Monday, December 10, 2007



What’s in a name? That which we call Macedonia, would...

...create an international incident.

When Yugoslavia split back into its constituent parts (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia), Macedonia managed to avoid the bloodshed when most of the rest of the area was asserting its freedom to bomb itself. It did not, however, escape entirely unscathed. As it pulled its name out of the Yugoslavian cloak, it found itself in a different sort of battle with Greece.

There’s a province called Macedonia in northern Greece, which borders the Republic of Macedonia and which covers most of the area that was ancient Macedonia. It’s not as simple as that, though, because the boundaries fluctuated over the centuries, and there were times when both areas were included in an entity called Macedonia. Still, the Greek government claims the rights to the name, and insists that the Republic of Macedonia change its name.

The government of the Republic of Macedonia, of course, has no interest in such a change.

Unfortunately for them, Greece can cause them trouble if they don’t come to an agreement. The UN and NATO both officially call the country the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM), holding back full legitimacy of the country’s name. And with Macedonia wanting to join NATO, Greece has yet more leverage now.

And so, diplomatic negotiations are resuming:

Greece and Macedonia on Wednesday agreed to hold a new round of talks on a festering dispute over Macedonia’s name that threatens to undercut its chances of joining NATO.

The agreement, brokered by Matthew Nimetz, a United Nations special envoy, offered new momentum to stalled negotiations over what Macedonia, the former Yugoslav republic of two million people, should call itself.

“Stability and cooperation in the region is extremely important,” Mr. Nimetz said after an hourlong meeting with Dora Bakoyannis, Greece’s foreign minister. “This is not an issue that cannot be resolved. It cries out for a solution.”


Most countries recognize Macedonia, Greece’s northern neighbor, as the Republic of Macedonia. But Greece has taken the position that using the name implies claims to the Greek province of the same name. Greece, long a NATO member, has also threatened to block Macedonia’s effort to join unless it agrees to change its name.

Once you decipher the odd double negative, you can see that Mr Nimetz thinks he can help them work something out. I’m not sure what it is that they can compromise on (“OK, you use the name in even-numbered years, and we’ll use it in odd-numbered ones....”), but I’m not sure why it’s such a problem!

You don’t see us having a fight with the “Former Soviet Republic of Georgia”. Mexico doesn’t seem miffed about “New Mexico”. And the various countries affected appear to accept or ignore the presence in the U.S. of towns like Berlin, CT; Cairo, NY; Vienna, VA; and Moscow, ID.

I don’t mean to make light of a political situation between two countries, I don’t. But, really: aren’t there more important fights to pick? Lidija, do you want to comment?


Lidija said...

Hah - I was reading the post and thinking... This is the kind of thing people probably want me to comment on, if only I knew what the heck to say... I suppose I can say that this so-called "conflict" is such a perfect example of the kind of thing that can start a bloodshed in the Balkans. A name??? you say incredulously... Yes, a stupid old country name. As if FYROM can pull a new name out of a hat (that, in addition, will not piss off Serbia, Albania, or Bulgaria... Greece is not alone in giving them a hard time...) and as if the puny FYROM will attempt to claim the similarly named northern province of Greece! But, given what's happening in Cyprus, and Kosova/o, Greece can make endless arguments for avoiding that name change. But, people, come on! Someone has to take the leadership in that part of the world on not being stupid! Seems Greece refuses to.

Lidija said...

Oh, and a full disclaimer for those who don't know me. I grew up in Montenegro.

D said...

The Wikipedia piece on this, is quite enlightening. A quote from there: "Greek fears that use of the name "Macedonia" by Slavs will inevitably lead to the assertion of irredentist claims to territory in Greek Macedonia are heightened by fairly recent historical events. During World War II Bulgaria occupied portions of northern Greece, while one of the specific goals of the founders of the People's Republic of Macedonia in 1944 was "the unification of the entire Macedonian nation", to be achieved by "the liberation of the other two segments" of Macedonia."

Lidija said...

Ah, the Balkan illusions of grandeur. I'd take the Wikipedia entries with a bit more than a grain of salt, but even then... if all that is taken into account it is a sorry state of affairs in the EU (and the NATO) if a country is afraid of losing territory on account of something like this.

lidija said...

More insanity on the same topic today on BBC:

Anonymous said...

What a stupid piece. The prolem is not simply Fyrom seeking the name, it illegally made its flag the ancient symbol of Macedon until it was forcibly removed by the UN. They name every school, airport and square after ancient macedonian figures, even their school text books distort history and make aspirations to take what they call aegean macedonia, what the international community call macedonia, Greece./ Their president was recently photographed next to a banner where fyrom claim the greek part of macedonia. Enjoy:

This disgusting behaviour should not be tolerated by Greece or Bulgaria.