No End to Tribalism? The Dispute Around the Copyright on “Macedonia”

No solution in the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece. The latest round of negotiations, which was held in New York this weekend, did not yield any tangible result. The Karamanlis government is now openly putting Macedonia’s adherence to NATO in question  and suggests a Greek veto. At the very least, the Greek side seems to have acknowledged that there is no threat to its territorial integrity coming from Macedonia. A stunning discovery!

I have said it before. It is an absurd fight over an absurd issue. Both sides are to blame for this deadlock, but there are limits to what still can be considered decent, even within a Balkan context. Greece will have to live with the fact that Macedonia is a shared name, with the exception that for the Republic of Macedonia, the name defines nation, region and state. And the three do not coincide. For Greece, Macedonia is just one of many regions, and by the way one, which had been shamefully neglected for decades, until the remote and underdeveloped North of Greece has been revitalised thanks to generous European Union funds and programmes. Far too generous in the beginning to be managed properly, if my memory doesn’t play tricks on me.

By no means is Greece’s existence threatened by the name issue. Macedonia’s may be. And this is where both NATO and the EU have to start taking their commitments seriously. If stability is what we want in the Balkans, this game has to stop. The Macedonian government has shown good will to a certain limit. It is time to speak up and publicly pronounce what could be heard in the couloirs in Brussels for years: that the Greek attitude is at best incomprehensible. It is time to exercise gentle, friendly, but resolute pressure on the Greek government to put an end to this charade. And it is time for the UN to mediate more aggressively.

The issue is not as singular as Athens and Skopje try to portray it. There are other regions, which by the caprices of history ended up being shared by two or more states. Take Moldova, take the Banat. People and peoples in the Balkans have a shared history. A shared history of violence, of population shifts. This is for instance why Salonika is not predominantly Turkish and Jewish today, but Greek. This is why Smyrna is today Turkish Izmir. The list is endless. The creation of the Macedonian state, and the recent adding of an independent Kosovo (not to forget Montenegro) to the equation are just the logical consequences from this history. Here it has to end, though. And Greece bears a great deal of responsibility for making it stop.

If Greece does not realise where its strategic interests lie, it should not be surprised if the next issue on the agenda of Balkan conflicts will be the Epiros region – or Çam to the Albanians.

Tribal reflexes are getting us nowhere in the 21st century. Balkan nations, of which Greece is one, will have to quickly shift their attention to the real issues. To me it is much more exciting and promising that one centre of ultra high-speed computer infrastructure for the European science network GEANT will be the Balkans. Scientific and technological progress is so rapid and its impact on daily life so immediate that this dispute seems like a story from yesteryear, if I were to put it mildly.

For fifteen years I have been hearing that Greece wouldn’t move on this issue because it was a sure recipe for losing elections. In that case, maybe the Russian “guided democracy” is a thing to contemplate: no need for real elections frees your head for tough decisions…

Vision! Come on, where are you hiding?

  1. Kastor said:

    Harald Schenker has no real grasp of the issue at hand, his examples are not relative to his points and he obviously sides with Scopja.
    What this issue means to me.
    I am a Greek Macedonian and I have a nation telling me that I am not a Greek Macedonian and my race never existed as I know it but as they know it.
    Greek Macedonia used the same language for thousands of years untill today.
    Greek Macedonia used the same currency for thousands of years as it does today(untilnn recent change from Drachma to Euro)
    Greek Macedonia is on the same land as it was thousands of years ago as it is today.

    FYROMacedonia Speak a Bulgarian Dialect
    FYROMacedonia live in what was Serbia (15% of it was Ancient Macedonia)
    FYROMacedonia have a new currency
    FYROMacedonias Slavs came to the area 7th Century AD where as Ancient Macedonia is 4000 years old

    Having said this the FYROmians claim to be the Ancient Macedonians and Greece stole and distorted history to make it thiers and Ancient Macedonia had no ties to Greece.

    The rest of the world is not affected by thier subtle theft of Grecian heritage and countries like the US are the provocers of instability by recognising a country that is threatening one of its fellow NATO members without looking at the real issue.

    If the UN realy wanted to solve the issue they would deal with the issue and not the fecade.

    Its theft of antiquity of Greece

  2. Kostas said:

    It is easy to judge from 3000km away reading web news. It is when you get really involved that it gets tough. Don’t misunderstand me but thinking like that may work elsewhere but not in the Balkans and it has actually made the problem worst.
    What I mean is that in early 90`s FYROMians just wanted to be called “Macedonians” as a rally name, as a way to get some identity. Today they claim (and I mean a good proportion maybe up to 30% of them..) that they are decedents of ancient Macedonians (!) that all Slavic languages come from “our ancient Macedonian language” (!) which btw has nothing to do with Greek language (that all ancient Macedonian artifacts have Greek on them is irrelevant). A whole new generation is raised with school books telling them that “there is occupied Macedonian land in Greece” (possibly the terrorists of tomorrow)…
    so this whole issue must be solved before it gets even worst and ends with bombs in another generation. In my opinion: of course they have a right to be called “Macedonians” but only geographically speaking (as it also applies to Greek Macedonians too (like me). They cannot monopolize the name Macedonia and continue claiming more and more from our history and culture as more years pass. A name defining them geographically (e.g.North Macedonia) or ethnologically (e.g Slav-Macedonia) should be applied to distinguish this part of Macedonia (which incidentally is the smaller part as the majority of what geographically is Macedonia is in Greece). People (like you?) who can think where their attitude might lead us should discourage their fanatism and their fantasy scenarios of alternate history and their dreams of a “Greater Macedonia” before it is too late

