This book is a theoretical and ethnographic study of the shifting border between the Republic of North Macedonia and Greece. The central argument is that political borders between states not only restrict or regulate the movement of people and things but are also always porous and permeable, exceeding state governmentality. To support this argument the book draws on scholarship from geology that describes and classifies different kinds of rock porosity. Just as seemingly solid rock is often laden with pores that allow the passage of liquids and gases, so too are ostensibly impenetrable borders laden with forms and infrastructures of passage. This metaphor is theoretically powerful, as it facilitates the idea of border porosities through a varied set of case studies centered on the Greek–Macedonian border. The case studies include: the history of railways in the region, border-town beauty tourism, child refugees during the Greek Civil War, transnational mining corporations and environmental activism, and, finally, a massive, highly politicized urban renewal project. Using interdisciplinary frameworks combining anthropology, history, philosophy, and geology, the book analyzes permeations triggered by the border and its porous nature that underline the empirical, political, and philosophical processes with all their emancipatory or restrictive effects.
The introduction summarizes the conflict over the name of Macedonia and, after 28 years, the solution brokered through the Prespa Agreement. It also presents the relevance of porosity as a theoretical tool to understand the continuous permeability of crossing the border in different spatial/temporal configurations.
From Ottoman railway lines to contemporary migrant transportation
This chapter examines the effects of the construction in 1871 of the Thessaloniki–Mitrovica railway line that connected the Ottoman towns of Thessaloniki, Gevgelija, Veles, Skopje, Mitrovica, and, later on, Niš and Belgrade. This railway line played a crucial role in the connection and mobility of people, military equipment, food, and other commodities. This vuggy or elongated porosity was the main factor facilitating the modernization of this area, which continued to generate subsequent concentric or moldic porosities with the opening of further railway lines. The analysis begins with the construction and the completion of this main line. Its history tells a story of the last decades of Ottoman rule, as well as the final defeat of the Ottomans during World War One. The socialist period also enabled strong porosity by linking Yugoslavia with Athens to the south, and northwards with Munich and points further to the north, putting Gevgelija and its train station on the map for many travelers. With the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the train services became, at best, less reliable, but were nonetheless crucial for the transfer of migrants in 2015-16. The current disruption of the train service between Thessaloniki–Gevgelija, where passengers cross the border by bus, is the first instance since the line’s opening in 1879 of services not being open to people on both sides of the border.
Beauty, entertainment, and gambling in the EU periphery
This chapter focuses on Gevgelija’s transformation from a small town previously known only as the last point on a freeway (once called Bratstvo i Edinstvo “Brotherhood and Unity”) linking the former Yugoslav capitals of Skopje, Belgrade, Zagreb, and Ljubljana with Thessaloniki. Gevgelija is now called the “Balkan Las Vegas,” where Greek citizens cross the border on a regular basis to obtain cheap beauty and health services, and also to shop for everyday produce and groceries. This surge of visitors from Greece who come to shop and gamble has transformed the face of the town. The presence of several large, luxurious casino-hotels has enabled Gevgelija to become one of the most economically successful places in the region with one of the lowest unemployment rates.
This chapter examines the intersection of formal and informal economies during socialism through tourist practices and the visibility of the border to people living in the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. By drawing on the importance of class during the socialist period, I describe the lower- and middle-class habit of spending camping holidays in the area of Northern Greece around Paralia, Leptokaria, and Platamona. I contrast this with the current rise of the Macedonian nouveau riches who own seaside property in Greece, mainly in the area of Halkidiki, and thus become “sediments,” as for most of them it was the holidays in Greece that impelled them to make these purchases. By examining the legal changes that allowed non-EU citizens to purchase real estate, and the financial crisis in Greece that prompted many owners to sell their property to avoid the new property tax, I contrast the current neoliberal modalities of the two states with those prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s and the role of tourism in dissolving or intensifying the borders. In addition, I also focus on the child refugees who left Greece during the Greek Civil War as “human sediments” deposited all around the world, whose presence constitutes major political factor in the contemporary Greek–Macedonian.
This chapter analyzes recent protests and NGO activities against the open-pit gold and copper mines in the Valandovo–Bogdanci–Gevgelija and Halkidiki regions. In the most fertile region and the center of organic food production in the Republic of North Macedonia, the local population and environmental activists organized protests and four referendums, one of which was against the construction of an open-pit copper/gold mine where sulfuric acid and arsenic would be used to extract the metals. A similar open-pit gold mine was constructed on the Halkidiki peninsula in Greece, which prompted collaboration between eco-activists on both sides of the border. This is undeniably border porosity caused by transnational mining corporations and environmental activists opposing the corporate interests.
Displaced borders in Skopje and the Colorful Revolution
This chapter re-examines the question of nationalism by assessing the “Skopje 2014” project. The analysis employs the concept of the border as a “tidemark” that sweeps over spatial and temporal axes and leaves material, visible, and invisible traces. This conceptualization of the border enables an inquiry that goes beyond the immediate border region. It allows looking at “Skopje 2014” as a border zone that spans from the capital of the Republic of Macedonia to its state borders and beyond. “Skopje 2014,” as a project of material embellishment of Skopje sponsored by the VMRO-DPMNE government, was actualized through the construction of new buildings and monuments, hence the chapter introduces the role of aesthetics and materiality in the tidal porosity that was created in the center of the Macedonian capital. The materiality of buildings and monuments operates as a bordering device not only across state lines vis-à-vis Greece, but also within and among different political and social circles within the Republic of Macedonia. The Colorful Revolution and its supporters created porosity in the city that facilitated tangible social transformations.
The conclusion revisits theory and the possibilities offered by porosity both as a conceptual and an analytical tool, as well as its relevance for the contemporary Balkan realities around and within the border regions.
The last chapter in this volume reveals how the ‘displaced borders’ at the centre of the capital of Macedonia, Skopje, are materialized through grand buildings and monuments referring to a classical past and antiquity. This trend, which started in 2008 and is part of the ‘Skopje 2014’ project, is conditioned by the political dispute with Greece about the right to use the name ‘Macedonia’. The chapter examines the agency of size and grandeur in shaping people’s perceptions and reactions to material appearances.
Materiality has long been tied to the political projects of nationalism and capitalism. But how are we to rethink borders in this context? Is the border the limit where the capitalist nation-state, contested and re-created at its centre, becomes fixed? Or is it something else? Is the border something, or does it instead do things? This volume brings questions of materiality to bear specifically on the study of borders. These questions address specifically the shift from ontology to process in thinking about borders. The political materialities of borders does not presume the material aspect of borders but rather explores the ways in which any such materiality comes into being. Through ethnographic and philosophical explorations of the ontology of borders and its limitations from the perspective of materiality, this volume seeks to throw light on the interaction between the materiality of state borders and the non-material aspects of state-making. This enables a new understanding of borders as productive of the politics of materiality, on which both the state project rests, including its multifarious forms in the post-nation-state era.