index.html  The Banknote as a Figure of Nationhood in the Balkan Countries



Christos Zagkos, Argyris Kyridis,  Ifigenia Vamvakidou, Nikos Fotopoulos

University of Western Macedonia







Money is the foundation of any national economy, but also the mark of national sovereignty, reflecting the state which issues it. Its symbolic role is one of its essential characteristics, and the name of the currency its salient feature. Policymakers recognize that currencies can act as important carriers of nationalist imagery, particularly if its supply is monopolized. Money would indeed seem a perfect locus on which a state can construct an ‘ordinary nationalism’ that is all the more powerful for being part of the seemingly unremarkable fabric of daily life. In this paper, using a semiotic methodology, we shall analyse the symbols of the state produced banknotes of Albania, Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria, in an attempt to read the underlying meanings of the symbolisms selected by each state, in the geographical area of Balkans that is synonymous with nationalism, since the foundation of the modern nation-states on the region.








If we search for a national symbol that everyone comes into touch with every day we encounter those represented on the official banknotes of a country. At that point it is worth noting that the Balkan region has long been associated with the concept of maximal nationasism, and has even been identified in the media with violent conflict, decay, political violence, ethnic unrest and the fragmentation of states (Mazower, 2000, 5), particularly since the partition of the Ottoman Empire and the so called “Eastern Crisis.” The reputation of the region as the European “powder keg” (F.S. Larabee, 1994, xii) is based on the fact that no fewer than seven wars took place in the Balkans during the twentieth century: the First and the Second Balkan Wars, the First World War, the Greco-Turkish War, the Second World War, the Civil War in Greece and a series of wars of the Yugoslav succession in the 1990s. It is also worth pointing out that the “unsettled national issues” and the attempts for establishing nation-states have been the most frequent casus belli in the Balkans (Simic, 2001, 21). Thus, for many centuries, the Balkans, being situated at the border between empires, religions and civilizations, has frequently paid the forfeit of its geopolitical position and has been involved in perennial warfare (Zagkos et al, 2007, 342).

The banknote produced by the state is a semiotic genre of material culture that can be particularly effective in shaping ideas about the past. The commonly- held view in economics that money "merely serves to transfer economic energy between independent agents" ignores the fact that money also has "value function" (Dyer 1989: 504-5). We see money every day, but we rarely observe it. Yet the money we use has symbols and images on it. These serve to communicate information. Some of the elements of a banknote describe its history and identity: the decree authorizing its production, the name of the issuing institution, the names of the artists involved, identifiers of the series to which it belongs and its serial number (Mugnaini, 1994, 67). Some, such as those that convey the denomination, are essential to its function. Others such as intricate geometrical figures and the like are primarily devices to impede counterfeiting.  Lastly, money often carries on it images of people, places or things. These too serve to impede counterfeiting, and the issuers of money could (and on occasion do) pick them arbitrarily, looking simply for attractive pictures. But the images are rarely arbitrary. Instead they are often symbolic and didactic (Tschoegl, 2002, 1). As a medium of mass communication, physical circulating money is often taken for granted; it is ubiquitous and prosaic to the point of invisibility (Lauer 2008, 109-110).

It is thus not surprising that communication scholars, including eminent figures such as McLuhan (2001) and Habermas (1987), have tended to overlook or minimize the mass communication function of money even while addressing the subject. One notable exception is Peters (1999, 119), who contrasts money’s interpersonal and mass communicative dimensions and observes, “money, after all, is a kind of medium—and not only a medium of exchange, but a medium of representation as well”. It is true that state produced money has the potential to be an especially effective tool of state propaganda because, while many people simply have little taste for military parades or for education, everybody wants money (Hymans, 2005, 6). Money is the foundation of the national economy, but also the mark of national sovereignty and it mirrors the State which issues it. The symbolic role of money is one of its essential characteristics, and the name of the currency its salient  feature (Brozovic, 1994, 12). Policymakers recognized that currencies could act as important carriers of nationalist imagery, particularly if their supply were monopolized (Gilbert and Helleiner, 1999, 8). Money would indeed seem a perfect site on which the state could construct a ‘banal nationalism’ that is all the more powerful for being part of the seemingly unremarkable fabric of everyday life  (Billig, 1995). Furthermore, according to Helleiner (1998,1414), whose seminal work provides a conceptual framework for understanding the historical and cultural significance of such financial mass media, “National currencies may foster national identities not just at the propagandistic level through cultivating a collective memory and nationalist culture,” but also by creating “a common economic language with which to communicate”. Finally, it has to be mentioned that as durable objects, official bank notes have the capacity to communicate information over long periods of time and over great distances (Galloy, 2000,483).