  3. Harald Schenker said:

    “A country is not only a ‘piece of land’, but a narration about this land…

    The homeland fills out the empty space of the nation in the symbolic structure of society. The homeland is the fantasy structure, the scenario, through which society perceives itself as a homogeneous entity.”
    Renata Salecl

    How can anyone steal something like antiquity from you, when it is not yours? No one possesses history. History is a narration, nothing more. And mythology – aaah, Greek national historiography is just as full of it, as any other. And why shouldn’t it? It is after all the only way to form an ethnic nation – give people something to believe in, put it in school books, show it on TV, etc. We are still far away in Europe from a common perspective on history. But people sit together and talk. Or do you seriously believe that there is a serious threat to Greece coming from a country of barely 2 million people, in which almost every economic asset has at least Greek co-owners? Come on…

  4. Kostas said:

    I agree: “A country is not only a ‘piece of land’, but a narration about this land…”” very well said. The problem is that they took a big part of our narration for theirs… and changed it beyond recognition (and scientific evidence) to suit them. Like I said they teach to their kids that “there is occupied Macedonian land in Greece” (btw take a look at this interesting video And yes 2m people in our border thinking that they deserve part of our land is a problem (btw Greece is 10m so its not that big to ignore 2m). Communists in the past and nationalists at present have misguided them to believe that they are heirs of Macedon, why it is our fault that we are telling them that they are misguided? they even accuse us of stealing their history and they hired “scientists” to prove that Greeks are newcomers (!) in the region from africa claiming we have “african dna” and they have “european” (although not true whats wrong with african DNA anyway???) Aside from stealing history and brewing future trouble, my question is how can they monopolise a name when they have the land minority and people minority of what geographically is Macedonia? I believe in self-determination but like freedom it ends when you tresspass in other people`s freedom…so they cannot claim that they!! Its tragic not comic!

  5. Hello, I often find myself among the minority of moderates in Greece, since I really believe that Slavic Macedonians have a right to exist AS MACEDONIANS, exactly like Greek Macedonians have a right to exist AS MACEDONIANS as well. I have spent long hours wasting my time on-line arguing against extreme views, which unfortunately are quite widespread in Greece. However, THIS time, I found it necessary to criticize the bias of others, outside Greece, such as the “New York Times” newspaper, who insult Greece and lash out in favour of Slavic Macedonian nationalism, denying the right of Greek Macedonians to ALSO exist. Here is my critique of a shamefully biased recent article of the N.Y.T.:

    Greece has changed considerably since the sad nineties, when it was not possible for Greek public opinion to accept “Macedonia” at all, as a part of our Northen neighbour-state’s official name.
    What we negotiate is a peaceful and reasonable solution, which will allow FYROM to be respectfully called something like “New Macedonia”, in order to distinguish it from Greek Macedonia. In this simple, decent request for compromise, with which even the people of FYROM agreed, many years ago (but we were the fanatics at that time), I see no reason for disagreement. Unless of course the new goals of the neo-nationalist Slavic Macedonians include serious threats to the well-being and stability of Greece, in the region. I am not saying FYROM is a military threat, just saying that it can create new problems for non-existent reasons, or play a negative role in the region’s stability, as regards Greece, in the future. For example, if you care to take a look into the new, rather extreme Nationalist Propaganda in Slavic Macedonian schools and popular culture, even music culture, you may be surprised with the FIERCENESS and FANATICISM that it contains, forging history in order to provide a new narration, a historical myth making today’s Slavic Macedonians proud of a (non-existent) Historic Heritage.

    Not only is this extreme nationalism a threat to Greece, it is also a serious threat to Albanian citizens of FYROM, about 35% of its population, who do NOT share a slavic nationalism (deluded to believe itself… more ancient than slavs themselves).

    Long algo, I had proposed a new name for FYROM which will be an accurate description of its ethnic components:
    This is SO easy to implement, just change two letters in FYROM and you get SAROM.

    Since the Greek decision in NATO gave us more time to negotiate, I thinkr this proposal is worth thinking about!

    Thanks for the opportunity to express myself here (the New York Times have denied it).

  6. A.Dimitriou said:

    Let me remind you that the argument that poor small Fyrom does not pose a threat to Greece does not hold water: Small, poor Kossovo
    gave rise to a war that devastated Yugoslavia. Small, poor Lebanon(not all of Lebanon, just one party) caused a war with much stronger Israel. Which means you do not need big countries to create big problems.

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