Μαρτίου 16, 2008

Macedonia Dispute is Not About a Name

Filed under: English texts — Takis Michas @ 9:02 μμ


Macedonia Dispute is Not About a Name 

Even if the two countries agree on a compromise title for the former Yugoslav republic, their disputes will not be solved. 

By Takis Michas in Athens  

There is little doubt that a large part of the Greek population, especially in northern Greece, feels sincerely threatened by what it perceives as “irredentism” on the part of the Skopje government.  Recent actions, such as the decision to rename the airport in Skopje after Alexander the Great, or the circulation in public of maps of “Greater Macedonia”, confirm the fears of many Greeks that the “expansionist” ideology of their neighbour poses a threat to Greece’s territorial integrity.  

While some foreign observers concede that Greek fears are well founded, the majority sees them as ludicrous. Yet, one question is rarely posed: Even if one accepts that Greek fears are justified, how will changing the country’s name remove the grounds upon which those fears are based?

If that is the case, Greece’s policy over the last 20 years, focusing on forcing Skopje to change the country’s constitutional name, makes little sense.

 Let us assume the government in Skopje succumbs to international pressure and accepts the name “Upper Macedonia”. The Greek government, so the story goes, will then welcome “Upper Macedonia” into NATO with open arms. The question, however, is why?  Why should the adoption of a composite name like “Upper Macedonia” make Greeks feel less threatened by their neighbour’s so-called “irredentism”?   Irrespective of which name is adopted, the respective historical discourses on which the two countries base their national identities will not only continue to diverge but will also continue to come into conflict with one another. And it is those discourses – not the name itself – that lie at the heart of the dispute. 

Today, Greece claims that the country is “an artificial creation” of the former Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito. Macedonian historians on the other hand see the creation of a republic within Yugoslavia as the outcome of long historical processes.  Greece does not recognize the existence of even traces of a “Macedonian” ethnic consciousness among the Slav-speaking population of the region during the 18th and 19th centuries. To the north, the exact opposite view is held.  Greece refuses to recognize that the everyday means of communication in its neighbour is a “language”, terming it in all official documents a “spoken idiom” or “dialect”.  Finally, Greece denies any “right of return” to the Slav-speaking Macedonians who fled Greece after the Second World War, claiming they were traitors who forfeited their claims to citizenship. 

Whether this situation will change if the country adopts the name “Upper Macedonia” is doubtful. The Slav Macedonians who left Greece after the War will not suddenly get a welcome mat in Greece. Nor will Greece recognize that the speech people use in Skopje constitutes a “language” rather than an “idiom” because it is now called the “Upper Macedonian language”. Nor should one expect official Greek historiography to suddenly accept that once upon a time groups of people living in Greece developed a “Macedonian” (or should we say “Upper Macedonian”?) ethnic consciousness.   

Put bluntly, all the serious points of contention between the two countries, all the claims and counter-claims, will persist, irrespective as to whether the name of the country changes or not – because the problem between the two countries is not a “name dispute” but a general dispute concerning competing national mythologies, symbols and historical points of reference.  

In other words, it is a conflict that concerns all the items over which people in the Balkans have been happily butchering one another in the distant and the not-so-distant past and will probably continue to do so in the future if the opportunity presents itself and if European Union funds dry up. If this is correct, both Athens and Skopje have committed a tremendous blunder by focusing exclusively on the name issue.  Had the two countries engaged in serious bilateral or multilateral talks during the past ten years on all issues and points of contention, and not simply on the “name”, perhaps they would not find themselves in their current absurd situation – a situation that only confirms international suspicions that the Balkans are after all – the Balkans! 

 Takis Michas is a Greek journalist and author of the book “Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia” (Texas A & M University Press 2002). Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online publication.     