The Greek word ‘symbol’ refers to the ‘putting together of that which has been divided’, or in more descriptive terms, ‘the production of two halves of a token which had been broken and given to a pair of friends so that they would share the same mark of identification. Conversely, this token served to differentiate them from other people who had no such proof’ (Firth, 1973,47). Both symbols and signs are distinct elements in the individual’s perception of society. The founder of semiotics, the study of signs in society, Ferdinand de Saussure noted that language is the most important framework through which individuals share common signs. In his opinion, language is not the same as human speech but ‘a system of signs that express ideas, and is therefore comparable to a system of writing, the alphabet of deaf-mutes, symbolic rites, polite formulae, military signals, etc’ (in Lagopoulos & Lagopoulou 2003, 9). Saussure stated that a sign is the union between a signifier and a signified, where the signifier is the sound or the image and the signified is the concept associated with that signifier. On the one hand, the relationship between image and concept, between signifier and signified is arbitrary while, on the other hand, the signifier produces meaning only in relation to other signifiers.

Saussure was focusing on the linguistic sign (such as a word) and he 'phonocentrically' privileged the spoken word, referring specifically to the image acoustique ('sound-image' or 'sound pattern'), seeing writing as a separate, secondary, dependent but comparable sign system (Saussure 1974, 15, 16, 23-24, 119). Some people may wonder why Saussure's model of the sign refers only to a concept and not to a thing. An observation from the philosopher Susanne Langer (who was not referring to Saussure's theories) may be useful here. Note that like most contemporary commentators, Langer uses the term 'symbol' to refer to the linguistic sign (a term which Saussure himself avoided): “Symbols are not proxy for their objects but are vehicles for the conception of objects... In talking about things we have conceptions of them, not the things themselves; and it is the conceptions, not the things, that symbols directly mean”. (Langer 1951, 61).

What Saussure refers to as the 'value' of a sign depends on its relations with other signs within the system – a sign has no 'absolute' value independent of this context. Saussure uses an analogy with the game of chess, noting that the value of each piece depends on its position on the chessboard (Saussure 1974, 88). The sign is more than the sum of its parts. Whilst signification – what is signified – clearly depends on the relationship between the two parts of the sign, the value of a sign is determined by the relationships between the sign and other signs within the system as a whole.  The notion of value shows us that it is a great mistake to consider a sign as nothing more than the combination of a certain sound and a certain concept. To think of a sign as nothing more would be to isolate it from the system to which it belongs. It would be to suppose that a start could be made with individual signs, and a system constructed by putting them together. On the contrary, the system as a united whole is the starting point, from which it becomes possible, by a process of analysis, to identify its constituent elements ( Saussure 1974, 113).

Cohen (1998) argues that from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) on, we have seen the diffusion of the idea of the sovereign state with its symbols: one army, one flag and one currency. However, the creation of national money coterminous with the national territory is really a creation of the 19th Century (Helleiner, 1997). National symbols provide perhaps the strongest, clearest statement of national identity. In essence that they serve as modern totems – sings that bear a special relationship to the nations they represent, distinguishing them from one another and reaffirming their identity boundaries (Cerulo 1993, 244). National symbols project a message. That message is purposively, meticulously constructed, with leaders of national governments consciously picking and choosing its elements. Since the inception of nations, national leaders have embraced and adopted national symbols using them to create bonds, motivate patriotic action, honour the efforts of citizen and legitimate formal authority (Crampton 1990).

