Books on Macedonia
Update No: 124 - (28/09/07)
Macedonia or FRYOM?
What's in a name. Well in this case a great deal.
The Greeks have long objected to the Macedonians ' desire to call their country
Macedonia, reserving the name for their northern province. Macedonia in ancient
times played a massive role in history. Its royal dynasty unified Greece under
Philip of Macedon and then under his son, Alexander the Great, the greatest
general of all time (he was never beaten, unlike Napoleon). It took Greek
civilisation to unheard-of parts of the world, as far as the Chinese border in
todays Takijistan, as well as to Egypt, Persia and Northern India, creating the
vast Hellenic world, with incalculable consequences for world history. Alexander
has a claim to being one of the most important people of the Ancient World, up
there with Buddha and Christ, Constantine and the First Emperor of Ch'in. It is
natural on that level that the Greeks should cherish his name.
Actually, the dispute is quite silly. In the first place the Greek province of
that name and the former Yugoslav Macedonia were all a part of the larger
Macedonia of King Philip, father of Alexander. There is also the suspicion that
the Greeks have a bad conscience about how their present day province became
Greek only as late as the 20th century, as a part of the war spoils in the last
war of Balkan independence against the Ottomans. Having acquired it, they set
out to 'de-slav' it and to shift part of the slavic population they had
inherited with the land. They certainly 'de-slavd' in terms of their own
culture, like the teaching language in schools, where the slav tongue of the
Balkans was banned.
The over-reaction to the post-Yugoslav 'new guys on the block' calling
themselves Macedonians, extended to the national flag, the present one being a
compromise of what the new nation launched with, which was the banner of the
historical King Philip. It has been suggested that the Greeks were mainly
anxious to stamp on any disaffection in 'their' Macedonia, or yearnings to join
up with the newest version.
HELLENIC - NOT
Any educated Greek knows full well that today's Greeks are not closely descended
from the Ancient Greeks at all, do not share religious or cultural ties with
them and could hardly be more different. Where is the modern Plato or Aristotle,
Euripides or Sophocles, Euclid or Archimedes? The Greeks of today are very
European in fact, heavily descended from the Goths and Slavs and Albanians who
invaded the Balkans more than a millennium and a half a go, or later, on top of
millennia of previous invasions from the north - the same sort of people in
fact, as those in the new Macedonia, and both have undoubtedly a genetic input
from the Ottoman Turks who ruled over them for so many centuries.
Still, playing on the pro-Hellenism of the civilised Western world has stood
them in good stead. It greatly helped them acquire independence from Turkey in
the War of Independence in 1821-31, the moment of Byron and Delacroix's
Missalonghi - and more mundanely that of the Battle of Navarino in 1827, when
the British, French and Russian fleets destroyed the Turkish fleet, clinching
victory for the Greek cause.
Taken to the UN
It is now second nature for the Greeks to take an intransigent stand on this
issue of the name. It is a sort of Pavlovian conditioned reflex, as it is to
demand, with more justice, the return of the Elgin Marbles.
The fact that a Macedonian diplomat presided over a session of the UN General
Assembly has had repercussions here. For he has gone in for a shortening of the
official name used to introduce the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which
is a member of the UN.
Greece's mission to the UN hastily organized a press conference on September
25th to declare as "unacceptable" the General Assembly president's
shortening the name to Macedonia when he introduced the nation's president,
Srgjan Kerim, the president of the 62nd session of the General Assembly, is the
former foreign minister and UN ambassador of the Balkan nation -- a connection
that was not overlooked by Greece. "Mr. Kerim, with his action today, and
acting under instructions from his government, has irreparably damaged for the
duration of his term, his standing and credibility as president of the General
Assembly of the United Nations," Greece's Foreign Ministry said in a
But its all a bit of a yawn for other UN members - and the world generally.
"This unacceptable action of Mr. Kerim reaffirms the provocative and
uncompromising position of the government of Skjope," it said, avoiding
altogether the country's name by referring to the capital.
Ever since the country gained independence after the breakup of the six-member
Yugoslav federation in 1991, Athens has maintained the name Macedonia belongs to
its own Greek province and not to the new republic.
Due to Greek opposition, most international bodies -- including the UN, the EU
and NATO -- use the acronym FYROM, for Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
But the US and many other countries have recognized the country as Macedonia.
Canada became the latest to officially discard the FYROM acronym.
Thoughts for the future
Despite the name dispute, the two neighbouring nations enjoy close political and
trade relations. Greece is the main investor in the country.
The right course for the Macedonians on this vexed issue is to bide their time,
let more and more countries recognise them spontaneously, as is happening. It
can only be a matter of time before boredom with this as an issue, in a world
full of more complicated and grievous disputes solves the problem for them.
Greeks may not see this, but really lovers of their country, amongst whom we
would count ourselves, do not have much sympathy with this as a great, or even
an important cause.
Let more Greek investors come in (potential advocates of their cause), join the
EU (which Greece might block, if they are too precipitate) and then when their
inclusion is a fait accompli ease- in the name change. To mollify the Greeks let
Britain return the Elgin Marbles on that fine day - and France the Venus de Milo
(but that would never happen).