Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Interview of Vojislav Sarakinski, expert in Ancient Macedonia, for "Globus" weekly

Quasiscientists Antiquize the Nation

Vojislav Sarakinski, historian: quasi-scientific works are written with political, even politicant goals

Vojislav Sarakinski (1975) is employed at the Institute for History at the Philosophic Faculty, holding and in this very moment practicing the term exercises on subjects History of Ancient Macedonians prior to 323 BC, History of Ancient Macedonians 323 BC -313 CE, History of the Ancient East, History of Ancient Greece and History of Ancient Rome for the groups History and Classical Studies. Performance of teaching on the subject History of Ancient Macedonians, History of Ancient Age 1 and History of the Ancient Age 2 for the groups History with archivistics and Archeology under mentorship of Prof. Dr. Nade Proeva. M.A. Sarakinski, several years ago resisted Professors Boševski and Tentov from the Electrotechnical Faculty, which decided to get into the act of deciphering of ancient letters and languages. They provided “exegesis” of the mid-part of the text at the Rosetta Stone and proclaimed it as a Paleomacedonian. So, it would seem, everything started...

Written by: Branka D. Najdovska

You are among the rare ones who spoke publicly, I.e defied the so-called antiquization of Macedonia, with the text “The Discreet Death of the Methodology”...

-Basically, I opposed a very non-sustained, even pseudo-scientific work in which pretensions were made towards a spectacular discovery. I felt obliged do demystify a way of thinking which has nothing common not only with the study of Antiquity, but not even with the scientific work at all. Regarding the antiquzation – it is a political term which recently appeared in the public and which at that time still was not actual , although, a recognition has to be made that many things among us go into the direction of thinking of the authors of the work.

Let us clarify for the wider public: what is the Rosetta Stone? Does it have any relationship with us at all and meaning for us?

-For the scientists, the Rosetta Stone is a proclamation of one King from the dynasty of Ptolemaids in relation to the rights and obligations of royal statues within temples. That is a jurist and archival document which, in itself, does not contain anything especially interesting and is one of the line of other such proclamations. The Rosetta Stone became important for the science because, on the basis of demotic Egyptian and the Ancient Greek text which are on it, Champollion managed to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs; Therefore, it is a document with great scientific importance not so much because of its content, but because of the role he had in a certain moment from the development of science about the past, and that is why it is famous in the entire world.

Why somebody undertook to reexamine precisely the Rosetta Stone?

-That cannot be said with certainty by nobody, with the exception of the authors of the achievement, although I perceive that a new exegesis of the Rosetta Stone sound much more grandiose than a a new exegesis of a piece of papyrus in a museum depot. The undertakings with bombastic goals always have bombastic subjects of “investigation”: that is why Pyramids are being dug-out in Bosnia; Troy is everywhere from Herzegovina, via Italy, up to England, just not there where its has been found; Under the Sphinx there is a secret sanctuary of aliens; the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Rosetta Stone and similar generally recognizable things are causing much greater publicity from a jar, or, for example, a part of a ring – if you strive towards publicity and not science.

Does a practice established itself, just like in this case, that non-competent ones are doing all and everything? Somehow, everybody got involved into that “changing of the consciousness, now and here”...?

-Although it is still not an everyday practice, that shall be present more and more. Among us it seems that the competence and professionalism are not important, but only interest towards certain theme, in order that a series of “works” are born with, allegedly spectacular discoveries. But that cannot be stopped, nor to be banned. Such works were present from always and they shall exist, not only among us , but everywhere throughout the world. But, what is really bad is the degree of media attention which is given to these private “hobby exercises”. Certainly that people shall continue to write and throw away with scientific “truths”, when the Media are asking statements from them, they are organizing promotion and conferences, they are inviting them on TV, they devote hours and hours on their theories. The trouble is, thus, in our society, especially in the Media which are in a hurry to gave them publicity, and are forgetting to ask themselves does that to which they pay such attention is deserving discussion at all. If this is a way to change somebody's consciousness, and I do not know why it should be changed, that that way is wrong and almost ridiculous.

Do at least some of these works have some scientific value?