Since the national symbols are so important to the political modernisation process, national leaders will want to project the most effective, most appealing symbols possible. In essence, leaders are attempting to link symbolic forms to social forms, choosing the symbols that are most appropriate to the state of their target audience, the national population. National symbols, in Smith’s interpretation, mainly have a social, external function. They unite individuals under the same flag, oath, anthem, and so on, both inducing a general feeling of belonging to a specific community and using forms which already existed in the nation (Kyridis, 2008,56). The transformation of symbols has a double impact on the individual’s perception of the nation: firstly, he accepts a conversion at the personal level recognizing that some symbols have acquired new symbolic functions; secondly, he insists that particular symbols have a desirable effect on his social vision of the community (Smith, 1998,8).

According to Cerulo (1993, 246), we can analyse a national symbol’s message in two ways. On the one hand we can examine the content of the symbol: the colours or emblems used in a flag or a banknote. In so doing we could decipher the meaning of each component of the symbol. Such an approach represents a semantic analysis of a symbol. A semantic analysis isolates the symbols elements and focuses on the meaning of each of those elements. A second alternative would have us study the design or configuration of a symbol: the colours the emblems occupying adjacent positions in the flag; the number of sections containing in the flag etc. When focusing on elements such as these, we are undertaking a syntactic analysis of symbols. A syntactic analysis examines the meaning conveyed by a symbol’s structure –its design or configuration and the relation between its parts (Scholes, 1982, 24).

In attempting to draw up a chart to distinguish various symbols and their interactions, Karl W. Deutsch (1955, 38) divided symbols as follows: 1. abstract symbols, such as words, ideas, slogans, works of literature, or songs; 2. pictorial symbols, such as flags, statues, relics, historic objects, buildings, animals, flowers, and the like; 3. personal symbols, such as heroes, kings, leaders, saints, prophets, or poets; 4. symbolic places, such as capital cities, historic sites, national shrines, centres of pilgrimage, battlefields, tombs of martyrs, or places of scenic beauty or grandeur;

5. symbolic organisations or institutions, such as congresses, church synods, political parties, legislatures, law courts, universities, bureaucratic or military organisations, in so far as any of these acquire symbolic function in addition to their primary activities; 6. religious symbols – this is a category that cuts across the other five in many instances, but it is perhaps not exhausted by them.






In the field of modern political and social history we analyse the banknotes as pictorial symbols in the field of historic objects from the four contiguous countries of Greece (Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey and the F.Y.R.O.M.) in order to analyse the symbolisms represented on their official state produced banknotes and to investigate the potential nationalistic or other background of the choice of those symbolisms.

For our research we analysed all the official banknotes that are in circulation nowadays. From Albania we analysed the banknotes of 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 5000 Leke. From Bulgaria we analysed the banknotes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50,100, 200, 500 and 1000 Levs.  From F.Y.R.O.M. we analysed the representations on the banknotes of 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 5000 Denari and from Turkey we analysed the banknotes of 1, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Liras.

At this point we have to point out that the reason we did not include in our investigation the Greek banknotes is that why since the entrance of Greece in the euro epoch the state produced symbolisms on the national currency are limited to the one side of the coins, thus the euro banknotes are common for the countries using the European currency.



The Albanian Banknotes


In Albania as in all the countries of the ex-Eastern block, where communistic regimes were set up for several decades, is obvious the difference between the banknotes, that were in circulation before and after the collapse of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”.  Such on the banknotes of the communistic era we could identify a plethora of symbolisms emphasize to the power of the working class, the military strength of the country and several other nationalistic symbolisms.  Concerning  the banknotes of that era, when Albania was a completely “closed” society, nationalistic symbolisms we could find, among others, on the Albanian banknotes of 100 Leke (issue 1957), where a soldier coexist with the Albanian double-headed eagle aiming probably to lay emphasis on the military strength of the country. In addition in some of the depictions of the Albanian banknotes there are evident the symbolisms of a united working class where men and women working hard aiming to their country’s prosperity (see banknotes of 500 Leke issue 1957). Characteristic also of the banknotes of that epoch  is the representation of working women, in an attempt of the regime to praise the feminine contribution to the country’s progression as well as to emphasize to the enacted isonomy between the two genders in Albania (see banknotes of 500, issue 1957 and 10 Leke issue 1976). 

