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Monday, January 02, 2006

Mark Mazower presents a distorted, biased history of Salonica based on trash and wrong on fact

If there would be anything positive i could say about the text Mr. Mark Mazower, a presssor of history, titled Thessaloniki, City of Ghosts, it would be to promote it as an instant self-reliance building placebo. Once safely behind the first couple of paragraphs even the shakiest of scribes must sense a tide of creative powers and an urge to sit, write and publish something. Anything. There are piles of other poorly written and hopelessly biased titles around. Many are built on historic trash which irresistibly fascinates gaudy, bullying authors supported by cabals. Most of them reflect the murkiest interests of donors to the academe and the media. But this one outshines them all. Simply put, one cannot trust a word Mr. Mark Mazower writes on the subject.

The reason for such a statement is that he is wrong on facts. A history book wrong on facts (we shall not accept bidding here: fifty, fifteen or five) is all wrong. There are those who tend to group faults of fact relative to their sizes like XS-S-M-L-L-XL-XXL and XXXL as if writing a history book is like producing underware. Some of those reviewers and editors would forgive tiny and small (XS-S) lapses of fact but will be embarrassed with medium (M) or large (XL) ones. In my view a history-book which opens up with even a tiny error or two momentarily qualifies as a discard. Mr. Mazower, his many editors and reviewers have allowed scores of mistakes of all sizes.

Then, a history book spotless on fact while wrong on interpretation is not much better either, but at least the work may be useful provided it unmistakably separates what is factual from what is explanatory or a personal view. When one is presented with unattributed comment on something which is treated as a fact but is not tagged properly, when qotes have neither name or a year, when there are absolutely no coordinates to fix the story to and when on such a rubbish the author, a professor, adds up his own conclusions - then one, in this case my very modest self, is tempted to ask: How is it possible the alumni of Columbia to tolerate such a garbage?

To begin with, the author himself is in tatters. He is confused with odds and bits and does never come close to present a coherent story. Mazower does not understand Balkan history and he has not got a clue how to tell what he knows. He probably is a well connected pushy person; otherwise not a single editor would consider publishing this. In the very first paragraph of the first chapter (begins with the fall of the city to Mourad II in 1430) he speaks about ousting the Ottomans in 1912 and does not even dream of setting the scene and describing what was that place Salonika, who ruled it, how did it fall, who lived there, what happened once the Ottomans rode in, what changed. Nothing. Then, of course, after pages, he tells a selective approach and does bring some of the detailes which should have been chronologically built in the story. As if writing for the EOT (that is the Greek Nationational Tourist Office) he rushes to expose his ignorance and to claim that the city (now) has one of the most exciting collection of "early christian" frescoes and mosaics on par "to rival those in Ravena and Istanbul". When Mazower arrived in Salonica for the very first time in 1984 the church of St. Demetrius was completely reconstructed after 22 years (1926-1948) of extensive meddling by various craftsmen who in their own part wiped out whatever was left from the original after the extensive (or total) reconstruction in the XVth century. Long before them, in the middle of VII-th century, the iconoclast emperor Leo III first detached Salonica from papal jurisdiction and then, like his successors, insisted on destruction of absolutely all icons, frescoes and image-rendering elements in the churches of Salonica, including St Sophia which was eventually, after four years of painstaking effort, turned into a mosque in 1589. One recognizes an adventurer but not an historiographer here: Mazower does not believe that if he wrote "one or two frescoes may rival those in Ravena" is strong a statement enough. He decides to add mosaics too, which obviously is not enough for him and he makes it "a collection" (of mosaics and frescoes) which is again bland and then he finalizes the pronouncement describing them as "early christian". Well, full 1467 years after Christ nothingcan be called 'early-christian". Why read more? Because it is fun to see a strip-teese show of a Columbia professor of history.

Salonika is totally irrelevant here: it is an ugly place of newly composed profanity. (Another author, equally praised as Mazower, strongly recommends that "it better be avoided at all costs". Sincerely speaking Mark Mazower would be and actually is marginal here too, unless he is taken as a measure of distance from scientific or educational integrity. You could say, for instance, something like: "Mark Mazower is 23,75 mazowers away from science".

