A publishing mouse?

February 9, 1996

Cambridge University Press has refused to publish a study of Macedonia on the grounds that it could provoke Greek terrorist reprisals. Its actions dismayed the author, Anastasia Karakasidou, and infuriated editorial board members Stephen Gudeman and Michael Herzfeld. They resigned, accused the press of censorship and demanded an academic boycott of CUP. Here the parties involved explain their positions.

As a result of Cambridge University Press's decision not to publish Anastasia Karakasidou's Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood, we have resigned as members of the editorial board of the series in social and cultural anthropology on the grounds that the press had seriously violated the principle of freedom of speech. The decision, made by administrators, undermined the review procedure and the role of academic advisers who warrant scholarly works. It also betrayed the university's name as a world centre of open, reasoned inquiry.

Karakasidou's book is a thoroughly documented ethnographic and historical study of ethnic assimilation in a region of the Greek province of Macedonia. This material is controversial only because it documents the systematic assimilation of the province's Slavic-speaking minority through a process called "hellenisation". This obscuring of the population's distinct cultural and linguistic identity has been taken to support government assertions that there are no ethnic minorities in the country. The Greek government's claim takes on special significance in the light of its fears, possibly justifiable, of expansionist ambitions by the neighbouring government in Skopje. But Karakasidou's manuscript, which is moderate in tone and scholarly in orientation, received warm praise from external reviewers. The book was projected to achieve a sizeable market.

The press refused to publish, citing fears for the safety of its personnel in Greece and of others in the country associated with the name of Cambridge. At a time when issues of nationhood are being openly debated in the Greek media and in Greek society, the decision was especially ill-founded. The small circle of British nationals in Greece from whom the press administrators sought information about potential responses and the secrecy with which they shrouded their consultations - they have not produced the name of a single Greek from whom they solicited advice, and they ignored the large community of Greek specialists in the UK and the US - hardly inspired confidence in their reasoning.

The press's action also vitiated the academic review procedure and made nonsense of the idea of academic independence. Indeed, in a letter he wrote before a formal decision was announced, Jeremy Mynott, head of CUP's publishing division, regretted that he would probably "have to arrest" the review process, thereby indicating that the "Syndics" - the press's highest review body - would probably not be given any real choice in the matter. Despite our repeated requests for a more independent assessment of the situation, the press refused. Their poorly conceived decision procedure was all the more unfortunate because the press, by operating under the seal of a renowned university, bears a special obligation to uphold the principles underlying scholarly thought.

In the course of our discussions the press claimed this was a special case because of the possibility of a violent response. It requested advice from British diplomatic sources in Greece and was told that the issues involved were sensitive and could potentially provoke reaction; but the diplomats have been careful to point out that they did not say violence would necessarily occur, and both Greek and British diplomats correctly avoided interfering directly in the decision.

Furthermore, terrorism is encountered in many parts of the world, but this has not stopped the publication of books on the IRA or the Colombian drug cartel. In fact, by pointing out that it has published many books on potentially dangerous subjects, the press undercuts its own defence. Why then, such an inconsistent as well as repugnant decision in this case? The press has steadfastly denied that economic considerations played a role, yet its officials cited to us the unique importance of the Greek market for the Cambridge certification examinations - even though this entity is not part of the press itself.

If the world's premier academic publishing house is seen to anticipate trouble by deciding not to publish a manuscript this can only encourage the most irresponsible kinds of violence and blackmail. The press's action lends legitimacy to the few rightwing extremists who threatened the author with murder and rape. In telling contrast with the press's appeasement, she herself continued her research in Greece in the immediate aftermath of the threats.

A further implication of the press's action is especially troubling to us as anthropologists: the decision not to publish is an insult to the Greek people and the Greek government. The Greek authorities have given Dr Karakasidou generous access to archival materials and have never hindered her research. It is also unfortunate that in the late 20th century it should still be necessary to protest against a caricature of Greeks as prone to violent, unreasoned responses.

We call for an independent review of CUP's decision procedures. The press's decision sets a devastating example and could have far-reaching repercussions. Until an acceptable review is accomplished, we join our voices with Sussex University historian Mark Mazower's declaration that he would never again submit work to, or review manuscripts for, CUP. We suggest others do the same.

Stephen Gudeman, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, is a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study, Stanford. Michael Herzfeld, professor of anthropology at Harvard University, is editor of American Ethnologist.

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