A silenced Aspect of ‘Peace Journalist’: The national identity
PDF Print E-mail

Presentation of Dr. H. Millas – Peace Journalism Conference November 9-11/2006, Nicosia, Cyprus


A silenced Aspect of ‘Peace Journalist’: The national identity


     My experience with ‘peace journalism’ is limited with the meetings of Greek and Turkish journalists that I happened to attend the last twenty years. In those meetings the main topic was the bilateral relations and the role of the media. Generally the following usually happened:

1- The need for a calm, objective and pacifying journalism was voiced,

2- It was repeatedly stressed that efforts are needed so that provocative articles and headings do not appear and do not excite the public,

3- Some examples of ‘negative’ journalism were given and were condemned – the examples were of the deeds of the ‘others’, either of the other country or of the ‘rival’ media,

4- Proposals were voiced as how to monitor the future journalism so that one can cope with the above situations: to expose the negative and award the positive, etc

5- The importance of communication of the two parties was repeated – from which we understand that there is a consensus that there are only two parties involved,

6- The idea of creating the opportunity of the journalists of one country to appear and be heard in the other side came up quite often  

7- Most importantly and most often, the professionalism and the ethics that a journalist should follow were stressed – objectivity, impartiality, honesty etc. Actually all the above were handled within this ‘ethical’ framework.

     What were not really clarified in those meetings were the reasons of the negative actions. The negative role of the media as well as the urge of the newspapers, of the TV programs and of the radio broadcasts to attract consumers at any cost were indeed in general criticized. ‘Fanaticism’ and ‘nationalism’ quite often were condemned, too, however not clearly defining the phenomena nor the reasons of those negative choices. Eventually, the question ‘why did the media expect success in this negative direction of prejudice, of one-sidedness and of provocations and not on another more positive direction’ was not clarified.

   Another characteristic of those meetings was the unique and careful selection of the participants. The notorious hard liners of the two sides were not invited, or if they were, special care was taken that they were in a minority so that the meeting could end in peace. The most important outcome of those meetings was the long term end result: there was not a substantial outcome. Presently, peace journalism is not what characterizes in general the media of the two countries. 


‘Improvements’ in bilateral relations and national identity

     Since 1999, the Greek-Turkish bilateral relations as well as in some cases the quality of journalism have been improved. My impression though is that the relations did not improve due to the progress in journalism but, the other way around, journalism improved due to the relations that got better.

     Furthermore, the change occurred mostly at the political level and not so much at the level of national perceptions and images of the Other and the self. Peace discourse is not the dominant tendency. Old mistrust and prejudices are still very much in existence and in operation.

     In order to go beyond describing some negative phenomena of journalism and to manage to offer an explanation of the phenomena - so that the problems can be dealt with efficiently - a distinction should be made between changes in politics and changes in perceptions. This duality can be perceived in various ways: as a difference between tactics and strategies, between short term and long term prospects, between change in plans and change in ideology. Change in one’s identity may be the most general way of approaching the phenomenon: from national identity to a more modern and inclusive identity. For this purpose, I believe that the role of national identity of the journalists should also be studied and be taken into consideration. 

     The fact that the journalists (and all other participants in similar meetings) are summoned according to a nationality, they are presented as if they express or represent the views of a group of people that are associated with a country – actually with a nation-state – should not escape our attention. We are not ‘neutral’ persons; next to our name a country of origin is also mentioned. What does that representation mean? How binding is this representation? What is the implication of this relationship: of the ‘individual’ linked to a ‘nation-state’? 


     In an article about the Greek press vis-à-vis the image of Turkey, I showed that in Greece there is

1) a general understanding of ‘Turkey’, which shows what the Greeks are in agreement as a kind of a national consensus, and at the same time,

2) a spectrum of fluctuating opinions which are influenced by the political atmosphere of the period in question (showing differentiations in time), as well as from the various political ideologies of each particular journalist (showing differences from person to person).

