The Relations Between Macedonia and Greece: The Name Dispute
By Jim Thomev
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 Greeces 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 doesnt
Greece respect the democratic will of the people in the sovereign nation
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 Greeces 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
theres 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 - Greeces 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 Macedonias 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.
BRIEFING NOTE ON GREECE'S OBJECTION TO THE NAME
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
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
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
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.