Macedonia: Lost in context
Greece has had a long history. Once the epicenter of civilization, Greece has since struggled to reconcile as a meek middle power. However, there has always been a deep love and respect for the heritage that befalls both ancient and modern day Hellenism.
It is no surprise, then, that the Macedonian naming dispute has always been a source of considerable tension.
The dispute is derived from Greece’s objection to the constitutional name of its neighbor to the north, the Republic of Macedonia, or as a provisional reference, the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
The naming dispute has been fuelled by the FYROM’s fabrication of historical fact and usurpation of a national legacy belonging solely to the Greek empire.
FYROM ethnicity was developed very recently within the twentieth century. It
was accompanied by a misplaced population searching for an identity to help legitimize an uncertain future. On the path for self-determination, one can sympathize.
However, on that path the FYROM have falsely adopted Greek heritage and symbols as their own, such as the Vergina sun, to build a new nation state known as Macedonia.
Historically speaking, Macedonia refers to the region of Greece that housed the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, an area spanning nearly 35,000 square kilometres with a population of 2.5 million ethnic Greeks. This region contains historical landmarks including the kingdom’s capital of Pella and Vergina, the kingdom’s first capital and burial site for Phillip II. None of the landmarks associated with the Macedonian kingdom reside outside of this region.
Furthermore, it has been conclusively grounded in anthropological evidence that the modern day southern Slavs arrived to the FYROM a full thousand years following the collapse of the ancient Macedonian kingdom.
It is widely considered that Greece alone retains the historical right to use the term Macedonia due to the inseparable association the Macedonian kingdom has with Greek culture and identity.
Regardless of the historical inaccuracies and the blatant disregard for Greek heritage, an international dispute persists and negotiations have been fruitless since 1991.
With each passing year, tensions grow. Posters have been allowed to circulate in Skopje comparing Greece to Nazi Germany. Others depict Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, as being a part of a “United Macedonia,” alluding to the FYROM long suspected irredentist agenda.
Embarrassingly, the FYROM’s prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, allowed himself to be photographed placing wreathes under the posters in support. To make matters worse, the FYROM erected a 72 foot statue of Alexander the Great in
Skopje, further infuriating the Greeks and inciting the scorn of the European Union.
While it is certain that the FYROM will stubbornly reject any compromises Greece offers, the FYROM will greatly benefit from accepting a concession. Attempts at acceding to the EU and NATO have consistently met with failure. International institutions will not accept the FYROM while the naming dispute continues to burn. As a member of both the EU and NATO, Greece will continue to veto their application. A solution is indeed mutually beneficial.
Among all proposed compromises following the rejection of “North Macedonia,” the most fitting seems to be the FYROM’s proposed adoption of the “Republic of Vardar Macedonia” as their new constitutional name. It uses the Vardar River, the FYROM’s longest river, as a point of reference. It retains its geographical accuracy while implying that it is culturally distinct from the Greek Macedonian region.
While the FYROM has yet to decide whether they will accept the proposal, very few options remain. A deadlock will persist so long as the proposals continue to be rejected.
The usurpation of Greek heritage and history, while intolerable and bewildering, is in the past. Both Greece and the FYROM must look forward from this dispute to a suitable resolution. As implied by former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer however, the onus to accept a compromise ultimately rests with the FYROM.