     Both of these manifestations are the products of a national identity, they are expressed as ‘views’ of Greeks and naturally they differ from the corresponding ‘Turkish’ views and evaluations. The first understanding operates within, what I call the sphere of consensual nationalism, i.e., the manifestation of the minimum national consensus that creates the group called ‘Greeks’. There is not much of disagreement on this ‘sphere’. Only a small minority - which is treated with suspicion by the majority – mostly called ‘dissidents’ expresses views contrary to this ‘consensus’.

     I call the second, contingent nationalism. This attitude is mostly political and changes according to the local and international situation. There may be different opinions within the country about the Other, but these do not challenge the first ‘sphere’. The second – the contingent nationalism – may show rapid and/or frequent changes but the first – the consensual nationalism - presents endurance.[1] 

     One should be clear when he/she speaks of  ‘changes’ or expected changes in bilateral relations and/or of social attitudes - of journalists included. The crucial question is not the changes in contingent nationalism, which may easily retreat to past attitudes, but the changes that occur in the national identity which is secured on a national consensus. (These terms will be dealt with further below)


National identity


     National identity is a complex phenomenon and it does mean much more than carrying a certain passport. National identity operates as a set of filters that control both what individuals see, perceive, select to pay attention to, but also what their feelings and their judgments are. This aspect of the journalists is mostly silenced in the meetings that are related to peace. The journalist is discussed as if he follows journalistic ethics (objectivity etc) or not. The problems are discussed as if they are ‘out there’, distant from our inner selves, whereas the problems are also within us. Each one of us is a part of the problem. We are a part of the problem not because we create it, but because we are one of the agents through which national reality expresses itself. This is not clearly seen by each of us, but only from the Other side: The Other sees ‘us’ as a problem; and ‘we’ the Other as such. But we almost never see ‘ourselves’ the way the Other sees ‘us’.     

     The most unreliable source of information about our identity is our opinion about ourselves. Especially when our identity is associated with the Other, ‘judgments’ can not be trusted at all. Also the study of ‘national identity’ itself poses a major problem (or a paradox): once its sources and its mechanisms are investigated and understood ‘identity’ loses much of its function. An ‘identity’ that is treated and investigated as an object, that is to say, as a mechanism distanced from ourselves, or as a historical and a social phenomenon, and consequently as a finite entity destined to perish within time, it contradicts itself.

     Identities secure a kind of continuum. Especially national identity is a source of consolation and hope for eternal existence. Nationalism has become an ersatz (substitute) religion. The nation, as understood by the nationalist, is a substitute of god; and the envisaged eternal existence of the nation indirectly secures our eternal existence. Nationalism of this sort might be called ethnolatry.[2]  

     In other words investigating national identity is like investigating a god that is believed. If his existence is investigated as a historical entity his essence is disturbed. Anything socially described cannot be superior to ‘us’; but our own creation, a creation of a human society. God – in order to play his role - has to be beyond sociological contingency. National identity too, is not prone to study. It is not a coincidence that national identity is studied by those who are not enthusiastically attached to a national identity. Those who study it, mostly search for the mechanism that created this identity. The nationalists themselves ‘study’ only the outcomes of nationalism but they do not treat it as a social creation. For them national identity is an essence, probably not characterized as such but handled as if it is something that does not have a beginning and an end, a god. 

     For some, ‘nationalism’ is a ‘mistaken’ approach on issues of peace and war, on coexistence and on matters of ethics in the international arena. Such a definition of ‘national identity’ obscures its essence and its myriad manifestations. An identity leaves its imprint on one’s many actions, beliefs and especially sentiments. The consequences of an identity can not be characterized as a ‘mistake’; once this is done the relationship between the identity and the action is obscured and denied.