On page 22 he says that "most of the inhabitants next to Turkish, Greek and Bulgarian knew Hebrew because they had day and night contact while trading with the Jews". On page 277 he subscribes to a "local savant" that "the city was not one whole. Jews, Orthodox, Doumehs, Muslims lived next to each other without mixing... Every single one closed up in their own community".

Now, which of these is the truth?

Hardly anything. Everything is twisted, everything is distorted. Although recognizable those reshaped elements serve to cast a specific light to fit the background for the main scenes of this farse of a history. On page 25 he kind of blames the Turks or the Ottomans for leaving the place without a trace of their 487 years of rule. He does not give a sec that the official and only recognizable symbol of the city is the Beas Kule (Bela Kula, Levkos Pyrgos), built at the end of the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, about 1560. He does not have the lucidity to ask what happened with all the mosques used by some 40,000 muslims until 1912, what happened with their schools, palaces, baths, bazaars, burial grounds and monuments, hospitals, prisons, fortifications, army headquarters and the like. Or he accepts that we shall meekly go along with his nonsensical statement that "there was a fire" in 1917 which whipped out the old center!. As if those were cardboard structures and all went up in flames. (He does say, somewhere, that the minarrets were destroyed. But then, what the heck you need a minarret when all the mosques conveniently perished and there are muslims no more?) Oh my, oh my. I would imagine that the janitors of Columbia university know better than this guy.

Mazower quotes "two British tourists" (anonymous, no reference, no time-line indication) as historically relevant sources when the back-packer sides with their views. Such an approach is ludicrous: a testimony about Atahualpa on a horse among the Incas near Machu Pichu in 1530 would differ from a statement that francisko Pizzaro was on a horse in Cuzco in 1532 because the first is false and the second is totally irrelevant. Of course he knows that. Mazower uses every single dirty, slimy trick of the trade to build a case while trying to joggle with whatever comes his way to build an outpost or at least a buffer for further advancement of his slanted views on the history of the region. The two British tourists reappear as pejoratively labeled "slavofile ladies" (in the sense Dutch use "dames" and with a message - untrustworthy because they are slavofile) although they are much more than that. The two are the joint authors of the book Travels in the Slavonic provinces of Turkey-in-Europe. If a dumb American back-packer can allow himself such a brazenness against two ladies, why could not anyone label Mazower as "a Greek-payed ass-hole" or worse?

Mazower must have read the nicely written and most authentic book (published 1876) by Lady Adelina Paulina Irby and baroness Georgina Mary Muir (Sebright) Mackenzie.Their work is a well of most interesting, relevant and revealing information about the region. The two volume book (it costs $1200 to buy) was published with an introduction by the Right Hon. William E. Gladstone, M.P., latter O.M. of the british Empire, the man who actually said "Macedonia to the Macedonians". (This is not a quote from the book, mazower would not attribute those words to Gladstone, no.) But this guy Mazower carefully picks up some totally en-passant comments (never the "heavy facts") and places them under a chapter titled "Oriental Fantasies of European Tourists (sic). With perfidious "subtlety" like that Mazowe wiches to discard the bulk of the testimony provided by the two eye-witnesses of the life in Salonica and des environs around 1860. He cannot. There is no need to be tactful or well-mannered with a a dirty player like this. One can pick any paragraph to illustrate the actual reason Mark Mazower pushes aside the testimony of "the two "slavofile" ladies who in 1863 conclude that:

...All that is of the pagan period has been byzantinized, and all that was Byzantine has been mahommedanized; so that while much may be traced to interest the antiquary, there is scarce beauty enough left to delight the unprofessional... But the real curiosity of Salonica is its population, that strange medley of antipathetic races. The Therma of ancient history yields at present the curious instance of a city historically Greek, politically Turkish, geographically Bulgarian, and ethnographically Jewish. Out of about 60,000 inhabitants the number of Jews at Salonica is estimated (1863) at 40,000, but with their usual astuteness they contrive to avoid being taxed individually, and the community bribes the Turkish officials to let them pass without scrutiny for no more than 11,500...