Talking now, about the banknotes that are in circulation nowadays (issue of 1991, 1992,1993,1994,1995,1996 and 1997) the Albanian government through these national banknotes emphasizes less on the values of the communistic regime and gives priority to the showing off of the cultural heritage of the country in association of course with some national symbolisms. However, one of the common characteristics of the Albanian banknotes of the two eras is the representation of the Albanian national emblem, of the black double-headed eagle, which we described above, on several banknotes (500 Leke issue of 1996). The use of the national emblem on the banknotes, aim to the national unity and to the raising of the national morale of the Albanian people.

            Besides the national emblem of the double-headed eagle, in the banknotes of 5000 Leke (1996 issue) we come across Scandeberg, probably the most important national hero of the country, while on the back side of the banknote are presented the Kruja Castle, the helmet and the sculpture of Skanderbeg on his horse.

 Moreover, on the 1000 Leke banknote we can identify  the portrait of Pjeter Bogdani (1625-1689), writer and priest, is presented, taken from the front of his book "Çeta e profetëve", (The prophets’s file), while on the back side of the banknote the Catholic Church in Vau i Dejës and his vision of the heliocentric system is represented. Additionally, on the 500 Leke banknote (issue of 1997) is presented the portrait of Ismail Qemali (1844-1919); leader of the Albania National Movement and Prime Minister of that time in composition with the two headed independence flag and the pen with which Independence was signed, while on the back side of the 500 Leke banknote we can distinguish the House where the Independence was proclaimed, the office where this important event took place and the telegraph, by which the notice had been transmitted. Furthermore, on the banknote of 200 Leke (issue of 1997) is presented the bust of Frasheri, one of the most prominent personalities of the so-called period of national reborn of Albania. Frasheri was a dignitary of the Ottoman government in the region and he was also one of the best Albanian poets. Frasheri represents the educated elite of Albania and that because except of a great poet Frasheri also wrote plenty of school books and translated in Albanian a plethora of very important works of the international intelligence. To sum up, Frasheri aimed to awaken the national conscience of his compatriots through the path of education and culture (Fisher,1995,28-31).

Last, on the front side of the100 Leke banknote (issue 1997) the observer can see the portrait of Fan S. Noli (1882-1965), politician, writer, one of the most popular figures of the National Movement, and on the back side we can see a combination of the logo of Albanian Federation "Vatra", the building of the first Albanian Parliament (now the building of the Academy of Sciences) and the logo of the newspaper "Dielli" (the Sun) run by Fan. S. Noli.







Bulgarian Banknotes


Bulgaria is a country with long history which the government, through the symbols of the official banknotes, wants to protect and display. It is apparent that the symbolic contents of the Bulgarian banknotes are based mostly on Bulgarian history and tradition. As any other nation-state, Bulgaria analogically of its regime promotes different images on the official banknotes. Such, on the monarchy era of the country predominated the images of the king and his family. For example on the banknote of 500 Leva (issue 1943) we could discern the face of King Symeon II, who was the last King of the country and governed Bulgaria from 1943 to 1946, although he was not an adult yet. 

On the other hand, images of the Bulgarian economy, as well as those of Bulgarian products or of the portraits of the ringleaders of the communistic revolution were presented on the banknotes of the communistic era of the country.  Such examples are the procedure of tobacco harvest represented on the 200 Leva (issue of 1951) banknote and the portrait of Dimitrov, the leader of the Bulgarian communistic regime on the banknotes of 10000 Leva. Nowadays, the national Bulgarian banknotes have a remarkable variety on the representations used on them. The Bulgarian government has chosen images from Bulgarian history, and from the religious, political and cultural life of the state as well as representations of great personalities of the Bulgarian history and intellect. Such, the obverse of the 1 Leva banknote shows a 1789 icon depicting of Saint Ivan Rilski from the Uspenie Bogorodichno (Assumption of Our Lady) Church in the Pchelino Postnica (Hermitage) near the Rila Monastery.

