Protesters gather by Thessaloniki’s statue of Alexander.

Best columns: Europe

Greece: Refusing to compromise on ‘Macedonia’

A wave of nationalism has engulfed Greece—and it’s all because of one word, said Jannis Papadimitriou in Taz (Germany). When the Republic of Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece immediately objected to the inclusion of “Macedonia” in its new northern neighbor’s name. Many Greeks argued that using Macedonia implied that this country of 2 million people had a territorial claim to the region in the north of Greece that bears the same name. And conceding that name, they claimed, would also mean giving up ownership of one of Greece’s greatest heroes, Alexander the Great, son of Philip of Macedon. As a compromise, the new Balkan nation joined the United Nations in 1993 under the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. But “reality has overtaken the Greeks” as one by one other countries have dropped the first two words and begun referring to the nation simply as the Republic of Macedonia. The two countries seemingly came close to settling their dispute in talks last week, with Greece’s center-left government saying it might recognize its neighbor under a name such as Upper Macedonia or New Macedonia. But when news of that concession leaked, some 90,000 furious Greeks marched through the port city of Thessaloniki waving banners reading “There is only one Macedonia and it is Greek.”

This is a terrible embarrassment for the government in Athens, said Greece’s Protothema.gr in an editorial. The “massive and heated demonstration” took Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras by surprise. Some officials with his Syriza party tried to write off the rally as a far-right affair, claiming that most Greeks want stability in the Balkans and stand “against irresponsibility and nationalism.” But most protesters were ordinary Greeks, and polls show that some 70 percent of voters don’t want the former Yugoslav republic to use “Macedonia” at all, no matter what qualifiers are attached. Tsipras “will have to reconsider.” If he doesn’t, said Kostas Giannakidis in Protagon​.gr, “there is the danger that many of the demonstrators will join the right-wing extremists.” Greeks are already seething, having been bullied by the European Union and international creditors for years and forced to adopt punishing austerity measures to pay off debt. Now the European Union and NATO—both of which Greece has blocked Macedonia from joining—are pushing Athens to end this dispute. But if Greeks are made to sacrifice their pride and their history, they will revolt.

What about Macedonia’s proud history? asked Aldo Kliman in Kurir (Republic of Macedonia). During the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, Greater Macedonia “was mercilessly plundered by the invaders Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia” and much territory and blood was lost. But our country still remains the homeland of the Macedonian people, so what should it be called but the Republic of Macedonia? If our government agrees to alter our already “perfect” name in any way to appease the Greeks, it will be an “irreparable and unforgivable crime and sin.”


February 2, 2018


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