Understanding the Macedonian Name Dispute and its importance to the United States
by Ioannis Fidanakis
President of Pan Thracian Union of America â€œOrpheusâ€.
Itâ€™s been 19 years since a small former republic of Yugoslavia declared independence and attempted to hijack the history, identity and name of the ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedonia. Originally known as Vardar Banovina, the region was renamed by Josip Broz Tito in the aftermath of the Second World War. The name chosen by Tito was the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, an ideal chose as it allowed him to promote the concept of an oppressed â€˜Macedonian ethnicityâ€™, in which he could develop the idea of reunification of the greater geographic region in hopes of gaining access to the Aegean Sea, through the Greek port city of Thessaloniki. With the fall of the former Yugoslavia the republic was admitted into the United Nations under the provisional name, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Much has changed since this disagreement between Greece and FYROM began in 1991. The world is a much different place now, and despite a world economic crisis Athens and Skopje continue to fight over the word â€˜Macedoniaâ€™.
Most Americans are ignorant of the name dispute and those that have some type of understanding find it ridiculous to fight over a name. Their inability to understand the Greek position is the failure of Greek America to properly explain their concerns to the average American. It is with this said, that a new campaign has been launched hoping to educate and bring attention to the Greek position concerning the name dispute. Focused on....
rejuvenating the Greek side within Greece, the new campaign has been organized by the world wide Pan-Macedonian Associations based throughout the Greek Diaspora. The campaign hopes to bring attention to the injustices being committed against the historical and cultural identity of 2.5 million ethnic Greeks who live in the Greek province of Macedonia and maintain a centuryâ€™s long Macedonian identity.
The violations, in which these Macedonians wish to bring attention to, is FYROMâ€™s insistence on de-Hellenizing the Macedonian identity and using it to describe a new Slavic ethnicity with no historical connect to the ancient Macedonians. It is this attempt to exclusively use the word â€˜Macedoniaâ€™ to identify their multiethnic state, which has upset Greece and its 2.5 million real Macedonians. Campaign organizers claim in their mission statement that;
â€˜There is no doubt that the exclusive use of the name â€˜Macedoniaâ€™, primarily adopted by the FYROM Slavs and their promotions as â€˜ethnic Macedoniansâ€™ is a stimulus for expansionist claims by FYROM and its Diaspora. Claims to â€˜their right to self-identificationâ€™ are unjustified and violate our rights. We therefore strongly object that a Slavic nation, north of Greece, can use the name â€˜Macedonianâ€™ to identity its citizens, a term that forms part of Greeceâ€™s history and culture for thousands of years. Recognition of a â€˜Macedonianâ€™ ethnicity, clearly and without a doubt, would claim anything Macedonian, including history, culture and even land, destabilizing among others the entire regionâ€™ (www.macedoniaontheweb.eu).
In trying to understand the concerns of the 2.5 million real Macedonians living in Greece one must become familiar with the main four concerns ethnic Greeks have with FYROM and its Slavic pretenders to the Macedonian identity. The first is based around historical concerns dealing with the actual history of ancient Macedonia and its legacy in the culture and history of Greece. It is the belief of ethnic Greeks living in the province of Macedonia and the numerous Pan-Macedonian Associations throughout the Greek Diaspora that FYROMâ€™s attempt to use the name â€˜Macedonianâ€™ to describe its citizens is a direct attempt to construct a continuity between them and the ancient Macedonians. A concern that is justified by FYROMâ€™s continued use of the ancient Pan-Hellenic symbol known as the Vergina sun on flags used in FYROM and throughout its Diaspora, the renaming of Skopjeâ€™s National Airport to â€˜Alexander the Great Airportâ€™ and news reports about plans to construct an eight-story high statue of Alexander the Great in the center of the countryâ€™s capital city of Skopje. These are just a taste of some of the historical revisionist attempts to steal the history of ancient Macedonia from Greece.
The second major concern focuses on territorial claims by FYROM against Greece, which date back to the time of the Second World War. Concerns that were once shared by US diplomats in 1944. It is the opinion of Greece that FYROM has territorial ambitions to annex the Greek province of Macedonia and move its capital from Skopje to the Greek city of Thessaloniki. Evidence justifying Greek concerns can be found in schoolbooks and official government publications in FYROM, which show not only the Greek province of Macedonia as part of a Greater FYROM, but also parts of Bulgaria. As recent as 2008, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni complained when a photograph appeared with FYROMâ€™s current Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski standing next to a map of â€˜Greater FYROMâ€™.
The next issue revolves around the argument of Self-determination. No one can argue that the people of FYROM do not have the right to exist as a free and independent nation; however, do they have the right to impose upon themselves an identity, which has been in use by ethnic Greeks for centuries? Is FYROMâ€™s use of this identity not an act of plagiarism and identity theft in an attempt to justify their own nationâ€™s existence? Finally the last concern and issue of the Name Dispute revolves around the identification of the national language of FYROM as â€˜Macedonianâ€™. Until now the idea of a Macedonian â€˜languageâ€™ has only been used to identify the ancient Macedonian dialect, which was closely related to ancient Doric and/or Aeolic Greek, and has also been applied to the present-day Greek dialect spoken by ethnic Greeks in the province of Macedonia. And yet it has been FYROMâ€™s mission to use the term to identify their national language, which is seen by many as a dialect of the Bulgarian language. Is it historically accurate to use the term â€˜Macedonianâ€™ to identify a language that does not decent from the actual ancient Macedonian language and instead comes from a completely different branch of the Indo-European language family?