Bulgaria adopted Christianity as a national religion in AD864, and Ivan of Rila preached Christ's doctrine in mediaeval Bulgaria. Canonised soon after his death, he became patron of the monastery which emerged on the spot where he ended his earthly span. Today the Rila Monastery, over a thousand years old, houses the Saint's relics. On the reverse of the banknote shows the main Monastery church set off by the cloister's open-air walkways. Furthermore on the 2 Levs banknote we can see Pagisios of Chiliandar (1722 - 1773), the man who kindled the spark of the Bulgarian National Revival, served in Holy Orders at the monastery of Chiliandar on Mount Athos. He authored the "Historiae Sclavo-Bulgaricus": the first work of modern Bulgarian letters and harbinger of Bulgarians' spiritual emancipation and national reawakening (Gonis, 2001, 113-116).

Moreover, on the 5 Levs banknote is presented the portrait of Ivan Milev (1897 -1927), painter, avant-garde stage designer, and one of the circle who defined the fin-de-siecle in Bulgarian art. Gifted with the potent imagination and strong stylistic sensibility, he sought inspiration and models in village life and folk songs, legends and beliefs to create supple images rich in Bulgarian tradition and spirit. On the reserve of the banknote we can observe fragments from his paintings "A Woman Harvesting", "The Bulgarian Madonna", and "Wedding of the Dragon".

The obverse side of the 10 Levs banknote carries an engraving of Doctor Peter Beron,  a National Revival scientist, Renaissance Man, reformer and sponsor of Bulgarian learning, this linguist with nine languages authored the first secular instruction book in Bulgarian, and encoded modern Bulgarian grammar. He contributed greatly to the modernisation of education and establishment of contemporary Bulgarian culture, while the reverse side shows sketches taken from Peter Beron's treatises in astronomy, and his personal telescope.

In addition the  front side of the 20 Levs banknote features symbolic elements of the BNB: stylised elements from the BNB building, the BNB emblem, and other multi-coloured background nets of appropriate structures, vignettes, rosettes, analogous to the banknotes of the first BNB issues. The back side of that specific banknote features a replica of the first Bulgarian banknote of BGN 20, issue 1885, the old BNB building, the sculpture image of a seated woman used for the banknotes of BGN 1 and 2, issue 1920, and the coat of arms of the Principality of Bulgaria.

Moreover, Pencho Slaveykov (1866 - 1912) is presented on the front side of the 50 Levs banknote, whose contribution to the convergence of Bulgarian to world letters make this poet, columnist, translator and literary critic on of Bulgaria's most enduring literary classics. His character and writings left a powerful and enduring impression on Bulgarian intellectual development, while the major theme of the banknote's reverse side are Slaveykov's poems: the national epic "A Song of Blood", and a set of plates from his anthology "Epic Songs”.

Besides, on the 100 Levs banknote is presented the image of the writer Aleko Konstantinov, while the back side features items from the life and works of Aleko Konstantinov.    Likewise, on the 200 Levs banknote Ivan Vazov is portrayed. Vazov belonged to the Bulgarian cultural elite and his treatises were characterised by patriotism and love about the simple, poor, Bulgarians who lived on the countryside. Continuing the heroical portraits of Bulgarian persons, the Bulgarian state has put on the 1000 Levs banknote the face of Vladimir Leva, one of the leaders of the Bulgarian struggle for freedom and independence against the Ottoman Turks.

However, as in every other balkanian country, the military symbols can not be absent from the Bulgarian banknotes. So, on the banknotes of 50 and 20 Leva a lion with a crown is presented, like the lions on the Bulgarian coat of Arms. The Coat of Arms of the Republic of Bulgaria is a state symbol of the sovereignty and independence of the Bulgarian people and state. The Coat of Arms is a crowned rampant golden lion on a dark red background with the shape of a shield. Above the shield there is a crown modelled after the crowns of the kings of the Second Bulgarian kingdom, with five crosses and an additional cross on top. Two crowned rampant golden lions hold the shield from both sides, facing it. They stand upon two crossed oak branches with acorns. Under the shield, there is a white band lined with the three national colours. The band is placed across the ends of the branches and the phrase "Unity Produces Strength" is inscribed on it.  The present Coat of Arms was adopted by the National Assembly on July 31, 1997, following almost a decade of bitter acrimony over the new symbol. The end result is similar to the ceremonial form of the 1930-46 coat of arms, though much less ornamental and more stylized. If interested in the heraldry of the Bulgarian Coat of Arms, this site traces its development from the end of the 14th century to the present.







