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Where is Macedonia?

, by Jacopo Barbati, Traduzione di Francesco Pigozzo

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Don’t say “in the fridge”, I don’t mean macedoine: that’s old wit. The issue is on the contrary very current: Greece does not bear the Republic of Macedonia to carry such a name; in its opinion, the term Macedonia can only refer to a Greek region. But Macedonians would never give up their name.

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Problems

This has already led to problems that shall not be underestimated: Greece opposed the NATO membership for Macedonia, expected for March and put off till next autumn, at least, and raised objections on the accession to the European Union of this little Balkan country. The reaction by most Macedonians was a dangerous open hatred against Greece and Greek people. It’s not difficult to find Macedonian websites, forums and mailing lists inviting to detest Greece and to boycott its products.

An old quarrel

It’s not the first time that Greek obstructionism troubles the Republic of Macedonia. Since 8 September 1991, day the Socialist Republic of Macedonia declared its independence, latent hostilities began. Turkey and Bulgaria were the first countries to formally recognise the new state. It was the beginning of the current problems. Greece compelled the EU to adopt the so-called “Lisbon Declaration”, where the new Republic was actually forbidden to use the name it chose. Its access to the UN was delayed for 20 months because of similar reasons, and was finally accepted (7 April 1993) with the temporary denomination of FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

In 1994 Greece imposed an embargo against Macedonia. Beside the issue surrounding the name, Greece opposed the “Vergina Sun” symbol on the national flag and a clause of the Constitution that foresaw a “support for Macedonian minorities in neighbouring countries”. This embargo of about 18 months cost more than 2 billions dollars to Macedonia. In September 1995, Macedonians were drawn to sign a treaty with Greece within the UN context. The treaty brought a change to the flag and to the contested constitutional clause, leaving the issue surrounding the name unsolved. Today, 120 countries recognise the Republic of Macedonia, accepting the name chosen by the Government of Skopje.

Possible solutions

But why is Greece not willing to accept such a name? The explanation is simple: there are three Greek regions called “Macedonia” (and actually another one in Bulgaria); but, more important, the name “Macedonia” is related to the historical character of Alexander the Great (just like the “Vergina Sun”): historically regarded as a Greek by the Government of Athens. Therefore, Greece wants the Republic of Macedonia to change its name. The Republic of Macedonia is not going to accept the Greek diktat, but it proposed a compromise: two denominations, “Republic of Macedonia” in its relations with other countries and a different name to be used for its relations with Greece. The answer from Greece was negative, and the problem remained unsolved.

… “Macedonia” as the Gordian knot …

The UN were the only international institution to appoint a mediator for this situation, who dealt with it since the end of 1995. During these 12 years of proposals, be they made or received by the mediator, the two parties did not come to an arrangement. The point is that Greek wish to eliminate the term “Macedonia” from the official name of that Republic. They would rather accept a solution like “Macedonian Republic”. Details, yes, but now rejected by Macedonians who, considering it more and more as a matter of principle, cannot understand the reason why they should give up their name. … “Macedonia” as the Gordian knot …

What about the EU?

The most serious aspect of this situation is without any doubt the non-intervention of the EU. Greece is a member state since 1981, and Macedonia is a candidate country, with some problems to solve (e.g. the unemployment rate, about 36% today) but improving. However, the EU has not interveened since the 1992 “Lisbon Declaration”, letting one of its member states to adopt measures that are undoubtedly undemocratic and by no means aim at helping a neighbouring country. And all that for a bureaucratic quarrel. That’s a good proof of Brussels’ power to influence foreign policies of single member states. … Alexander’s fatherland is a divisive rather than a bonding agent…

It is very depressing to see how two historically bound nations, like Greece and Macedonia, manage to fight over nine, harmless letters. Where is Macedonia? Macedonia, the glorious region of our history, the native land of Alexander the Great and much more, used to cross the territories of both nations, as we know them today. Instead of being a bonding agent, this has turned into a divisive element. Reverse logic.

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