by Nadia Batok*
Since 1991, when the former Yugoslavia collapsed, Makedonia – or Macedonia as it is generally known – and Greece have been engaged in a dispute over what the former should be called.
Makedonia is a historical and geographical region in the Balkans, administratively divided into the Republic of Makedonija (FYROM, the name by which it is recognised at the United Nations), Vardar Makedonia, the Greek region of Aegean Makedonia, and the Bulgarian region of Pirin Makedonia.
Ancient Macedonia existed as a state and not as a region, becoming a province of the Roman Empire after its conquest. At a conference held in Geneva in 1921, all ethnic groups living in the territory of Macedonia decided to live in a joint multi-ethnic state under the name of Macedonia, taking as their example the state of Switzerland. Their decision was however ignored by European diplomacy.
Just a few decades ago, the name Makedonia was practically “invisible” in Greece, and it was not an issue to be talked about. During the Greek Civil War at the end of the 1940s, Greece expelled about 300 000 Aegean Macedonians, confiscating their property and land around the city of Thessaloniki, in the Greek northern province called Aegean Makedonia, which borders the Republic of Makedonija. These Aegean Macedonians are, in fact, the owners of deeds on those lands which are worth billions of euros and argue that they should be restored to them by Greece.
Although Greece has signed an interim agreement with the United Nations, committing itself to not interfering with the Republic of Makedonija on its way to membership of the European Union and NATO, it has placed a veto on access by the Republic of Makedonija (recognised under this name by 130 countries) to the EU.
It is virtually unprecedented in history that one state assumes the right to change the name of another sovereign state. The Greek northern province is called Aegean Makedonia, not just Makedonia, and it is unreasonable that Greece should ask the Republic of Makedonija to change its name.
In negotiations about a possible new name for the Republic of Makedonija (FYROM), a variety of the most different and awkward names, including territorial and other significations w in the name such as Upper Macedonia, North Macedonia or others containing descriptive words. What this would mean in practice is that Macedonians would be required to revise their history and culture, change their constitution, name of the people, anthem and coat of arms, without going into the issues of nationality and language.
Every state surrounding of the Republic of Makedonija has its own explanation of the name Macedonia based on its interests. It should be noted that there were and still are hidden territorial aspirations and an idea of the division of the Republic of Makedonija among its neighbours. It is to be hoped that Europe does not want this to happen and will make efforts to ensure that the Republic of Makedonija retains its name and that Greece will emphasise the name Aegean Makedonia in its northern region.
Macedonians who live in the Republic of Makedonija today do not associate themselves with Greece or its history, nor do they have territorial pretensions over Greece. All that is required is the signing of an agreement that neither the Republic of Makedonija nor Greece has territorial pretensions over the other, and thus solve the problem of the eventual expansion of each territory.
The Republic of Makedonija has already made a few efforts in the direction of resolving the question, for example by deciding to drop Alexander the Great (king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and considered by both the Republic of Makedonija and Greece as part of their respective heritages) from the name of its main airport and highway. However, the opposition claims that the government has been far too flexible in negotiations with Greece over the name dispute.
A solution to the name issue would bring the Republic of Makedonija closer to membership of both the EU and NATO. So, if the EU and NATO want to avoid any possible conflict in the Balkans, they need Greece to make progress on the name issue, and to help and push for a solution.
Macedonian Slavs feel themselves as Macedonians, as they have been always called (all today’s generations living in the Republic of Makedonija, know only that and no other name) and it is their right to choose how to call their homeland.
Would it not be fair for Greece to change something instead of asking the neighbouring sovereign state of the Republic of Makedonija to change its name?
At the end of the day, neither the Republic of Makedonija nor Greece owns the name Makedonia.
* Nadia Batok, is a specialist in international congresses