Mazower, then, stealthily borrows from them at will without ever quoting or attributing but he will never pass on testimonies which say that: "The Hebrews settled in Salonica are handsome, many of them auburn-haired, and their women often delicate, and even fair. In beauty the latter exceed the Hellene, which now-a-days is not saying so much, for, at least in Europe, the modern Greek woman falls short alike of the softness and fire of the Oriental and the refinement and loftiness of the Western lady"...

He simply cannot be trusted.

Here are some factual mistakes. I have used the Dutch translation and the quotes are in Dutch.

17 p. "wat ik enkele uren geleden in Athene achter me had gelaten."

The train ride from Athens to Thessaloniki takes 7:22 min provided the train is on time. Seven hours twenty two minutes is not "few hours ago". If a historian is elastic with such interpretation - beware the rest and read very carefully. Our familly reccords show that some of us had three rides of over 9:22 in the period 1979-1983 when the back-packer traversed the stretch Athens-Salonica in "a couple of hours". The worst, slowest railway network in Europe is run by OSE and they should sponsor mazower for his claim. Columbia back-packers read your professor carefully and check his words twice!

17 p. "ruim twintig jaar geleden...lagen het het Joegoslavie van Tito en de greenscontroleposten bij Gevgelija of Florina"

Well, 20 years ago (july 1984) to begin with, this was not true and it is not true now. Josip Broz Tito died 4 May 1980. Screw the historian who in the first sentence related to the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia uses "Tito's Yugoslavia". Screw the backpacker too. There is a border crossing near Florina (Lerin) by the name of Niki, and it is definitely not one hour from Salonica. It takes 2:30 minutes by car, if it is rented and you doi not care much how you drive (Route 66, Guide Michelin) but if you do care, then it would be a minimum of three hours. During 1984 the road conditions were for about four hours ride by bus (backpacker's preference) or car. A neat 300%-400% discrepancy with Mazower's facts.

17 p. "richting Ijzere Gordijn"

What Iron Curtain? Yugoslavia had the most open borders of ALL countries in the world at that (and earlier) time. What is this historian talking about? How could this region of Greece been much more interconnected with the neighboring peoples, languages and cultures if there was an Iron Curtain between them? And how did they communicate: whistling Morse code messages? Or the Bulgarian, Macedonian and the Albanian neighbors across the Iron Curtain were fluent in Greek and exchanged local radio-programs, huh?

33 p. Toen Thessaloniki in 1430 viel had de staad 1700 jaren leven als hellenistische, Romeinse en Byzantijnse metropool achter de rug.

This is the laughable forgery. It is so sad when after only 14 lines of totally empty words the author says "After the Ottomans were ousted". As if he had already set the scene in detail and completely described 500 years of Ottoman rule over Salonica! Is it sickness which reduces individuals to openly degrade themselves in public? Probably. Although Mark Mazower is a huge anti-talent, remember this, nowadays it is easy, even with a modest or low IQ, to produce a patchwork of a decent story. If only one has a tiny bit of taste or a gift to weave several sentences together. Tenacity does not help here: you can write ten times 585 pages, every single one will tell whether you can write or not. I have met superbly funny, entertaining raconteurs with great oral skill but who were incredibly dull when writing. This appears to be the problem with Mazower. Well, let me return to Salonica. The place has never been (despite the efforts of Mazower and the EOT) a metropolis. Provincialism depresses the place and pettishness reeks at you. Even today. Therefore - it has never been a metropolis. And it has not been established as a hellenistic city either.

Philip II, king of Macedonia, upon his return from a victory over the Greeks in Thessaly had learned that he got a daughter. He named her Thessaloniki, for Thessaly and Niki for victory. A military post was erected near Pella in 316 BC and dully named after her. Thus, Thassaloniki was originally a Macedonian and definitely not a hellenistic dwelling: it was a border camp full of those barbarous Macedonian soldiers and not a single Athenian, Theban or Achaian soul there. It cannot be that Mazower does not know this was so.

