The Relations Between Macedonia and Greece: The Name Dispute

By Jim Thomev

April 2008

Melbourne, Australia

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How many different ways are there of defining the problem?

It is the height of absurdity to speak of a “debate” or a “negotiation” or “reaching a compromise” in a dispute when Greece has a position premised on the non-existence of the ethnic Macedonian identity.

It is not really about a difference of opinion or even a different interpretation of history, ancient or modern – that is just a pretext. It is really about an assertion of power of a stronger group over another. The pretence of “a civilised exchange of opinions” collapses when one realises that Greece does not want anything less than a surrender by the Macedonians of their ethnic self-identification.

By conceding to “negotiate” the issue at all, the Macedonians are revealing their vulnerability – an indication of the disparity in the relative power and prestige of the two countries. Greece is a bigger and far more prosperous country, and a member of the EU and NATO.

The argument that the Republic of Macedonia poses a security threat to Greece because of its self-chosen name is just ridiculous. If the smaller struggling nation did pose a serious threat, how would Greece, in coercing Macedonia to accept a name change, make the problem go away? Clearly, logic and reality are one thing, power politics another…

It would be interesting to know how the so-called "negotiations" over Macedonia's name are conducted. What do the Macedonians say to the Greek delegation for instance about the fact that there are people in Greece, Albania and Bulgaria who self-identify as ethnically Macedonian?

One can only assume there is really no “debate” or “dialogue”, just communiqués fired from the Greeks at the Macedonians about what they want them to do to satisfy Greece’s demands. In the Republic of Macedonia the vast majority of citizens do not want their nation to change its name. Given its commitment to democracy, why doesn’t Greece respect the democratic will of the people in the sovereign nation next door?

The fact that Greece has arrogated to itself the right to determine the name of another country is testimony to their sheer brazenness and arguably more successful PR exercises. About 120 nations have already recognised the Macedonia by its constitutional name - Republic of Macedonia - whereas the United Nations and the EU stick to the insulting “Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia” or FYROM.

In their bid to have their rights respected, Macedonians should focus on the abuses and injustices carried out by Greece during the past 100 years against their people. If the so-called negotiations are to be resumed, the Macedonians should begin by questioning the very terms of the debate: they should reject Greece's assumption that it has a right to prohibit another group to freely self-identify. In other words, they should question the very foundation of the so-called dispute. The very idea that Macedonian self-identification can be challenged or negotiated at all should be repudiated unequivocally.

It would be more appropriate for the Macedonians to go on the offensive. They should confront the Greeks with the ongoing human rights abuses of the Macedonians within their borders (and beyond). The existence of the peaceful human rights movement for the Macedonian minority in Greece led by the Vinozhito – Rainbow Party should be invoked.

The whole thrust of Greece’s propaganda has been and still is a denial of Macedonian ethnicity, with use of constant derogatory epithets, for example when Macedonians defend themselves the Greeks cry foul calling them “provocative Skopjan trouble-makers.” In fact, Greece refuses to use the term Macedonian for the Macedonians, rather it uses the term offensive term “Skopjani”. Because Greece asserts there’s no Macedonian ethnic identity, Greeks seem to think that it justifies their persecution of those who call themselves Macedonian. Does it make it right to discriminate against, insult, lock up or beat up, or otherwise abuse and violate the human rights of a people whose ethnicity Greece refuses to recognise? Is this a good reason to make people suffer? Why does the UN and EU not call Greece to task over the issue of its treatment of minorities? The official position of Greece that it has no ethnic minorities is anomalous, and particularly so for an EU nation.

In terms of influencing politicians at all levels, the Greeks have made much of their historical capital and whatever power they wield in the countries to which they have emigrated. Their aim is to perpetuate the illusion that Greece is ethnically homogeneous and has been so since ancient days. This is pseudo history: it totally ignores the developments and changes on the Balkan peninsula, particularly the fact that there is a large group of people who self-identify as ethnic Macedonian. The present Minister for Foreign Affairs of Macedonia, Antonio Milososki has the right perspective - Greece’s arguments based on ancient history are irrelevant.

The Macedonian cause would be well served if their position is articulated at every level of officialdom with appropriate information in language that is clear and objective. If someone can only give you few minutes of their time, there is really no point in giving them a history book about the Macedonians.

I would suggest the attached briefing note on the issue of why the Greeks object to the Republic of Macedonia’s constitutional name could act as a model. Effective communication is a complex process and the strategies need to vary according to circumstances. Much of the writing on Macedonian issues by Macedonians tends to assume that the reader will be as excited or emotional as they are themselves.

Having said all the above, I must say that I would respect whatever the elected leadership of the Republic of Macedonia decide for the nation on the name issue. However, any name change, given that it involves a supreme violation of the will of the Macedonian people by the Greek neighbour, would be appalling. But as I am not a citizen of the Republic of Macedonia, I cannot presume to tell the people there what they should or should not do about this particular problem. It is the Macedonians who live there that must decide.


Date: 8 April 2008

Subject: Objection to the name Republic of Macedonia


1. To advise you about Greece's objection to the name Republic of Macedonia.


2. Macedonia was the last part of Europe from which the Ottoman Empire was expelled. Macedonia and its inhabitants was divided between the neighbouring countries of Greece, Bulgaria and what was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

3. There are millions of people who live in Macedonia and beyond who self identify as ethnic Macedonian and speak the language that is recognised throughout the world as Macedonian.

4. Following the disintegration of Communist Yugoslavia circa 1990, the people in the former Yugoslav state of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia gained independence and called their new country the Republic of Macedonia.


5. Greece has never recognised the people who self-identify as Macedonian and has practised a relentless policy of hellenization in the part of Macedonia incorporated into Greece. This has included the practice of hellenizing names of Macedonian people and places, banning the Macedonian language and resettling large numbers of ethnic Greeks into Macedonia which is part of Greece.

6. Greece has endeavoured to obfuscate the denial of human rights to Macedonians within its borders by falsely asserting that the entire population in that part of the territory of Macedonia incorporated into Greece were and are Greek.

7. Greece does not wish to acknowledge the existence of a Macedonian people because if it did, it would be an admission of its maltreatment of them, now and in the past, with a consequent requirement for reparation.

8. Greece's internal policy of non-recognition of a Macedonian minority within its borders also extends outwards to the non-recognition of a Macedonian people anywhere in the world.

9. Greece has used its influence and power to negate the existence of a Macedonian people by implementing various strategies to try to force the Macedonian people in the Republic of Macedonia to change the name of their country.


10. That Greece's actions of:

· the maltreatment and denial of basic human rights of the Macedonian minority living within its borders, (as well as the total denial of the notion of ethnic minorities per se) and

· the discrimination and harassment of its neighbouring people, the Macedonians, who live in the Republic of Macedonia through spreading of propaganda, economic boycotting of the land-locked Republic Macedonia, and use of its veto powers to prevent its admission into NATO and the EU

should be publicized for what it is; that is, an attempt by Greece to negate the existence of a Macedonian people anywhere in the world so that it will never have to be accountable for the maltreatment of Macedonians within its borders.