-In general lines no, nor they could have; I am a historian, and I think that nobody would accept me to fix his teeth, or to project a house to him. Large part of these writings have nothing in common neither with the science, neither with the history, nor with the sane mind; a part are basically, to the certain extent, true, but they reveal to the world “grandiose” scientific truths: that the Ancient Macedonians had their own language, that Cleopatra VII originated from a Macedonian dynasty, and similar things that can be read in a high-school textbook.

Why the scientist did not reacted stronger in relation to these questions?

-A fact is that the scientific public in first time intimately laughed at them, but underestimated the influence of these “scientist”. Quasiscientific works are written not with scientific, but with political and even politicant goals, and scientists, as a rule, provide everything to by further away from daily politics. With that, they have left a broad and undefended field for expression of all those who want to speak about anything, and who most commonly do not know and cannot do that.

So, the scientists themselves “avoided” the debate...

-Its depends how do you define that “avoiding”, but in basis that maybe is true. Or, I would rather said that they did not managed themselves well into the entire situation. People which proffesionaly study the distant past (historians, archaeologists, classical philologists, numismatists, e***raphists) are usualy comparatively small group of people and they have homogeneous values in relation to the interest, ethics and quality of that what they do. They suddenly are forced to work as a part of a system based on different values, even on profit, which is incoprehenisble for them.

Is it a case that some relevant political factor approves such state of affairs because of profit?

-I am talking about the Media-televisions, weeklies, daily press, even publishing houses.It is clear that these are not a humanitarian organization, but they work on basis of market logic. Outside scientific circles you will have difficulty “selling” broken pot for cereals or ordinary glass, but that's why you will easily “sell” Pyramids, Sphinxs and Rosetta Stones. The public demands “great” answers and likable conclusions, now and here; and that, no serious explorer will neither pull out of sleeve, nor it will invent it in order to be liked by the audience.

However, it is not a state imposed by the media, but by other, conditionally said, political factors.

-That, also is true; and that is a part of the different values I mentioned. The ethics and the interests of the scientist and the ethics and interests of the politics are not the same. These value system collide – and here the scientist is faced with the strongest moral and professional dilemmas. In basis, the science about the past is never totally objective, nor it can be totally liberated from the person and the community. We like to believe that our findings are the total, objective and only truth, and actually we are making exegesis of the fact based on our own personal system of values. That is how we decide what to explore, what to “touch”, what to dig or provide exegesis again. In the moment when upon those solutions of ours “external”, non-scientific factor begin to influence, than the problems start.

Is it precisely because of that that the scientific public kept a long silence and with that approved the euphoria about the “direct relation of today's with Ancient Macedonians”?

-You shall understand that I cannot speak in the name of all. Who wanted to say something, he said it there where he found a place and desire; who kept silence, knows best why he kept silence. But, the problem is not that simple as you present it. In this case, if scientist are silent, it does not mean that they are approving the hysteria. If one needs to define the behavior of our academic community, it could be said that among us, mainly three patterns of behavior are manifesting themselves. The first pattern is the pattern of ignoring. A part of our scientists cannot comprehend from where so many pseudo-scientific theories and works appeared; they, in some sense, are ashamed to answer to such banalities and are hoping that this is a temporary fashion, something that will disappear out of itself. The second pattern is the pattern of late reaction. Many saw that the job went further from a distasteful joke and that something should be done, after all-here I include myself-but now they are facing with the unpleasant question “where you have been prior to now”, a question which sounds justified. The third pattern is the pattern of auto-censorship. People are silent because they know that what will say shall not have a resonance with the public; they know that they are going to be attacked on a non-scientific and lowly manner, so therefore are choosing either to be silent or to go forward with thesis which are “more acceptable” in this political moment.

The last edition of the “History of the Macedonian People”, by a group of authors, affirm the thesis that the ancient element is dominant among Macedonians. Is there any pattern of behavior here?

-I cannot answer this, because it would be ungrateful and dishonest to give an opinion about unread book. The book, so, should be primarily carefully read, and not comment on basis on several simplified television contribution and torn quotes. Regarding the expertly part of the question, I am not convinced that affinity to one or other genetic, ethnic or whatever element my be measured with deciliters, kilograms or percentages. Even if it can-the story about the ethnogenesis and ethnic belonging is so complex, and is a mosaic of so many different elements, that I do not believe that this in any way shall change what are we today.

Even if some genetic ancestry becomes proven, nevertheless, the nation depends from the culture, from the language...?

