Sunday, September 15, 2013

Greece's Panhandle

The Washington Post apparently decided to title the print version of a travel article on Kavala and the Prespa Lakes "Hiking and History in Greece's Thracian Panhandle." They seem to have picked up Picking up on a reference in the text to Thrace as "Greece's Panhandle," and the fact that when looked at on a map, Kavala is clearly on the handle. The article had already generated a lot of predictably angry comments online from Greeks unhappy with the fact that the US government recognizes the country north of Greece as the "Republic of Macedonia" rather than Greece's preferred "F.Y.R.O.M." The article's title, though, will undoubtedly generate even greater outrage from readers correctly pointing out that, in a division going back to ancient times, both Kavala and Prespa are in the Greek province of Macedonia rather than the province of Thrace that begins just east of Kavala. (Most likely, as tends to be the case with these things, the intensity and vehemence of these readers' outrage will immediately alienate readers and distract from the fact they're actually correct). In any case there were already accusations that using "Northern Greece" rather than "Macedonia" to refer to the region I was traveling in represented some kind of anti-Greek conspiracy. The suspicion is a little odd, since no one has seriously denied Greece's right to the name Macedonia the way Greece denies others' right to it. Such suspicion also ignores the fact that for American readers, who really don't care about any of this, "Northern Greece" or "the Panhandle" are far more useful descriptions than "Macedonia." For the same reason, I usually tell people I meet abroad I'm from the Northeastern US, rather than the more specific but less helpful "New England." In the vain hope of preempting more criticism, let me repeat that the title was not mine and the article was intended to be as apolitical as possible. Which is why, incidentally, the article didn't get into any of the issues raised in the post below, which would just have made people angry for all sorts of other reasons.