     In other words, national identity is not very suitable for investigation. Very often various adjectives are used in connection to national identity to avoid a study in depth: ‘good’, ‘healthy’, ‘cultural’ identity versus the ‘chauvinist’, ‘racist’, ‘aggressive’ nationalism. Some other time ‘patriotism’ is used instead of ‘nationalism’. Whereas national identity is a broad and historical entity which presents different phases according to local and international contingencies. Sometimes it may prove ‘useful’ or ‘peaceful’, sometimes the contrary. An identity should not be differentiated in accordance to its ‘benefits’ and its coincidental results but in accordance to its basic principles and modes of operation.


Knowing oneself


  Also the act of ‘knowing’ oneself is problematic to begin with. ‘Our’ understanding of prejudice may be very different from what is actually taking place. Prejudiced people usually define prejudice in such a way that they keep themselves at a safe distance from this category. The ‘knowledge’ of one side is seen as ‘prejudice’ by the Other. However, prejudice itself is never seen as such by its bearer; because if it is perceived as such, automatically it ceases to exist anyhow. Therefore, if prejudice exists, it can exist only unnoticed by ‘us’. Actually, this is a matter of definition: a prejudice influence people by on the unconscious level.

     Statistics, therefore, can be a more reliable source that gives a ‘general’ picture of the feelings of the people. According to a relatively recent poll carried out in 2000 by EKKE (National Center of Social Studies of Greece) we see that the feelings of the Greeks vis-à-vis the Turks have not changed substantially. According to this investigation the Greeks expressed their liking for different nations and the Turks come last in this list. [3] The Swedish come first (they are liked by 51%, disliked by 18%), the Serbs follow (by 46% liked, by 27% disliked), in between we see the Germans, the Dutch, the Americans (by 40% are liked, by 36% disliked) and at the end of the row appear the Bulgarians, the Croatians, the Albanians (liked by 7%, by 74% disliked), the Macedonians (Fyrom) and at the very end the Turks (by 3% liked, by 89% disliked).[4]

     If we accept these figures as accurate, the 3% of the Greeks that ‘like’ the Turks indicates that it is possible to find 300,000 Greeks that like the Turks. If summoned in the same place they compose an impressive picture. This is the optimistic view. The other side of the coin is that still remains another portion of 9,700,000 Greeks who do not share the same feelings. And usually people that ignore the numbers and form opinions on their ‘experience’ may easily ‘miss’ the whole picture.

     Another poll that was carried between 4-17 December 2003 in various Balkan countries that wished to join the European Union (Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia and Turkey) showed that among these it is Turkey that trusts Greece the least, in spite of the declared policy of Greece to assist Turkey in this effort.[5] To the question ‘how much do you think Greece tries for your entrance to the EU?’, Turkey had the lowest percentage (18%) of trust to Greece. Macedonia and Albania believe that Greece tries in this direction for them at the order of 24% and 39%.

     The common denominator of all the above is that both parties present a nationally determined attitude that can be easily predicted statistically: ‘we are right and better, the Other is wrong and negative or at least worse than us’. This ‘preference’ is a typical characteristic of all ‘nations’ and operates in two ways:

A) Once the ethnic identity is given the reaction to the questions related to ‘history’ and to the Other can be predicted; or

B) When some views are evaluated the ‘national identity’ of the person who expresses them can be predicted.

In other words, there is a high correlation factor between ‘national identity’ and the ‘perception of the Other’.     


National identity and the Other

     The role of the Other in national rhetoric is not contingent but intrinsic. B. Anderson defines a nation as a ‘political community imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign’.[6] What do however, limited and sovereign mean?  By ‘limited’ it is meant that beyond the national boundaries ‘lie other nations’. By ‘sovereignty’, but also by other sacred principles voiced by all nation states such as ‘liberty’ and ‘independence’, is meant the subduing of the imagined rivals, the enemies, the ‘Other’, as well as, as a logical consequence, ‘our’ dominance over ‘them’. The ‘Other’, as the one beyond our living space, is a sine qua non of every nation.

