The Siren songs : the Prespa palimpsest

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This thesis explores the complex and contested issue of Macedonian/Greek identity through the story of my immediate and extended family. It is an ethnographical and photographic memoir, post-memory family history and creative non-fiction investigation. As a child, I was sheltered from the traumatic stories of my parents’ past life in Greece during the Civil War (1946–49). Their intention was to forget and begin a new life in Australia, without burdening me with issues that are still part of living memory and politics. Their silence and that of others who suffered at the hands of powerful state forces privileges the state-sanctioned narratives while consigning their personal stories to oblivion. With this thesis, I research and present a counter-narrative. Many of those who have lived with traumatic memories have entrusted me with their stories and, in some cases, disclosed disturbing information they have never spoken about, even to their children. While much of the Macedonian Question has centred on the Greek versus Macedonian identity and claims, there is added complexity where ‘mixed’ marriages have made identity a difficult marker of ‘otherness’ in one family. My family was caught in the middle of this contested issue as a mixed family. This memory work constructs the story of my family from Ottoman times – when religion was the only signifier of separateness – to the empire’s demise and the subsequent attempts to build nation states based on ethnicity. Ethnicity was conflated with ideology during the Greek Civil War and the state punished the leftist Slavic minority, leading to their exodus. The exegesis sets out to answer the question of how history and memory create contested narratives. I explore how history and theoretical concepts such as nationalism and identity are appropriated and politicised by the state to further its control. From the origins of the Macedonian Question in the late 18th century to the Greek Civil War, minorities caught in contested border areas have felt the full brunt of forced assimilation and discrimination. I examine the theories that are co-opted by those in power to justify their hold on land and people. As someone who is part of this story, I also reflect on the difficulty of immersing myself in my community, seeking out oral testimonies from people who are still fearful of authority. Post-memory explorations regarding the Greek Civil War are under-represented in Australian scholarship; this is my original contribution to the canon.
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