The famous orator Demostenes in 351 BC delivered the first of his Philippics, warning the Greeks about the Macedonian menace to Greek liberty. His three Philippics and his three Olynthiacs were all against the Macedonian king. Demostenes spoke of Philip II as of: "not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honors, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave".

These words echo the fact that the ancient Greeks regarded the ancient Macedonians as dangerous neighbors, never as kinsmen. They viewed them and their kings as barbarians (non-Greeks), a manner in which they treated all non-Greeks. Numerous Roman and Greek historians, consider the battle of Chaeronea, on August 2nd, 338 BC as an end to Greek liberty and history. The Macedonian ‘barbarian’ king defeated indeed the united Greek army. Among the Greeks the biggest losses were suffered by the Athenians, Thebans, and the Achaians. What in anglo-saxon terminology (or parlance) is used for the various city-states of the tip of the Balkan peninsula as Greece - will not regain its freedom from foreign occupation until early 1832 which is full 2170 years latter. (Only tiny part of Peloponnesos, Sparta, will refuse (with one single, laconic word) to submit itself to the Macedonians who never dared (neither father nor son) to venture a fight with the Spartans.

172 p. Bekir Pasha , die in augustus 1813 arriveerde, "heel erg rijk" was: hij bezat grote landgoederen op de Peloponnesos.

All the land in the Ottoman Empire belonged to the Sultan. Thus it could not be that this Bekir Pasha arrived somehow on Peloponnesos some three centuries after the complex system of timars and iktas was established to purchase or in any other possible way acquire the smallest piece of land which belonged to the sultan. In the Islamic empire of the Caliphate, "timar" was the piece of land granted to army officials for limited periods in lieu of a regular wage. The spahi (from Farsi for "cavalryman") was the holder of the timar granted directly from the sultan in return for military service. The timar system was abolished in 1831 because the spahis performed so deplorably during the Greek rebellion (1821-1832) for independence but mazower does not point to dose nuances.

To understand what is wrong with the content Mazower dumped on pages 166-172 you need to read this lot:

Pasha, the highest title for a person or an office in the Ottoman Empire, is originally persian word, derives from padshah padeshah meaning "king". It was typically granted to governors and generals. "Pasha" is roughly equivalent to "Sir" which in turn was attributed to knights. Only the sultans and (by delegation) the khedoves of Egypt had the right to bestow the title of Pasha, originally exclusively reserved for military commanders. The generals with a title of Pasha, when on campaign, distinguished among themselves by the number of horse-tails (three, two and one respectively) which they were entitled to display as symbols of rank. Latter the title went to high officials, but also to unofficial persons as a sign honor. Pashas ranked above beys, below viziers and governed territories named pashaluks or eyalets. The title was conferred upon both Muslims and Christian, frequently to foreigners in the service of the Empire and very rarely to women too. One of the most illustrious example of the Devsirme (devshirmeh) system of all time was Mehmed Pasha Sokolou (Sokolovic) who excelled in battles and during the Siege of Vienna, ascended through the ranks, and in 1546 was promoted to High Admiral of the fleet. He became the governor-general of Rumelia (the European part of the Ottoman empire). While he was visiting Visegrad near Sarajevo in Bosnia, where he was born, his mother recognized him by the birthmark on his face and once again embraced her child after more than thirty years. Mehmed Pasha Sokolović donated a bridge to his people. This is the topic of the well-known book by Ivo Andric (Na Drini Cuprija) which brought the guy the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1557 he (the grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed pasha Sokolou) renewed the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Pec Patriarchate with his brother Makarije Sokolovic as a Patriarch.(Needs careful reading to grasp the magnitude of the job done). After Suleyman Magnificent died, his sons, Selim and Bayezid, fought for the throne. Mehmed Pasha led Selim's army and won. In 1562 he married Sultan Selim's daughter. Among the 219 Grand-veziers of the Empire more than a dozen were christian kids from the Balkan countries. The highly intelligent, honest and courageous reached the top through the devsime system. Any from Greece or Salonica, Mr. Mazower?

