Press clanger

March 29, 1996

Cambridge University Press's decision not to publish Anastasia Karakasidou's Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood sets an alarming precedent, argues Richard Clogg. That "Macedonia" is the word for a fruit salad in many European languages is no accident. For the region's complex ethnic make-up has made the Macedonian problem a Balkan Apple of Discord for much of the century.

Now, with Cambridge University Press's decision not to proceed with publication of Anastasia Karakasidou's Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood, the eddies of the Macedonian conflict have begun to agitate even the sluggish backwaters of the Cam.

The parties to the dispute show no signs of budging from their entrenched positions. But matters are not quite so black and white as they are painted by the protagonists in this controversy.

I have not read Karakasidou's thesis. I nonetheless greatly admire her published work, which focuses on the way in which a sense of Greek identity has been instilled, by no means always with kid gloves, in the ethnically diverse populations which were incorporated in the Greek state at the time of the Balkan wars of 1912-13. Some years ago, indeed, I participated in the same panel as Karakasidou at a Modern Greek Studies Association conference in Florida, as a result of which we were accused by members of the local Greek community of plotting the dismemberment of Greece.

It is generally agreed that Karakasidou's work is of the highest quality. The only issue is whether CUP was justified in refusing to proceed with publication. Here I share the view that CUP made a mistake in backing out of a commitment to publish, which if not a legally binding one, for no contract was ever signed, was surely a moral one. For she had devoted much time to incorporating the revisions suggested by CUP's referees.

One of the affair's minor mysteries is why CUP, which claims to have consulted widely before arriving at its decision, did not at any stage seek my advice. Not only have I been a student of Greek affairs for some 30 years, during the course of which I have at times been made acutely aware of the interface between international and academic politics, but I have written two books on modern Greek history for the Press.

Had I been approached then my advice would have been along these lines. Clearly no one could ever give a categorical assurance that the publication of Karakasidou's book would not pose a threat to CUP's employees in Greece. Nonetheless, the risk of violent reprisals would have been remote and certainly not substantial enough to justify CUP's refusal to handle a political hot potato, an act of self-censorship which sets such a dire precedent for the future of academic publishing in contentious (and what area of Balkan studies is not contentious?) fields.

At the same time, I should have reminded CUP of an incident which appears to have slipped from its collective memory but which, from its point of view, might have proved to be useful ammunition in the cyberpolemics that are now flaming across the Internet.

Some 20 years ago, after it had published Stanford Shaw's History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, CUP received threats from Armenians outraged by Shaw's treatment of the Armenian genocide during the first world war. Moreover, it would have been justified in taking these threats seriously for Professor Shaw's Los Angeles home was bombed; the University of California Los Angeles campus was from time to time overrun by Armenians baying for his dismissal; and, in the wake of death threats, he was at least twice advised by the FBI to leave the United States for his own safety.

There are two aspects of the controversy that seem to me to deserve a wider airing. Why should Karakasidou's work have attracted such controversy, and how justified are CUP's fears that publication might have provoked a violent reaction in Greece?

It was Karakasidou's misfortune that the findings of her research began to enter the public domain just as hysteria over the Macedonian issue was reaching fever pitch in Greece, although CUP appears not to have noticed that passions no longer run as high on this matter as they did two or three years ago. Greece has sought, inter alia, to deny the use of the name Macedonia by the neighbouring and newly independent former Yugoslav republic of that name. For, as the legend on Greek phone cards has it, "Macedonia is one and only and it is Greek".

Suggestions that among the small number of Slav speakers in northern Greece there is an even smaller number who identify themselves as having a "Slav-Macedonian" rather than a Greek identity, and that Greece therefore is home to a small "Slav-Macedonian" minority, were looked upon as essentially treasonable. Hence the violent verbal abuse and threats of death and rape against Karakasidou. The ultra-right-wing newspaper Stokhos published her address and car registration number and at one stage she was offered the right of asylum in the United States consulate in Thessaloniki (her husband and children are US citizens) should the need have arisen.

It is not only the far right that has sought to stifle open discussion of the issues but the authority of the Greek state has also been invoked. Four students were arrested in 1992 for distributing pamphlets bearing the slogan "No to nationalism and no to war". On their subsequent conviction, 169 academics and others signed a petition defending their right to free speech, only to provoke counter-petitions signed by 1,000 teachers and administrators at the University of Thessaloniki. These in turn attacked the 169 for "national betrayal".

Five Trotskyists were also arrested for publishing a pamphlet on The Macedonian Question and the Working Class. They were accused, inter alia, of creating a climate of fear and dissension by claiming that there is a Slav-Macedonian minority in Greece. I observed their trial in May 1993 on behalf of the Committee to Defend Greek Socialists. This was an informal and generally good-natured affair. The issues were debated at length and the defendants had every opportunity to expound their position. I was almost as much taken aback as the defendants when they were acquitted. The trial in my view was a credit to the Greek judicial system, even if the charges were absurd.

To turn now to the question of whether or not CUP's local employees and interests might have been threatened had publication of the Karakasidou manuscript gone ahead. The chairman of the Syndics, the academic committee which has the final say on publication at CUP, states that the advice which CUP obtained from diverse sources was that publication would have put the safety of Cambridge staff in Greece at risk. But surely the most that anybody can say in the circumstances is that they might have been placed at risk. This was the purport of the "risk assessment" prepared by the British embassy at CUP's request. The embassy clearly had to cover itself and at least contemplate a worst-case scenario, as CUP no doubt expected when it asked it for advice.

As I see it, publication of Fields of Wheat might have sparked off some verbal pyrotechnics but the prospect of reprisals against CUP as publisher was remote. After all, the threats against Karakasidou herself, vicious though they have been, have mercifully not assumed concrete form. Moreover, interest in "To Makedoniko" has waned in Greece where, following the Imia crisis of late January, all eyes are now focused on the (real) threat from Turkey as opposed to the (inherently improbable) threat from Macedonia.

However, that said, some of CUP's critics are rather too cavalier in dismissing the possibility of violence. Professors Herzfeld and Gudeman (THES, February 9) argue that CUP's decision constitutes not only a threat to academic freedom but a slur on the Greek people who are thereby caricatured as "prone to violent, unreasoned responses".

Athens is one of the safest of European cities, but Greece, like many European countries, has experienced terrorism. There was a rocket attack against the US embassy in Athens much at the same time as the Karakasidou affair broke. What is more, violence in Greece has in the past been targeted at cultural institutions. Ten years ago the deputy head of the British Council in Athens and a member of his staff were blown up by a car bomb, while scarcely a year ago its German equivalent, the Goethe Institute, was bombed.

But to say this no more stereotypes the Greeks as a violent people than pointing to the undoubted fact of IRA violence characterises all the Irish as terrorists.

Yet the precedent set by CUP is indeed alarming. Will CUP and other academic presses now shy away from publishing books on the ETA, the IRA, or the Tamil Tigers, not to mention IMRO (the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation and one of the bloodiest terrorist organisations in history), for fear of reprisals?

Richard Clogg is a fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments