhanced its modern, civic and territorial features.


6. When is the Greek nation: a view into the present

It has been argued in the beginning of this paper that seeking to identify a point in time when a nation comes into being is a futile analytical exercise. More particularly, a dynamic view of the nation has been introduced which sees nations as in a constant process of becoming. The case-study undertaken in sections Three to Five has highlighted the dynamics of the Greek nation formation identifying the core elements of Greek national identity and how these have evolved during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. My analysis has shown that conflict with neighbouring countries and the Turks in particular has contributed to the consolidation of the Greek nation and to the amalgamation of ethnic, territorial and cultural elements into a unitary conception of national identity.

Thus, even though the modern Greek national state came into being in 1829, its borders were clearly and unequivocally delineated only in 1922. 15 Moreover, despite a systematic policy of nationalisation of the Greek society which took place in the nineteenth century in particular, the Greek nation as a form of collective identification acquired a somewhat stable character only in the late 1920s when the irredentist project of the Great Idea was definitively abandoned.

Thus, one may argue that 1829 may be defined as the moment of the genesis of the Greek nation- or national state (depending on one’s perspective on minorities) while the modern Greek nation came fully into being as late as 1922. However, a closer look at contemporary identity politics in Greece shows that the Greek nation is still in the process of (re-)negotiating its main identity features as well as its boundaries. Thus, the competitive character of international politics, on the one hand, and the closer integration with other European countries in the context of the European Union, on the other hand, have led to the renovation, re—invention or re-discovery of the ethno-genealogical view of the Greek nation. During the last decade, we have been witnessing an increased fetishisation of Greekness (Tsoukalas 1993) whose character as an amalgamate of genealogical and environmental elements in which only people born Greeks can participate has been emphasised. Moreover, the scale and wide-ranging nature of the Greek diaspora has added a further layer of meaning to this ideology.

Furthermore, the 1990s have been characterised by the so-called “Macedonian question”, namely the contemporary issues 16 raised by Greece after the proclamation of independence by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in 1991. The claims of FYROM to use the word Macedonia as its name as an independent state as well as its claims to some cultural features that were deemed to be ‘property’ of the Greek nation have initiated a controversy between FYROM and Greece which lasted for over five years. The case was brought to international fora (the UN and the European Union) and included an embargo on the part of Greece to FYROM in the period between 1992 and 1993. The claims raised by FYROM have been perceived to threaten the distinctiveness and uniqueness of the Greek nation. Its location within the geographical district of Macedonia, adjacent to the Greek region with the same name, and its claims on what was perceived by the Greeks as ‘their’ national heritage transformed the new republic into a threatening Other for Greece. To counteract these claims, Greece emphasised its cultural and ethnic unity. Furthermore, it downplayed any political or territorial features which might reveal discontinuities of the national past, in particular the fact that the Greek region of Macedonia was incorporated into the independent Greek state only at the beginning of this century (Clogg 1992).

Not surprisingly, the government's initiatives with regard to the ‘defense’ of the nation from the “Skopjans” (as Greeks used to call FYROM) were successful in mobilising Greek citizens at home and abroad. The nationalist movement that emerged has had a double effect. On the one hand, it has led to the re-interpretation of the national past so that Alexander the Great became an integral and uncontestable part of the ancient Greek legacy. On the other hand, it placed further emphasis on the ethno-cultural basis of the Greek nation.

The “Macedonian question” and the relevance it acquired for Greek national identity and politics shows that a nation is never a static or stable community, crystallised into a set of features. Even though the Greek nation acquired stable territorial boundaries and a relatively consolidated configuration of identity features inscribed into specific matrix of relations with significant Others 17 in the early twentieth century, it is still in the process of being fomred, redefined and re-consolidated. Competition in the international arena over economic, political or cultural issues and challenges from within, such as international immigration and minority issues, fuel and reproduce the process of nation formation. In conclusion, the nation is constantly in the process of becoming and for this purpose it needs to engage into struggles over naming, 18 culture, territory, ethnicity or a combination of those. Therefore, rather than asking when is the nation, one should ask how is the nation ?





Note 1: For a more detailed discussion of some of the most important theories see the following section.  Back.

