Saturday, May 26, 2012

Macedonia/Makedonija Again

I'm here in Thessaloniki in Northern Greece again tonight, my first time in this part of the world and specifically in what is a pleasant and to all outward appearances prosperous city.  If you like to kick old rocks, I find there is some wonderful stuff in the vicinity, more engaging and challenging than I expected.  I gave some hints about Philippi yesterday--aside from the battlefield,  they've got the conventional site of St. Paul's prison and the remnants of a Bishop's Palace that would seem to bid fair as competition with anything in modern Europe (Mrs. B, who grew up Catholic, knows how to say: "we have our better halves, they have their better quarters).

On other side of Thessaloniki, there's a remarkable museum-in-a-tumulus--literally, under the grave mound--although you might reserve judgment as to occupancy: no matter what the signs say, it appears that there is a  tooth-and-toenails conflict among archaeologists over just who is buried where.  

But perhaps most interesting of all is Pella, billed as the capital of ancient Macedon.  Taken on its own terms, it is s fascinating mess: a grid-pattern metropolis more or less plunked down in the middle of a plan, seemingly overbuilt from the start,.  Evidently we can picture veterans of Alexander's conquest army, trooping home fat with the loot of the greatest foreign invasion campaign the world had ever known.  Too much money and not enough to do with it: the ancient Dubai.

But after a while you notice a curious back-story.  That is: the Greek government seems to have poured a remarkable amount of money (back when they had money, yes) into these remote northern sites which will be visited not by Euro- and dollar-bearing foreigners but by hordes of neighborhood schoolchildren.

And why, exactly?  Unencumbered  by hard evidence, I bet I know th answer to this.  I suspect what we have here is one more thrust or parry in the ongoing conflict between "Macedonia," as in Greece, and "the Republic of Macedonia," known to the UN as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," just next door.  Recall: there is a long-running and seemingly irreconcilable dispute between the Macedonians (Gr) and the Makedonijans (not Gr) next door.  I haven't any instinct at all to take sides in a fracas about which I know so near to nothing, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that what we are seeing here is one of the most venerable forms of a projection of power.  Be interesting to know how they will keep it up if, as and when, they can no longer afford to pay the wages of the guards and ticket-takers.

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