     Each sovereign nation-state by its nature and due to the above mentioned targets (sovereignty, liberty, etc.) is related to a real or constructed ‘Other’. The heroic past of the ancestors and of the nation starts with a history in which ‘we’ and the ‘Other’ coexist - but with considerable tension. Nationalism is characterized by an imagined heroic past which has to include the ‘Other’, some ‘Other’. The ‘unknown soldier’ in each country is related to a soldier of the ‘Other’: our soldier is killed by a soldier of the Other. Binary relationship is unavoidable.

     The ‘national identity’, apart from what else it may mean and does, plays a role in the way we perceive our environment and ourselves.[7] That is why the members of the same national group usually present similar reactions. They agree on many issues among themselves and at the same time they disagree on some issues with members of groups of a different national identity.

     This does not mean that members of different national identities cannot agree on some and even on many issues. It does not mean that all members of a nation agree on all issues, either. However, there should be some major issues on which the consensus among the members of the ‘nation’ should be decisive. This composes the ‘minimum national consensus’ that enables one to talk of a ‘nation’ and of a ‘national identity’.

     Above the sphere of consensual nationalism was differentiated from contingent nationalism. The first is a consensus that defines a nation; the second defines the political positions that may occur within the nation. Both are associated with group identities but the first is more durable resisting to major and rapid changes and the second more volatile following political expediencies. Consensual nationalism is the basis on which national dynamics and national myths are built; it is the views and beliefs that constitute the nationhood. Within the nations, political discussions and disagreements, on the other hand, usually take place within the sphere of contingent nationalism.

     This differentiation enables us to interpret the rapid changes within the second and the relative endurance of the first, i.e., of the national identity. This ‘difference’ is expressed in popular speech in various ways. Some make a differentiation of ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’, others of ‘nationalism in the good sense’ and ‘racism’ or ‘chauvinism’, etc. Whereas, it is more constructive to see that national identity is a belief and it may present various political programs. With this differentiation it becomes understandable how and why nations change their political targets (sphere of contingent nationalism), at the same time preserving their identity (sphere of consensual nationalism). It also becomes understandable how a nation (or a country) may change its political position vis a vis another nation, but still preserving its myths and all the related feelings vis a vis the Other. These happenings actually take place in different spheres. A country may replace a policy of irredentism with a policy of ‘peaceful coexistence’, but still preserving all its prejudices, stereotypes and national myths.  


     Some self-evident facts should be reminded anew to prevent misunderstandings. A nation is not composed of identical individuals. Each personality is unique. ‘Common characteristics’ is a sociological abstraction and a statistical entity. The exceptions are numerous. Still there are some similarities – high correlation factors – which enable one to speak of group identities; e.g., of Greeks and of Turks. Identity issues operate on an unconscious level. Actually this unconscious aspect of the national identity is the source of many ills. It hides primarily the subjectivity of cognitive operations that are related to ‘national’ issues. This shortcoming becomes more apparent in the contradictions, double standards and silences of most nationalistic discourses.

     It is also obvious that human beings do not have a national identity only; they have many identities. Someone may belong to a group defined by sex, age group, religion, language, profession, geographical area, family position, status, sports club, ideology, hobby, etc. Here priority is given to ‘national identity’ simply because the Greeks and the Turks and their relations are investigated. All these characterizations are ‘national’ in essence. Human beings in our case are chosen to become our focus of interest in their national identity.


Peace journalism and/or transcending nationalist prejudices

     The ‘views’ of the parties in conflict, whether these are of journalists or other groups, are influenced by their identity. The ‘answers’ of each side to specific questions are at a very high percentage predictable; i.e., their evaluations are nationally determined. Each side has its own point of view; and these views are in most cases in opposition. The parties are conscious of the fact that their views are in opposition. The Greeks and the Turks do not recognize however that their views are subjective and nationally biased. Once the ‘views’ are recognized as ‘objective observations’, as ‘knowledge’, neither self-doubt nor, as a consequence, self-knowledge can be attained. Once this self-confidence vis a vis their opinions is secured further search becomes redundant.