Note 2: The term “national state” rather than “nation-state” is used here to denote the fact that Greece like the large majority of so-called nation-states is not ethnically, culturally and linguistically completely homogeneous. Apart from recent immigration flows which have brought to Greece over half a million of foreigners, the Greek national state comprises a small number of ethnic and cultural minorities (Turks, Pomaks, Vlahs, Slavomacedonians, Arvanites and others) of which the largest one are the Turks, or else called Greek Muslims of western Thrace. These minorities amount to nearly 5% of the total population, according to Greek authorities and 10% according to the Minority Rights Group (1995).  Back.

Note 3: For a more detailed overview of definitions of the nation see Uzelac (2000).  Back.

Note 4: The irredenta included all territories inhabited by ethnic Greeks, ethnicity (which for Greeks is co-terminous with nationality) being defined in terms of language, culture, historical memories or religion. The irredenta extended to the north and included Macedonia, Thrace and even farther northern Balkan regions south from the Donau. To the east irredentist claims referred to territories of the Ottoman empire notably the Aegean islands, Cyprus, Crete, Minor Asia and also parts of Anatolia (cf. Kitromilides 1990: 43-45).  Back.

Note 5: Ethnos is the Greek word for nation. However, it denotes indistinguishably both an ethnic group and a nation showing thus the extent to which the two concepts are interrelated in Greek language and culture.  Back.

Note 6: Cretans periodically organised revolts against the Ottoman empire (1841, 1858, 1866-9, 1877-8, 1888-9, 1896-7) demanding the “Enosis” (Union) of the island with the Greek kingdom (Clogg 1992: 69). Eventually, Crete was granted autonomous status in 1897 without however being united to mainland Greece.  Back.

Note 7: The, as it is usually called in Greece, “Macedonian struggle” was initially waged through cultural and religious propaganda (1870-1903) and eventually led to widespread armed conflict between Greeks and Bulgarians in the region.  Back.

Note 8: In Dragoumis’ view, the “Helladic” state was too small to satisfy the needs of the nation, too weak to pursue the irredentist project and also too corrupted by foreign mores to represent the national community. Taking into account that the realisation of the Great Idea was impossible under the political and military circumstances of his period, Dragoumis opted for an alternative view of the nation as the “Greek race”. In his view, the nation was an ethnic community which comprised all the areas inhabited by the “Greek race”. Given that the political unification of all these areas was impossible, Dragoumis – and also Souliotes – proposed the organisation of ethnic Greeks within the context of multi-ethnic states, such as the Ottoman empire (Veremis 1990: 19). For a general analysis and critique of Dragoumis’ work see Augustinos (1977) and V.A. (1978).  Back.

Note 9: Demoticism was a cultural movement which emerged in the early twentieth century and promoted the use of the vernacular Greek in education. This movement was also concerned with unifying and renovating the national literary production (Augustinos 1977: 29-39).  Back.

Note 10: Clogg emphasises the role of external factors by seeing the coup partly as a response to the Young Turk revolution of 1908 (1992: 73).  Back.

Note 11: Venizelos had already started his successful political career in his native Crete after the island was granted autonomous status in 1897. Aside from being a charismatic personality and a politician with great diplomatic capacities and intuition, Venizelos had the advantage of not having any links with the ‘old’ political class of mainland Greece.  Back.

Note 12: See also Doob (1964) with regard to the role of the common enemy in uniting the nation.  Back.

Note 13: The ‘national schism’ between supporters of Venizelos and his government committed to pursuing the Great Idea project, on the one hand, and royalists who preferred a “small but honourable Greece”, on the other hand, marked profoundly the Greek interwar social and political life.  Back.

Note 14: See Clogg 1992: 100-5 for a brief review on the matter and for more extensive accounts see Hypourgeion ton Exoterikon (1921); Ladas (1932); Mears (1929); Morgenthau (1930); Toynbee (1922).  Back.

Note 15: Still the Dodecanese islands were incorporated into Greece only after the World War II.  Back.

Note 16: For a fuller discussion see Triandafyllidou et al. (1997).  Back.

Note 17: On this argument see also Triandafyllidou (1998a; 1998b; 2000b).  Back.

Note 18: According to Bourdieu (1991: 239), official naming is a symbolic act through which one imposes one's vision of the divisions of the social world.  Back.