4 Σχόλια »

  1. Thank you Mr. Michas for your objectivity. I feel you are one of not so many Greeks who deal with the real aspects of «the name issue». I am Macedonian from the Republic of Macedonia, I speak Macedonian Language because I learned it from my ancestors, among them my grandmother and my grandfather were teachers of Macedonian pupils on Macedonian language at the beginning of the 20th century, because of what they were forced to save their lives from the Turks by emigrating in Sofia. So they spoke their Macedonian language, and used Bulgarian, Serbian, French and German, as well, but, I grew up with them, in Skopje, and learned about our Macedonian identity. This is a typical story of developing the national identity of Macedonians.
    And, why Greece cannot recognize the existing Macedonian minority in its northern part? They even have their organization and political party, called «Rainbow» (see, they speak Macedonian, and they claim their Macedonian identity. Fortunately, they still live in that part of Greece, as descendants of the broken families that not only fled, but were forcibly sent to exile, not after the World War II, but after the Civil War in Greece.
    But, you are right with regard of «a general dispute concerning competing national mythologies, symbols and historical points of reference», besides there is no irredentist tendencies in that region, so Greece has nothing to fear of. In the opposite, there are countless reasons for both countries to develop and strengthen friendly neighborly relationships based on intensive collaboration and all kinds of exchanges (economic, cultural, human resources, scientific, etc.)
    I feel, the tone of your article is in that direction, so, again, thank you, because, personally, my family and me, we love Greece, and like Greek ordinary people a lot, we like all cultural, and traditional similarities with ourselves, so, along decades, we took every chance to travel to that exciting country among kind people.

    Σχόλιο από Zoran Markovik — Μαρτίου 19, 2008 @ 4:38 μμ | Απάντηση

  2. The reason why the name is important for Greece has to do with the fact that as many as 4.5 million ethnic Greeks worldwide are Macedonians too!

    I was born and I live in Thessaloniki, and both my paternal and maternal families come from the geogrpahical area of Macedonia since time immemorial. We have always been speaking Greek and we have always identified ourselves with the Greek nation.

    We are Greeks but we have a different mindset, and different dialect and a different folk culture than Peloponnesians or Cretans.

    And we are not few.
    Before 1912, as much as 50-55% of the population of geographical Macedonia was Greek, both in what is now Greek Macedonia, as well as in many areas in the FYROM (Bitola, Ohrid, Krusevo, Gevgelija, etc). It is a terrible thing to say that the first Greeks appeared in Macedonia in 1922!

    Unlike other peoples who have lived or are currently living in geogrpahical Macedonia, we are privileged to claim linguistic continuity with antiquity. Our language is not a «national mythology», Mr. Michas, it is a REALITY, a bond with this land that goes way back in time.

    How can we deny our Macedonian-ness?
    How can we betray our history?

    What we ask our friends in the FYROM to do is to simply stop monopolizing the term «Macedonia». You are not the only ones who are entitled to the use of this term. We too are Macedonians, we are Greek Macedonians and proud of it. We have been Greek-Macedonians for centuries before you decided to call yourself «Macedonian». Please respect that.

    Greeks in Cyprus call themselves Greek-Cypriots, because they make space for Turkish-Cypriots. They do not claim to be the «only» Cypriots in the world.

    Why can’t you agree to a similar concession?

    You are Macedonian Slavs, and also, Macedonian Albanians. And we are Macedonian Greeks. Why is it so hard to accept?

    Σχόλιο από Stergios — Απρίλιος 16, 2008 @ 11:22 πμ | Απάντηση

  3. Dear Zoran.

    As for the «Macedonian minority»… how can we recognize a «Macedonian» minority in Greek Macedonia when all Greek Macedonians identify themselves as Macedonians too? To our ears it sounds as if you asked the French to recognize a «French minority» in France!

    Please choose a definition for YOUR Macedonian identity. Call yourselves Slavo-Macedonians, Neo-Macedonians, Anything-you-want-Macedonians, and we will recognize your minority in Greece too.

    And for the records, the Rainbow Party got something like 6,000 votes in the last elections for the European Parliament. That’s 0.05% of Greece’s total population and 0.24% of Greek Macedonia’s total population. Let’s keep things into perspective.

    It would be interesting to see whether the Greek minority of the FYROM will ever enjoy the same rights and privileges that the Rainbow Party enjoys anytime soon:

    Σχόλιο από Stergios — Απρίλιος 16, 2008 @ 11:31 πμ | Απάντηση

  4. I think that if they love Greek history that much, they should be named something after the Greek name for cheese, therefore: TYROM, since heir primary occupations due to povery relies on farming. Monkey-donia is another as their poor looks most likely relates to those cute species.

    Σχόλιο από Vaftistis — Σεπτεμβρίου 8, 2008 @ 5:03 πμ | Απάντηση

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