Tuesday, April 7, 2015


For decades there was a personal fiefdom in eastern Europe, owned and run by Marshall Tito under the pretense of Communism, and known as Yugoslavia. The despotic autocracy of his rule kept the country so “stable” that his supporters preserved his dead body in pickle for months after his demise, fearing that the announcement of his death would lead to wild celebrations of hysterical blood-letting. Eventually both got out, the information and the knives. When Yugoslavia collapsed into ethnic civil war, all parties put into practice what they had been taught under Nazi occupation, and war crimes trials are still in process.

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia were the countries that emerged from the ensuing chaos, as well as two autonomous enclaves within Serbia: Vojvodina and Kosovo. All nine were still run by the Communist Party, but it was ethnic and religious divisions that induced the barbarism. Macedonia was the surprising exception, though it nearly tumbled, because there were also Albanians emerging from their own decades of Communist brutality, and many of them lived in what was now Macedonia. EU and NATO peacekeepers helped the government put a new constitution in place which recognised the rights of those Albanians, and even some local autonomy, and there has been such progress that the European Non-Islamic Caliphate (EU), whose ambition like all imperial powers is to rule the whole world, eventually, is moving Macedonia at great pace towards EU membership. India and China may be a little further behind.

For reasons unclear to most people, Macedonia has a name-plaque on its seat at the United Nations which announces it as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)". Nostalgia for Tito in New York? How unlikely! The trouble is, calling itself straightforwardly Macedonia does not go down well in Greece, another imperialist power that still hasn’t realised its day is gone (the empire collapsed in the 4th century BCE!); Macedonia was Alexander the Great’s birthplace (did you know he had Aristotle as his teacher when he was at school?), and Macedonia is still in existence, other than this Macedonia, as a province of northern Greece.

Speaking of Alexander the Great, the one and only Macedonian of whom the world has heard, and speaking of people whose ambition is to rule the whole world, there is a question that nobody but me appears to have asked, but which I believe has to be asked, and answered honestly, if this "best of all possible worlds" is ever to improve. What on Earth did Alexander of Macedon ever actually do, to merit the sobriquet "great" (see my entry on Italy where the same question is asked about the Romans)? 

And the answer given in the history books which venerate him? He built an army which conquered its way around the world, murdering, raping, slaughtering, burning, enslaving, and generally destroying, until vast tracts of the Earth were under his imperial command, though it required further military brutality and incessant martial law to keep it that way, and not actually for very long. 

Does this truly merit the term "great"? Today it would merit a visit to the International Court of Justice in Den Haag on charges of war crimes - except that there are no spaces available, because of the on-going post-Tito war crimes trials of his fellow Yugoslavs, and the spare seats have "reserved for Africa" on them. If it does merit the term "great", then we should also speak of Hitler the Great and Stalin the Great and Mao the Great, and applaud the efforts of Islamic State in Syria to establish their Caliphate on much the same lines. And then close down the ICJ in Den Haag.

To merit the term "great" one has, surely, to leave something behind of true significance in the world: the unifying of peoples who wish to be so unified, and not by force; the building of new cities, but not in the ruins of older cities torn down for the purpose; the feeding of the poor, rather than the exacerbation of their hunger. In the world of art, literature, music and culture the term "great" is easy to define; but in the world of politics? Did Alexander promote the spread of literacy and numeracy? Did he invest in new technologies? Did he leave behind any significant art or culture? Did he add one jot of improvement to the human condition? No, none of these - unless one counts a handful of statues in the Pathan hills of Pakistan, Buddhas dressed in togas and with Semitic noses. He marched, fought, destroyed, marched on. It is time, I believe, to remove the sobriquet from his name, and from a long list of others too.

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