281 p. Voor de Osmaanse autoriteiten waren religieuze verschillen altijd veel belngrijker geweest dan verschillen in nationaliteit of taal.

If this statement is correct (it is not) then it has to relate more to the Sublime Porte than to a provincial ("cosmopolitan") town like Salonica. The Ottoman empire was an umma or "community of muslims" or just "community of peoples". Risen on that level - the statement is absurd. How could the confessional differences be more important in 60,000 population Salonica with 40,000 Jews than those of the language the administration communicated with its taxpayers? What "ease of administering" an Empire of some 200 million people was the fact that they were muslims when actually the population understood either Azeri or Turkish, Kurdish or Arab, Albanian or some other 40-50 languages? The administration cared to collect the taxes and run the empire, command troops while it did could not care less how the different denominations arranged their religious affairs. It was the christians who pressed the Sublime Porte to interfere and take sides in their ecclesiastic matters, not the other way round.

281 p. "oongeletterde Slavischtalige keuterboeren die de akkers in Thessaloniki's achterland beverkten, voelden zelden enige band met Griekenland of Bulgarije"

This is such a preposterous arrogance that one cannot believe could be uttered by a scientist. He implies that the smal-time poor illiterate Slav peasants were the filth while in Salonika proper lived (out of thin air or borrowing from the Jews on account of future EU-subsidies ) the illustrious Greeks busy devising micro-chips, building engines for T-Ford cars, constructing Eifel-towers, composing symphonies, experimenting in impressionism and exporting shiploads of silk to Japan, cotton to China and olives to Spain. He does not know that the "Greek" peasants were more than illiterate: they did not understand the language used by their own priests but used "dimotiki" while the "learned" and the "ecclesiastic" used "katharevusa" - a totally different language.

282 p. "magnaten"
So the "magnates" (in the sense: tycoon, millionaire, multimillionaire, mogul, captain of industry, baron, lord, king, magnifico, industrialist, proprietor) were abstract people. Mazower does claim but implies they were either Greek or Jewish. Mark let the reader assume that they (the magnates) got their wealth while selling imported luxuries to those dirt-poor illiterate peasants because the titular power, the pasha of the region, was as poor as a mosque-mouse. And that is the picture of "a cosmopolitan imperial city"!
To be "cosmopolitan" the city must be multicultural, multiracial, global, unprovincial, cultivated, sophisticated, urban, suave, glamourous. Salonica (as described in the chapter about Pashas and Beys) around 1850 was desperately dirty, infected with bandits, thieves, and cut-throats, it stank, it was ghettoized, it was not policed and the authorities could not do a thing to improve the quality of life.

283 p. "Het pan-Slavisme, dat wellicht ook door Russische spionen werd verbreid, maakte hen trots op hun ongeschreven familietaal en zorgde ervoor dat de Griekse culturele arrogantie voor het eerst als vijand werd aangemarkt"

The Kremlin power is notorious with great spies. Vladimir Putin, the president of All Russia, being one of them, is the foremost promoter of Slav values, but other elements of his biography shine on his reputation of a master-spy. In this context Mark Mazower amazes me: a Scotsman preaching protestantism around Salonica in the late XIX century is a missionary. A Muscovite promoting pan-Slavism at the same time and place is a spy. That is what you call historic science a la Columbia University!

284 p. In oktober 1880 verteelde het Griekse nieuwsblaad Ermis het Osmaanse Turks verplichte behoorde te zijn op scholen van de Griekse gemenschaap
It is not the point here to illustrate how far did the Greeks go astray. The point is to ask Mazower "What other kind of Turks but Ottoman, there were in the Ottoman Empire of the time?" American Turks? Columbian Turks? One learns till one is alive...

312 p. "De Bulgaar Vlachov had op de PEV-lijst gestaan en was tot 1912 afgevardigde in het Osmaanse parlement". ... 313 p. "Van de socialisten van de staad publiceerde de voormalige IMRO-activist Dimitar Vlachov in zijn ballingsoord in Weimar-Duitsland artikelen over een Balkanfederatie, terwijl..."