     Also the parties do not seem to be aware that the Other in each country has an imagined historical dimension and that the Other plays a decisive role in the forming and preserving the national identity of the parties.[8] In the best case they recognize that the ‘press’ or the ‘schoolbooks’ play a negative role in the Greek-Turkish relations but they do not seem – in general - to be aware that the ‘negative Other’ and the so called ‘national identity’ are somehow historically interconnected. The negative Other is not due to ‘mistaken information’ but due to a special ideological framework and an identity. 


     Transcending national prejudices and developing a ‘neutral’ attitude vis-à-vis the Other is a complex process that is related to national identity and all the founding myths of each nation. Actually the whole enterprise is usually presented as an effort where, on the one hand, the Other would be freed from its negative characteristics (lack of objectivity etc.) , and on the other, ‘our’ national identity and ‘our’ related myths would be preserved. This, however, is a contradiction, an oxymoron.

     The negative Other is a constituent of national identity. The revision of the historical Other presupposes a revision of ‘our’ history. The political programs of the countries may still be changed relatively easier for the better, as Greece and Turkey did after 1999, without taking a decisive step and revising historiography. In this case however, the national myths and the image of the Other may still be active or ‘asleep in the subconscious’, ready to function with the first political crisis. 

     The decisive step is to secure changes in the sphere of consensual nationalism where the basic national myths and perceptions vis a vis the past and the Other should be revised. In other words the national paradigm should be questioned and exposed. Nationalism should be transcended. This presupposes a change in world views and identities too.[9]

     The sphere of contingent nationalism is secondary. However, the two spheres are interrelated. A prolonged period of peaceful coexistence of good neighborhood, i.e., a political decision to exercise calm and a reconciliatory policy, in the long run will facilitate major changes with respect to the basic nationalistic paradigm in the two countries.

     Until then, and irrespective of the policies of the politicians, the members of the two communities, and the journalists on personal or on NGO basis, may try to pave the way towards a more permanent rapprochement. Meetings of this kind will also help bringing to the consciousness of the parties the mechanisms that form the ‘national’ basis: the source of all ‘ills’. However, to transcend nationalism is not, according to my understanding, a matter of professional honesty or of ethics, but a conscious negation of nationalist paradigm with all its repercussions.



List of some publications of H. Millas

where the case of Greek and Turkish nationalism is presented


 ‘The Image of Greeks in Turkish Literature: Fiction and Memoirs’, in Oil on Fire?, Studien zur Internationalen Schulbuchforschung, Schriftenreihe des Georg-Eckert-Instituts, Hanover: Verlag Hansche Buchhandlung, 1996

‘The Mythical Past and the Tense Present: Education in Greece and Turkey, in Culture and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe, International Conference, Thessaloniki (June 26-29, 1997)

- Εικόνες Ελλήνων και Τούρκων - σχολικά βιβλία, ιστοριογραφία, λογοτεχνία και εθνικά στερεότυπα, (Images of Greeks and Turks - textbooks, historiography, literature and national stereotypes), Athens: Alexandria, 2001.

- Do’s and Don’t’s for Better Greek-Turkish Relations, Athens: Papazissis, 2002.

- ‘Non-Muslim Minorities in the Historiography of Republican Turkey: The Greek Case’, in The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography, Ed. By Fikret Adanır and Suraiya Faroqhi, Leiden: Brill, 2002.

- ‘Milli Türk Kimliği ve Öteki (Yunan)’ ‘The Turkish National Identity and the Other (the Greeks’), in Modern Türkiye’de Siyasi Düşünce, Milliyetçilik, Cilt 4. İstanbul: İletişim, 2002B.

