Saturday, 16 December 2017 | News today: 0

Greeks are subjected to brainwashing by the nationalist propaganda

In Greece we were taught to ignore the existence of Macedonia (even as part of Yugoslavia Federation). For us, Serbia or Yugoslavia were neighboring countries. I believe Tito's governments and Greek politicians at the time had some kind of an agreement on not to mention anything on Macedonia in Greece

Panagiotis Somalis is neither a politician, nor journalist. He does not even consider himself to be an analyst. He is a protoptsalt, or leading choral voice in the Greek Orthodox Church choir, while due to his numerous contacts in the Othodox world, he is always warmly welcome in Serbia and Bulgaria, Albania and Russia, as well as in all Orthodox countries. Although he is not a church official, he considers himself being great believer and a man who has done much to connect Orthodox Christians. Besides Macedonian, he speaks a few other languages. We spoke for the first time in Macedonian in Lazaropole-based church of “Sveti Gjorgji” at Ilinden holiday in 2011, when he led the church choir in Bigorski Monastery before the Head of Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archiepiscopy (MPC-OA) Stefan and Archbishops Timotej and Agatangel, upon invitation of monastery abbot Partenij. All churches ecclesiastics consider him to be one of the few who might assist in overcoming issues due to his credibility.

Last month in Athens a handball match between Macedonia and Greece took place, the first time in a while there has been no negative energy when representatives of both countries meet. On the opposite, no one played their anthem, while handball players behaved properly towards one another. What is the ration of negative and positive energy in Greek society, do we hate or respect each other more?

Somalis: In my opinion, negative energy in Greek society decreases and we are learning to respect each other. Young people, such as sports players and fans, have met on many occasions and “got used” to the presence of the neighboring country.

What is the essence of the hostility we have been witnessing for 25 years? Is it just politics and history, or is there something more?

Somalis: It is a matter of politics and history. Actually, in Greece we were taught to ignore the existence of Macedonia (even as part of Yugoslavia Federation). For us, Serbia or Yugoslavia were neighboring countries. I believe Tito’s governments and Greek politicians at the time had some kind of an agreement on not to mention anything on Macedonia in Greece. After Yugoslavia fell apart, the Greeks were faced with a painful reality. As for history, the way it is being presented in Greek schools is very “ethnocentric” and old-fashioned, and unfortunately, it does not help students understand what really happened in the past and to learn a lesson from it.

Does the word “gypsy”, used in both countries to describe the other, give some connotation of civilization differences between both nations?

Somalis: It is a bit fun that you ask this particular question, because  my mother used the very same word yesterday for a visitor who came over at a bad time and empty-handed! Naturally, I could not tell her she should not be a racist. This word is being used in both countries to describe someone who is uncivilized, underdeveloped etc. But, to answer your question, differences between us are not that big at all. We even use the same words to insult someone!

What is the perception of the ordinary Greek citizen, what will Greece and the Greek people lose if the Republic of Macedonia uses its constitutional name?

Somalis: Unfortunately, many elder Greek citizens have been subjected to brainwashing by the nationalist propaganda for years, so they think that if Macedonia calls itself by its constitutional name, the “bad Skopje citizens” will invade Greece and will take away Macedonia, particularly Thessaloniki! Understandably, there is those who are indifferent to the issue, focusing themselves on more relevant daily problems (such as unemployment, for instance).

Macedonians, according to polls, consider Serbs closest, and Greeks – most fiendish. How are Macedonians considered in Greek society according to polls or Your personal perception? Frequent mixed marriages indicate relations cannot be that bad at all. How would you comment on the small number of mixed marriages between Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia, while it is often that, even after all peripetia, that Macedonian and Greek citizens get married. What does that tell you?

Somalis: It indicates that besides disagreements, we remain very close. Greeks and Macedonians have a lot in common: religion, culture, culinary (do not forget that it has been said that love goes through the stomach). As for marriages with Albanians, religious factor is definitely an obstacle.

Besides numerous historic religious incidents which are difficult to forget, it is a matter of Orthodox Christians in both countries. Can that element be used for approximation?

