Thursday 13 March 2008

The Naming of FYR Macedonia

This entry is posted in response to the Washington Post's editorial: NATO's European Mission

The Yugoslav province of "Macedonia" was created by Josip Broz Tito in 1944-1945. Prior to this, the area was known as Vardarska, as is attested by maps from this time. The Yugoslav "Socialist Republic of Macedonia" was declared in 1946.

This province was re-named partly with the ulterior aim of expanding the Soviet Union's sphere of influence over northern Greece following WWII. The split between leftist and rightist resistance groups to Nazi Occupation in Greece was long-standing, and the struggle for post-war Greece between the Anglo-American powers, led by Britain, and the Soviet Bloc, had already begun.

For the Greek government and its citizens, the issue of the name cannot be separated from the history of claims made by "Macedonian" irridentists to Greek territory and, indeed, culture. There are several maps published in FYR Macedonia showing their territory to include not only within its current borders, but including parts of Greece and Bulgaria.

The engineered attempt to create a cultural identity by claiming kinship with Alexander the Great only serves to exacerbate the territorial issue. The government of FYR Macedonia recently re-named its airport "Alexander the Great." There is a "Pella Square" and reproductions of Hellenistic statues in Skopje. School textbooks purport that the citizens of FYR Macedonia are in some way descendants of Alexander the Great.

There is no archaeological evidence to support such claims. The current language of FYR Macedonia, for instance, is of Slavic-Bulgarian origin. The major sites of Alexander the Great’s kingdom – Pella, Stagira, Aegea, Dion – are defined by their Hellenic and Hellenistic influences and inscriptions in Greek. Alexander the Great spoke Greek and was raised in Hellenic culture: his tutors included Aristotle, his claim to lead the Hellenic city states against Persia was based on this common culture.

The current debate (which extends back to before 1990) therefore does not allow the Greek government or its people to relinquish its culture, history or heritage, and nor should it. While we have no objection to the cultural identity to FYR Macedonia, that government's deliberate attempt to create a new cultural identity by expropriating ours is disconcerting, given all the historical evidence to the contrary, as well as given the territorial claims and past behaviour of that country.

Since this matter arose in the early 1990s, Greece has consistently pushed for a solution which differentiates the legal identities of FYR Macedonia and the Greek province of Macedonia. This is not an unreasonable demand, and stems solely from the insistence of FYR Macedonia (and the ex-Yugoslavia) on expropriating Greek culture and history, and publishing maps showing a “Greater Macedonia.”

Greece has been a member of NATO since 1952 and of the EU since 1981. It is a leading foreign investor and employer in FYR Macedonia, and has supported FYR Macedonia's application to join both institutions, providing a solution to the issue of the name can be found. Greece has, for instance, supported the deployment of NATO troops during FYR Macedonia's ethnic Albanian problems in the late 1990s, and has approved the signing of the pre-accession agreements with the EU.

Membership in both NATO and the EU imply both good relations and the adoption of European values. Yet FYR Macedonia’s recreation of history continues in a hostile manner which would provoke any neighbour.

Its unwillingness to negotiate over a vital issue for Greece – its neighbour and partner – is arrogant and unprecedented. This problem is of the FYR Macedonian government’s own making, and it is up to that government to negotiate a solution acceptable to both sides.

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