Now, if interested, Mazower could easily find out who was Dimitar Vlahov and why was he important. The man Mazower mentions twice as much as he does josip Broz Tito (who influenced the remodeling of the Balkans of today) did not allow any speculation about his ethnicity or nationality. He wrote and signed (Memoirs of Dimitar Vlahov, Nova Makedonija, 1970; Speaches and Articles 1945-47, 180 p. Skopje, 1947) that "I myself am purest Macedonian and nothing else". Vlahov (born in Kukus or Kilkis, like Gotse Delchev) was one of the most daring young commanders or a VMRO regiment and indeed a member of the first and only Ottoman parliament where he represented the "Bulgarian community" of the district of Salonika. In his long life he was not only Consul-general of the Bulgarian Empire in Odessa but also the chief administrator of Kosovo during the Bulgarian occupation (1915-1918) of the present UN-protectorate which is crudely being carved-out from Serbia. Vlahov enthusiastically supported the creation of israel and Theodor Herschel personally. He lead the group which formed VMRO (united) in 1924 in Viena. Its main objective was to free Macedonia within its geographical and economical borders and create an independent political unit that will become an equal member for a future Balkan Federation.  Some 20 years latter he became the first president of the Democratic Republic of Macedonia, plus, vice-president (Josip Broz was the president) of AVNOJ (Anti-fascist Council of the People's Liberation of Yugoslavia) the highest legislative and executive organ of the country which will become a federation and a beacon of worker's self-managment and of the non-alignement movement. Prof. Georges Haupt, a French historian, claims that Dimitar Vlahov's Memoirs are "of great use for the study of social developments on the Balkans". It is pointless to blame Mark Mazower for not being capable of figuring out this complexity better than by labeling Vlahov as "the Bulgarian". If he tried he would have unravelled the documents for the heinously atrocious practices and general genocidal attitude nourished by the Greeks against everything of Slav, Jewish or Muslim origin in the region. While he was alive partizan battalions were named after him and today in Macedonia (rabidly sensitive on everything Bulgarian) hundreds of streets, schools, institutes, establishments carry his name Dimitar Vlahov, absolutely unthinkable if he was considered a "Bulgarian".

In the Greek Civil War (1946-1949) that followed World War II, the Macedonians of Aegean Macedonia fight on the side of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) as it promised them their rights after the war.  About half of the 35,000 soldiers of DAG were Macedonians.  On the liberated territory in Aegean Macedonia 87 Macedonian schools were opened, newspapers in Macedonian were published, and cultural and artistic associations created. But after few years of KKE's success, the communists lost the war, and the Macedonians were once again stripped of their human rights. 28,000 Aegean Macedonian children, known as 'child refugees', were separated from their families and settled in eastern Europe and Soviet Union in an attempt to save them from the terror that followed. Thousands of Macedonians lost their lives and great numbers of the Macedonian villages were burned to the ground.

Thus: he is wrong, Mazower is, labeling Dimitar Vlahov as Bulgarian. Such a mistake indicates Mazower's dilettante perception and understanding of the history of Salonika and its natural background.

It will be waste of time pointing and illustrating the factual errors, the prejudices, the perfidious selectiveness of sources or disregard of others, the sloppiness of chaotically presented text, the confusion of the historic composition and lack of time-line perspective, the technique of bundling sub-chapters into "themes" which are totally obsolete. In this depository of all sorts of trivia Mazower hides bits of significant grains of truth. He is careful, though, to cover with dust of explanatory blubber those bits which shed a light on horrible Greek practices in systematically burying if not totally destroying evidence of the existence and contribution of other cultures to what was Salonica of yesterday. That is not his fault as a historian. It is his complicity in a crime to human history committed on the pretext of building a myth of a new Greek metropolis. It is a work of a Sisyphus because the curse of the civilization eventually results with establishment of the principle of universal equilibrium which in turn settles all accounts among nations and social communities irrelevant how big or mighty they may have once been.