Turkish Banknotes


The examination of ten Turkish banknotes led us to the inference that the ethno-centric and nationalistic feeling is very dominant to the Turkish social and political life and that is obvious from the immoderate bringing out of the “mythical” founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”. On the sample of our investigation   the face of Kemal is presented on all of them.  It has to be mentioned that Kemal besides his thesis as the founder of the modern Turkish state, he was also the person that envisaged of a more Europeanised Turkey, and struggled for a homogenous national identity for the Turkish people based  on all the crucial foundations of the Western modern nation-states, such as common language, religion and history. On the other hand Turkish government through its banknotes, wants to show and one more western face in her attempt to become a member of the European family of E.U.

So on the 1 Lira banknote (version 2005), besides the portrait of Ataturk which is represented in every Turkish official currency, we can see a gravure of the dam made on the Euphrates river close to the cities of Sanliurfa and Adiyaman. This project which called the “Ataturk Dam” is one of the world’s largest earth and rock fill dams and is represented on the 1 Lira banknote in order to emphasize to the progress the country has made in the fields of and Architecture and mechanics. Furtermore on the 10 Liras banknote is represented the “Piri Reis Map”, which is a famous pre-modern world map created by 16th century Ottoman-Turkish admiral and cartographer Piri Reis , drawn on gazelle skin. The map shows part of the western coasts of Europe and North Africa with reasonable accuracy, and the coast of Brazil is also easily recognizable. Various Atlantic islands including the Azores and Canary Islands are depicted, as is the mythical island of Antillia. The map is noteworthy for its depiction of a southern landmass that some controversially claim is evidence for early awareness of the existence of Antarctica. And that representation as well aims to highlight the history of Turkey on the fields of sciences, and more specifically on geography and astrophysics. Moreover, on the 20 Liras banknote the Turkish government in order to interpose the historical monuments of the country and its acme on the Hellenistic and Roman period choose to represent the Library of Celsus in Ephesus which was built for Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaenaus an completed in AD 135. On the other hand on the 50 Lira banknote we can see the rock formation in the area of Cappadocia, which was shaped before 60 million years and almost 2000 years ago, Christians carved their first churches into these stones. That specific representation probably gives emphasis to the antiquity of the Turkish region, as well as to multicultural past of Minor Asia. Finally, on the 100 Liras banknote is represented the  Ishak Pasha Palace which is a semi-ruined palace and administrative complex located in the Doğubeyazıt district of Ağrı province of Turkey, whose construction was started in 1685 by Colak Abdi Pasha, the bey of Bayazit province and was completed by his grandson Ishak (Isaac) Pasha in 1784. The selection of the exact image probably aims to punctuate the high aesthetic architecture of the Ottoman period and the extravagance characterised that historical period.



F.Y.R.O.M. Official Banknotes

The F.Y.R.O.M. constitutes a peculiar case of Balkan country for two main reasons. Firstly because it was made from dismemberment of Yugoslavia and secondly because it has the shortest history from all the countries that we mentioned above, as it was came into existence on 1945 from General Tito as the Federal Republic of Macedonia. That particular “lack” of national history is more than obvious on the symbolisms used by the government on the official national banknotes that made their appearance for first time not earlier than 1992. Such the majority of the themes represented on the banknotes of FYROM are related to nature and religion and on the other hand the historical personalities are totally absent. So on the front side of 10 Denari banknotes we can notice a statue of the Goddess Isida from III century B.C., found  in Ohrid and an earring discovered in Berantsi, Bitola, in a grave dating from the IV century B.C., while on the back side of the banknote we can see a peacock, a detail from the floor mosaic from the baptisteries of the Episcopal Basilica in the ancient city of Stobi from the V-VI century. A.D. The peacock, a bird of paradise, drinking water from the source of life (cantaros) symbolizes the believers craving for the Christian religion, mental peace and tranquillity.

