Indigenous Theories of Identity
In the early 1990s the attention of the Greek and the Macedonian communities of Australia was focused on the Macedonian conflict. The most burning issues confronting the two communities were the struggle of the Republic of Macedonia to gain international recognition under its constitutional name and the parallel, but somewhat less immediate, struggle of Aegean Macedonians to gain recognition from the Greek government as an ethnic or national minority. During this time conversations among Greeks and Macedonians in Melbourne inevitably turned to questions of identity. At weddings, soccer games, village dances and picnics they argued passionately and endlessly about whether they were Greeks or Macedonians, about what makes a person Greek or Macedonian, and about how people could ever know what a person's nationality really was.
Peter Savramis is a Macedonian, not a Greek. He left his village near Florina and came to Melbourne in the early 1970s. Peter takes great delight in arguing with people in Greek, Macedonian, and English about the Macedonian question. He prides himself on being able to present his position articulately, convincingly, and without getting in a fight. George often talks about the Macedonian conflict at construction sites around the city where he works installing heating and air conditioning systems.
One day in the fall of 1991 an Italian contractor introduced Peter to Kostas, a Greek carpenter who would be working with him on a new house.
"This is my friend Peter," the contractor said. "He's Macedonian, but he speaks Greek."
With a look of suspicion Kostas asked Peter in heavily accented English "What kind of Macedonian are you? Are you one of those ones who makes trouble?"
"No," Peter replied. "We're just trying to protect our culture from the Greek government."
"What do you mean?" asked Kostas.
Peter suggested they speak in Greek.
"Where are you from?" asked Kostas in Greek. "Are you one of the ones who wants to take our land?"
"Wait a minute," Peter said. "I'm a Macedonian. What land are you talking about? I'm from Macedonia, Macedonia of the Aegean."
'You speak good Greek!" said Kostas, somewhat surprised.
'Yes," said Peter. "I speak pure Greek. I learned it in school."
'You're a Greek-Macedonian," said Kostas.
"No! I'm a Macedonian." replied Peter.
Kostas was starting to get angry. "But you can't understand those Yugoslavs who want to take our land."
"When it comes to language," Peter explained, "a Macedonian from Greece and a Macedonian from Yugoslavia can understand each other perfectly. They speak the same language."
"Why does it bother you if I'm Macedonian?" asked Peter. "Are you Greek?"
"If I said that you weren't Greek, wouldn't you tell me to get stuffed?"
"It's the same for me. If you say I'm not a Macedonian, I'll tell you to go get stuffed."
"But you're a Greek-Macedonian," insisted Kostas again.
"I'm a Greek citizen," said Peter, "but I'm a Macedonian by birth. You could have an Australian passport, but by birth what are you?"
"A Greek," replied Kostas.
"It's the same with me," said Peter. "I'm Macedonian by birth. If a hundred years ago they divided up Greece, and Italy and Bulgaria and Thrkey each took a part, what would you be?"
"I'd still be a Greek," replied Kostas.
"That's right," said Peter, shaking Kostas' hand. "And I'm still a Macedonian. I am what I am, and you are what you are. If you say I'm not a Macedonian, then I'll say you're not a Greek.