Somalis: Of course. I remember how difficult it was for me, when I used to live in London, to describe to North-European fellow students what is traditional commemoration, fasting, wheat “kolivo” and other religious customs. On the contrary, even the uninterested Macedonian fellow students were familiar with these terms. In conclusion, Christianity can be a bridge between both nations.

How do you interpret the statements of Thessaloniki Bishop Antimos, who often makes comments on political topics and insults, while having no problem to accept and grant scholarships to young Macedonian theologians who study Christianity in Thessaloniki?

Somalis: I believe that Metropolitan Antim comments on political topics hoping to increase his fame. If he was not doing that, I am afraid no one would have heard of him. The fact that he has no problem admitting and supporting young Macedonian theologians who study in Thessaloniki, is due to students’ character, as well as the recommendations they have from Father Partenij, Bigorski Monastery Abbot, which is well-known among Greek believers. He would definitely not be willing to accept people from Macedonia who are not devotional and do not have love for the books, neither would he cooperate with Macedonian church clerk if he does not have a good reputation. I would hereby like to mention that I, who am a friend of Macedonian Orthodox Church (I have been paying visits to Macedonia since 2002), have determined which people I do want to communicate and cooperate with.

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Many say that Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) does not want to recognize MPC-OA and to grant her independence due to influence of the Greek bloc of churches. Is that true?

Somalis: The influence of Greek churches definitely has some role in the matter, but I think SPC does not recognize the Macedonian Church from its own reasons.

You have active religious life. You have made close friends in many countries in the region. What is Your opinion on the possibility for MPC-OA to be soon recognized in accordance with the canons of of Orthodox Christianity?

Somalis: It is not improbable, just remember what has happened with the Bulgarian Exarchate. However, I do not believe such thing can happen before the political dispute is resolved.

Politics helps or makes overcoming of church disputes more difficult?

Somalis: Unfortunately, politics hinders the process of overcoming church disputes.

Is there a Greek minority in Macedonia? Some of the politicians in Athens think this population is Vlachs, which is being subjected to the Greek administration. 

Somalis: In Macedonia there are probably Greeks who ran away from Greece during the tough years of the Civil War. I knew a girl whose parents were of a pure Greek origin. The others who claim to be Greeks, are probably Vlachs who were influenced by the Greek system and now they say they Greeks to gain some benefits (such as scholarships).

Why does Greece not recognize the Macedonian minority?

Somalis: What can I say to this?! I am not a politician. Greece does not recognize any minority, except for the “Islamic” one.

Why are there no minorities in Greece, what is the sense in not recognizing it, when it is obvious that besides Macedonians, Turks and Albanians also do live there?

Somalis: Unfortunately, it is contrary to any sense! On a higher scientific level, Greece’s position is based on the conviction that words, especially personal names, create the reality. In other words, if the neighboring country preserves its constitutional name, there is a danger, for one sunny morning Thessaloniki resident to wake up under Slavic occupation and the area will be annexed to Republic of Macedonia. But, if the name does change, than, according to the Greeks, that kind of threat would cease to exist. At first glance, Greeks’ point of view seems very strange. But, as anthropology has showed, it is not just the Greeks who believe that personal names create the reality, but it is a case with many primitive societies worldwide. For instance, many tribes do not voice the names of wild animals, fearing if they do, they will appear in front of them suddenly and will eat them. Zulu people believes that by calling the name of a living being you obliged it to appear. Madagascar natives never voice nouns for a thunder, so that it does not happen. Bosimba does not voice out words for earthquake, fearing the ground would start shaking. Samoa people do not mention storms since the area is under constant threat of a bad weather.

Vlachs are also not recognized as an entity, although their language is different from the Greek, but cannot be called a dialect, since it is completely different that the Greek language, with its own rules?

Somalis: Unfortunately, the Vlachs themselves are to blame for this, who, except for few, cannot set themselves free of the past fears and complications.

Is there any hope for friendly relations? Some even speak of political and religious brotherhood among Balkan people, especially between Macedonia and Greece, or are we cursed to consider each other enemies for decades?

Somalis: For me, as a Christian, there is always hope. Paul the Apostle has written: “There three things are left: faith, hope and love; love being the greatest among them”. I do believe things will be corrected, even it happens at a very slow pace.

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By: Goran Momiroski