After a twenty five year long dispute that has blocked its entry to NATO and the European Union, the Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia or FYROM as it is more commonly known as seems determined to end the row with Greece over its name. Christos Mouzeviris is asking why can there not be a shared heritage and history rather than a fight for who owns what.
The quarrel between Skopje and Athens dates back to FYR Macedonia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and has poisoned neighbourly relations. From the outset, Greece denied its neighbour the right to use the name Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek region. Greeks have cited concerns about historical appropriation — both sides, for example, claim Alexander the Great as their own — and that the name Macedonia implies a broader territorial claim.
A new approach
In June, the new Social Democratic Prime Minister Zoran Zaev seemed to relax the line of his nationalist predecessors, in order to find a solution. Hopefully both governments will cooperate. As a member of both NATO and the European Union, Athens has vetoed Macedonia’s attempts to join both blocs, but a calendar of bilateral meetings is now in place to try to resolve the dispute. (France 24)
It is sad to see how long this issue has been dragging on, mainly because both sides have failed to see each other’s point of view. But the Balkan region is not like the rest of Europe. It is still evolving and changing as a society, an economy, demographics, politics and even borders up until recently.
After the collapse of Yugoslavia, six new states emerged on European soil and as it was expected, a surge of nationalism exploded in the region that was already recovering from too many wars in the past, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
The Balkan peninsula was always inhabited by a mosaic of ethnic groups, yet with every change of borders carnage ensured, in an effort to establish new nation states. So when Yugoslavia was dissolved, all the six new countries were seeking a sense of identity via history or nationalism to establish for themselves.
A over-complicated issue of nationalism
FYROM sought to create an identity, that sadly infringed some of its neighbours’ past and own nationalistic views. It found itself at odds with both Greece and Bulgaria over its name, language, history and heritage. The dispute with Greece is the most famous and one of the many obstacles it faces to join the EU. But it is a sad occurrence.The name should not have been the issue from the beginning. For starters the Greek side is wrong to monopolise the name.
Macedonia is a region of Europe today. And like many other regions which were Greek in antiquity, yet they now belong to another nation have kept their name, so can “Macedonia”. We do not object to the use of Sicily, Nice, Marseille, Odessa, Alexandria etc, all Greek cities and toponyms originally. So why are we Greeks so unnerved about accepting this reality?
On the other hand, the “Macedonian” side is totally delusional and wrong to appropriate Greek heritage as its own. Ancient Macedonia was a Greek kingdom and so historically speaking its heritage remains with Greece. If they want to link themselves to this kingdom, then they would have to acknowledge their Greek heritage and not try to falsify history.
In Ireland where I reside, everybody claims to have Celtic heritage, but if we truly dig deeper, it is obvious that the country has Viking heritage as well, since half of the country was colonised by them. Although there are plenty of landmarks, museums and exhibitions that commemorate their Viking heritage, no Irish person claims that they are the true Vikings, while the people in Scandinavia the perpetrators. Something that FYR Macedonians are claiming about Greece and their Greek heritage through ancient Macedonia. By claiming that they are the only true descendants of the ancient kingdom, they intentionally or unintentionally falsify history to satisfy their need for an identity. It is simply wrong and not a good practice, if you want to be allied to a country that you claim its heritage.
So if the two sides must reconcile, then the Greek side must abandon their claim on the sole use of the term “Macedonia” just because it is a Greek word and kingdom, and FYR Macedonians must abandon their ridiculous claims on Greek heritage and history.
It’s all our history
They are welcome to link themselves to ancient Macedonia, if they, just like many people around Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Black Sea, acknowledge their Greek heritage and commemorate it just as the Irish commemorate their Viking heritage. By erecting monuments that celebrate the diversity of their heritage, without appropriating it all as solely their own.
You do not hear of any southern Italian saying that they are the true descendants of Ancient Greece and modern Greeks the impostors. They celebrate their Greek heritage and accept it as part of their culture. Ancient Macedonia as a kingdom and Alexander the Great were Greek, and they spread Greek culture and language all the way to India, establishing Hellenistic kingdoms, not “Macedonian”. So why do we have to even debate on that still with our neighbours?
We can share both the name and the heritage just as long as we keep historic facts and respect each other’s history. It will be a huge leap forward for all Balkans, if its inhabitants learned to speak about their shared heritage, which is Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Slavic, rather than fight over who achieved what first, or which region was whose originally.
This infighting and hatred, together with high levels of corruption is what keeps the region divided, a backward place and among Europe’s poorer and least developed regions. Personally, I would be happy to settle for a name like Republic of Vardar Macedonia, or Vardaska Macedonia. Just so the world knows that there is another Macedonian region in Europe, that is located in northern Greece and is inhabited by Greek folk and it is my home country.
The European region of Macedonia has today diverse cultures and peoples. Greek Macedonians (Greece), Slav Macedonians (FYROM + a part of Bulgaria) and Albanians of Macedonia ( FYROM). There is not just one nation or ethnic group to claim the name, or create a state and a false history around its name.
Once the people of the area realise that by leaving petty nationalism behind, the Balkans can finally achieve their full potential. They are located in a very geostrategic part of Europe and if they achieve unity and greater collaboration-through EU membership- they could potentially become a very prosperous and competitive European region.