Moreover the government’s effort to give emphasis on the multicultural and multireligional character of the country is more than evident on the images used on some of the banknotes. Therefore, on the 50 and 1000 Denari banknotes correspondingly are presented two of the major symbols of Christianity such as Archangel Gabriel and Virgin Mary, while on the other hand on the 20 Denari banknote we can observe a Turkish bath on the one side and a Muscleman mosque on the other. Analytically, on the 50 Denari banknotes is presented Archangel Gabriel from the scene of the Annunciation on the east wall of the church of St.Ghiorghi in Kurbinovo on the Lake Prespa. The church dates from 1191. The frescoes were painted by the outstanding artist, Pictor I and on the 1000 Denari banknotes we observe   an icon with the Madonna Episkepsisfrom the church of St.Vrachi-Mali, Ohrid, early XIV century The Icon of the Madonna Episkepsis is depicted in its true dimensions, with an image of the Christ Child in the right. The presence of tow angeles in the upper corners of the icon symbolize the depiction of the Sorrowful Virgin. On the back side of the 1000 Denari banknote is presented a detail from the church of "St. Sofia" in Ohrid, built in X-XI centuries.  Moreover, on the front view of the 100 Denari banknotes is depicted a ceiling rosette in deep relief in Albanian town house in Debar, whereas on the back side we can see an engraving of Skopje made by a Holland printer Jacobus Harevin in 1594. In addition, on the front side of the 500 Denari banknote is presented a  death mask, found in Trebenista made of fine gold tin and was discovered in nobelmen`s gravers dating from the VI century B.C, while on the back side of the banknote is represented a Poppy, a flower that was introduced to land of FYROM in 1835.  Finally, on the front view of the 5000 Denari banknote we can identify the Tetovo Maenad of the VI century B.C. The Tetovo Maenad is a bronze figurine, an archeological discovery, unearthed in a rich grave discovered in Tetovo and constructed in the last decades of VI century B.C. The figurine represents a character playing and dancing with her partner, a satire, in honour of the cult of the god Dionysos. It represents the artistic expression of the beginnings of the ancient era in FYROM. On the reverse view of that particular banknote we can see a mosaic representing Cerberus tied to fig tree,  of theVI century. This mosaic taken from the floor of the Nartex in the Great Basilica in Heraklea represents the Christian Universe. The landscape is depicted by trees laden with fruit, around which birds are flying and between which are animals and bushes in flower. Cerberus the Dog is tied to the fig tree, representing the watcher of Heaven.

Concluding, remarkable is the fact that in none of the banknotes of  FYROM is a nationalistic symbol presented, as it happens on the banknotes of all the other Balkan countries that we investigated.






We analyze the visual data – the banknotes as an indirect document for the social and economical life of the nation-country we examine. In the level of categorizing the icons we remark

a)      the variety of historic periods (ancient, medieval, modern)

b)       the section in the communist/post communist period regarding to the choice of symbols that are changed and are orientated to the religious icons and historic objects

c)      the emphasis on the 19th century accords well with the numerous arguments that have been proposed concerning this critical period in the shaping of European national identities (Hooson, 1994).

Moreover, it is salient once again to emphasise the extraordinary significance of banknotes in the creation of the new identities of states in Eastern Europe. The replacement of their command economies with so-called free-market liberal democracies has been fundamentally based on the establishment of new economic and monetary systems. These in turn have required the creation of new financial instruments of exchange in the form of paper money. Such banknotes, though, provide means through which identity is not only produced, but is also daily reproduced as this money is exchanged from hand to hand.