With this said, one can now take an honest look at the recent developments and ongoing stalemate between Athens and Skopje over the use of the word â€˜Macedoniaâ€™. Throughout the years various names have been proposed such as â€˜New Macedoniaâ€™, â€˜Slavo-Macedoniaâ€™, â€˜Vardar Republicâ€™, and â€˜Republic of Skopjeâ€™, to name just a few, however, none have been warmly accepted by both sides. In hopes of promoting peace and stability in the region, only Greece has slowly revised its position, showing its willingness to find a solution and end the conflict. While FYROM has instead allowed a Nationalistic and Racist political party to take control of its government and harden its ridiculous revisionist stance on the name issue. FYROMâ€™s current government has created an atmosphere in which academics, journalists, and politicians who dare to speak of compromise receive death threats.
The Importance of the Name issue to American Interests in the region
American interests in this region are much different then those of Athens or Skopje. They are not interested in the historical accuracy of FYROMâ€™s name or possibilities of cultural and historical identity theft. For the United States all that matters is regional stability and FYROMâ€™s full integration into the NATO alliance and the European Community, interests vital to the United States which have been stalled by the name dispute and almost lost completely due to an Albanian insurrection in 2001. It was this armed conflict between the National Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Kosovo Liberation Army and FYROM security forces that exposed the serious risk instability that threatens FYROMâ€™s very existence.
This brief Albanian insurgency officially began in January 2001 with attacks on FYROM security forces along the border with United Nations occupied Kosovo. It followed a similar pattern to the Albanian uprising in Kosovo and was led by former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. The insurgency lasted several months and finally ended with the signing of the Ohrid Agreement, a peace deal signed by the government of FYROM and Albanian representatives on August 13, 2001. Under the agreement FYROM was officially altered, its government adopting a new model of decentralization and Albanian becoming its second official language.
As a result the United States went ahead and recognized FYROM as the â€˜Republic of Macedoniaâ€™ on November 4th, 2004, claiming that is was done in support of FYROMâ€™s decision to honor the Ohrid agreement. However, it seems odd that if the United States wished to promote a multi-ethnic democracy within the borders of FYROM, why would choose to recognize a name the makes FYROM a nation-state of one particular ethnicity rather then supporting a name the best describes the new decentralized states multi-ethnic identity? The American decision to recognize FYROM as â€˜Macedoniaâ€™, came only days before a reported settlement was to be announced ending the name dispute, as a result the Bush Administrationâ€™s recognition of FYROM as â€˜Macedoniaâ€™, radicalized FYROMâ€™s government and harden their position making it almost impossible to find a solution with Greece over the name dispute.
During the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest FYROM failed to receive an invitation to join the alliance due to its failure to resolve the name dispute. This non-invitation hurts American interests in the region and is solely due to FYROM failure to negotiate with NATO member Greece. Rather then seeking a compromise FYROM has instead waged an unforgivable smear campaign against an American ally, circulating irredentist maps claiming Greek territory and allowing a poster to be displayed in Skopje altering the Greek flag to display a swastika in place of the white cross found on the Greek national flag. In the end the Greek position was supported by such countries as France and Spain, as well as by Italy, Portugal, Luxembourg, Iceland, Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia and the Netherlands.
In response to the FYROMâ€™s non-invitation, ethnic Albanians issued a warning in 2009 claiming that their â€˜patience was wearing thinâ€™ over FYROMâ€™s failure to come to a solution with Greece, hence preventing the countryâ€™s acceptance into NATO and the EU. This statement was covered by an article published in 2009 by the Serbian news agency B92 entitled â€˜FYROM: Albanians â€˜warningâ€™ over name disputeâ€™. A similar news report surfaced later that very year by the FOCUS News Agency. FYROMâ€™s inability to come to a solution with Greece over the use of the word â€˜Macedoniaâ€™ is slowly starting to eat away at the fragile peace between Slavs and Albanians within its borders. Signs of renewed violence have begun to appear with illegal weapons and uniforms bearing KLA insignias being found this past April near the border with Serbia. A month later 4 ethnic Albanians wearing uniforms with KLA insigniaâ€™s were killed by FYROM police. Time is running out for FYROM and American interests are at risk. If ethnic Albanians renew their armed struggle, the fragile stability which has been held since the signing of the Ohrid agreement could be lost.
What is needed now is for America to reverse the Bush Administrations ill-advised recognition of FYROM as â€˜Macedoniaâ€™, which would force FYROM to come to a compromise with Greece before another Albanian insurgency begins which could destabilize the entire region and further hurt American interests. The only clear solution to the name dispute is FYROMâ€™s adoption of a name that best identifies its multi-ethnic identity. However, if the government of FYROM is hell-bent on adopting a historical name for their new state there are two opinions that have seemingly gone unnoticed by Greece and FYROM as names that would give the newly found state the historical identity they are searching for. The first being a name connected to the short lived Kingdom of Prilep. The capital of which was located within present-day borders of FYROM. By adopting the name â€˜Republic of Prilepâ€™, FYROM can legitimately produce continuity between their new republic and a 14th century Kingdom. The next opinion is a name based on the Byzantine term of the first Slavic settlements in the region, which were independent from the Empire. By adopting a name like the â€˜Republic of Sklaviniaâ€™, FYROM is able to adopt not only a historical regional identity, but actually an identity that makes them the father of all Slavic nations in the Balkans, seeing that the term is derived from the word â€˜Sclaveniâ€™, which described all Southern Slavs, which eventually became the Serbian, Bulgarian and Croatian nations.