- ‘The Exchange of Populations in Turkish Literature: The Undertone of Texts’, in Crossing the Aegean, An Appraisal on the 1923 Compulsory Populations Exchange Between Greece and Turkey, Edit. Renee Hirschon, New York & Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2003.

- ‘The Mystery of Affectionate Chat Between Turks and Greeks’ in Voices for the Future, Civil Dialogue Betw   oirs, f, k Relations, The Security Dilemma in the Aegeanulations een Turks and Greeks, Edit. T. U. Belge, Istanbul Bilgi University Press, 2004.

- ‘The Other and Nation-building – The Testimony of Greek and Turkish Novels, in Representations of the Other/s in the Mediterranean World and their Impact on the Region, Edit. N. K. Burçoğlu / S. G. Miller, İstanbul, The Isis Pres, 2004.

- ‘National Perception of the Other and the Persistence of Some Images’ in Turkish-Greek Relations, The Security Dilemma in the Aegean, Edit. M. Aydin & K. Ifandis, London & New York, Routledge, 2004.

- The Imagined Other as National Identity – Greeks and Turks, Ankara: CSDP-European Commission, 2004. Also in: www.stgp.org.

- Türk ve Yunan Romanlarında Öteki ve Kimlik, İstanbul: İletişim, 2005.

- ‘Tourkokratia: History and the Image of Turks in Greek Literature’, in South European Society and Politics, Routledge, March 2006, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp.45-60.  


[1] H. Millas, ‘1998 Yunanistan Basınında Türkiye’ (Turkey In the Greek Press of 1998), in Bilanço 1923-1998, Tarih Vakfı Yayınları, İstanbul 1999.

[2] Hugh Seton-Watson, Nations and States, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1977, p. 465-466.

[3] See for example To Vima newspaper of 22 June 2000.

[4] These numbers reflect a period when turmoil existed in old Yugoslavia and some ‘feeling’ can be associated with these events. The sympathy for the Serbs and the disliking for the Croats can be partly explained politically. However, the Turks were last in the row even though they were somehow distanced from this Balkan issue. One can guess about the ‘reasons’ of these feelings, but for the moment the numbers show a tendency and not the causes that create the feelings. 

[5] The study was conducted by Kapa Research for ‘Balkan Monitor’ and some results are published in the Greek newspaper To Vima on 3 January 2004.

[6] Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities, Verso, London-New York, 1990, p. 15.

[7] Or if the same is phrased in other words, different opinions can be perceived as being the result of different ‘identities’; or, groups that share similar opinions compose unities that are perceived as having ‘something’ in common that is called ‘identity’. 

[8] For the role that the ‘Other’ plays in forming and/or preserving the national identity of the ‘self’ see: especially Millas 2002B and 2006 in the bibliography at the end of this paper.

[9] One of the few examples of this kind of a study on journalism belongs to L. Doğan Tılıç (Utanıyorum ama Gazeteciyim, İstanbul: İletişim, 1998). His comparative study on Greek and Turkish journalism exposes the national bias that is dominant on both sides and on the field of journalism. 


Your are currently browsing this site with Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).

Your current web browser must be updated to version 7 of Internet Explorer (IE7) to take advantage of all of template's capabilities.

Why should I upgrade to Internet Explorer 7? Microsoft has redesigned Internet Explorer from the ground up, with better security, new capabilities, and a whole new interface. Many changes resulted from the feedback of millions of users who tested prerelease versions of the new browser. The most compelling reason to upgrade is the improved security. The Internet of today is not the Internet of five years ago. There are dangers that simply didn't exist back in 2001, when Internet Explorer 6 was released to the world. Internet Explorer 7 makes surfing the web fundamentally safer by offering greater protection against viruses, spyware, and other online risks.

Get free downloads for Internet Explorer 7, including recommended updates as they become available. To download Internet Explorer 7 in the language of your choice, please visit the Internet Explorer 7 worldwide page.