It is a means through which individuals constantly re-establish and reassert their alliance to a particular identity. Moreover, these new banknotes also provide a crucial insight for foreigners into the national identity of the countries that they visit. Paper money is therefore not only a way of reinforcing internal cohesion and identity, but it is also a way of depicting that identity to the outside world in a very tangible, and often beautiful, form (Unwin & Hewitt, 2001, 1026).

In the iconographic level we remark that the field of nationalism is dominated in most banknotes besides Fyrom’s. The men-heroes-governors and the men writers, poets, painters have been preferred. Nevertheless in the communist period the working groups including the women workers have been chosen in the level of socialistic symbols.

Reading the banknotes as a semiotic text we classify them as a) the icons of the sacred and supernatural, the symbols for the religion’s history regarding to ancient as well as to modern period, b) the icons for the power and the protest in the portraits of fighters, governors, rebellions, politicians as well as in the coat of arms, in the motto-logo which represents stereotypes of power and locality, c) the icons for the historic and the natural landscape in the scenes of monuments, rivers, d) the aspects of social life in the portraits of women and children as well as in the composition with workers and productions.

According to the model of Gunther Kress & Theo van Leeuwen we can classify the banknotes in the level of social semiotics: that means we are interesting for the social context in which these banknotes have been chosen and established. In this orientation we focus on the historic and the politic circumstances and we remark the different symbols in the post-communist period for some countries (Bulgaria, Albany) as well as the different symbols in the European Union (Greece) when we had to change the national banknotes for the European one.

In this level we can apply the model of Gunther Kress (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996, 122)[1] for the “icon’s action and the gaze”. We notice that most persons in the portraits are looking face to face to the receiver which means the demand of the sender, but in the compositions with many people or in the natural scenery we notice the indirect gaze, as the offer of the senders.

     Modality refers to the reality status accorded to or claimed by a sign, text or genre. More formally, Robert Hodge and Gunther Kress declare that 'modality refers to the status, authority and reliability of a message, to its ontological status, or to its value as truth or fact' (Hodge & Kress 1988, 124). In making sense of a text, its interpreters make 'modality judgements' about it, drawing on their knowledge of the world and of the medium. A modality marker is a marker representing one facet of the naturalistic modality of an image. Together, these modality markers represent the important aspects of an images naturalistic modality.

In the specific sample we can focus on a) colour saturation, the amount of colours used in an image, from full colour to the absence of colour- in the banknotes the earths colours are dominated as well as the warm colours- b) Representation: the degree of abstraction, from maximum abstraction to maximum representation of pictorial detail, in the banknotes we remark the pictorial detail.

Each of the modality markers can be represented as a scale from zero visual modality, to full visual modality. Taken together, the modality markers determine an image’s modality configuration – how close a given visual query is to the real world objects they represent.

            In the sample that we analyse we find a high modality since the relevance with natural, social and historic reality is also high. We can also notice that the banknotes are a multimodal text since we can see the icons-symbols as well as we can read the numbers and the words that combine the composition. In this level we can “read” the information about the elements in the left, which means the data-familiar and the elements in the right which means the new message. As to the vertical axis for the position (up-down) we can notice the information for the ideal/important symbol (up) and the practical, terrestrial (down) as well as the meaning of the central position (in the ancient/old representations) and the marginal position where the depended elements-objects are posted.

The type of analysis we promote is relevant to visual literacy and stresses two important points of intersection: active perception and diversity of sign systems. We argue that an educational program with a semiotic framework would change its focus from content to process, and that a visual literacy component would enhance learning social history across modalities, fulfilling a political and social responsibility to students.







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[1] In relation to viewer-text relations of looking, Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen make a basic distinction between an ‘offer’ and a ‘demand’: an indirect address which represents an offer in which the viewer is an invisible onlooker and the depicted person is the object of the look - here those depicted either do not know that they are being looked at (as in surveillance video), or act as if they do not know (as in feature films, television drama and television interviews); and a gaze of direct address which represents a demand for the viewer (as the object of the look) to enter into a parasocial relationship with the depicted person - with the type of relationship indicated by a facial expression or some other means (this form of address is the norm for television newsreaders and portraits and is common in advertisements and posed magazine photographs: Kress & van Leeuwen 1996, 122.