-Absolutely, but from many other things. Actually, the ethnic belonging of one human has a very little dependence with his genetic code. The question how a human feels and declares, to which community he belongs , where he sees and looks his place in the wider community, is not a genetic question at all, but is sociological and culturological. There is no certain primordial, inborn, priorly given and eternal feeling of belonging to one community-just like the identity of the community to which a human belongs is not cemented in time, but it continuously changes and evolves. This is especially proper for the Antiquity. In many cases we prefer to speak about belonging to a certain cultural sphere, for cultural identity and worldview, and not about ethnic identity. Imposition of language, changing of ethnic belonging, planned conquering and melting, precise definition of somebody's ethnicity simply did not exist as a concepts. For the human from Antiquity, especially after Alexander's conquests, these question would be banal.

What do you think, who needs this return to the past, “return of the identity of the dead ones”, something with which the present time is being killed? How much, to us, to Macedonians, these things are necessary?

-According to me, we are not returning to the past-that is physically unfeasible. We cannot abolish EVN* and “Vodostopanstvo”**, but shrouds on us, put a Macedonian causia on the head, to compete in chariot races, to go in line behind a long stick with a sun on the top and praise Apolo. That would be really antiquization, and that is why I think that this overused term is wrong in its root. What is happening to us today is painting the present times with some ancient nuances, strange combination of light populism and unscientific “re-reading” of the past; the final goals, which were recently so vividly explained have nothing common with the true scientific ethics. I, for example, think that our past, and our present times are perfectly varied and interesting; that our identity perfectly clearly drawn, that we have things to represent with, and things to be proud with just like we are; in order to be convinced and be proud from that, I don't need any reminiscences with symbols, signs and messages from the Antiquity. Furthermore, I do not see a reason to involve ourselves in debates who is older and who was here from ever. Such debates and quarrels are suitable only to nervous and uncertain people which are not certain in themselves, so they are looking for evidence about that how old and great they are.
*Electro-Energetic company
**Water supply company

As a scientist, but as a citizen of this state as well, on what we should focus ourselves in order to became “equal” with other peoples?

-We are absolutely equal with all other peoples. From where is the idea that our people is not equal, under what criteria and in relationship to what? Just because illogical restrictions are imposed on our states and tasks which are not demanded from other states, that maybe makes us unequal as a state, but not at all as a people. But, if you are talking about what should we do as a people, in order to lessen the burden from our state, that is something entirely else. I neither can, nor I like to give political lessons, because I'm qualified to talk only about the historical science. Here the answer is easy, and only one – focusing high standards, quality, ethics and professionalism in the work. It should be known precisely who is working what, and how he is doing that. So, an archaeologist should dig, not a doctor; exegesis should be made by a historian, not an electrician; classical philologist should translate, and not a lawyer; and vice versa, the historian and archaeologist should not build rails and multi-level buildings. And, of course-from all of them highest possible standards should be sought, and in exchange a full work independence should be provided for them. The scientific circle should be enough motivated, financed and supported to work on the information and obligatory, as an only front, to publish it there where its proper. Not in contact shows, on radio or in newspaper, but in a scientific publication, from where it will be spread throughout the world. As long as this is a preoccupation of politicians, economists, journalists, quasiscientist, amateurs and interested citizens, we won't have order and progress, but anarchy, bad foundation and bad basis for performance in the world, which shall result in failure.

In that case, do we need and certain “reexamination” of the scientists before the emanation and acceptance of their thesis?

-If we are talking about academically educated scientist-absolutely not. Who is he who shall decide where somebody's academic thesis is acceptable or not? It should be published, and than, with extensive scientific criticism, it will be easily seen whether its acceptable or not. Aprioristic checking is a censorship-and who will check “the checker”? But we are forgetting to often that the scientific polemics doesn't means fighting, assaults and accusations between people. Among us the art of scientific debate is forgotten; if you discuss for somebody's scientific thesis, that has a private perception and it returns to you as a personal assault. In healthy scientific circles it is perfectly normally that two scientists are close friends privately, and bitter opponents in scientific stances. So, that is a thing which should live again among us, and by no means any control or censorship.

source:Најдовска, Б.Д. "Квазинаучници ја антиквизираат нацијата", Глобус 115, 30.VI.2009
Translated by Vasko Gligorijević

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