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The Macedonia problem

Posted by Helen Friday, September 21, 2007

It has long been a truism in academic circles that at any conference to do with Balkans and Eastern Europe, all one had to do is say: “So, what do you think about Macedonia?” for the fur to start flying. People come to blows on the subject of what Macedonia is in the modern, mediaeval or ancient world; where it should be located; which country it is closest to; who its people are; and many other questions of that sort.

Of all the claimants to Macedonia, the Greeks have always been the most self-righteous, on the grounds that Alexander the Great and his father Philip of Macedonia were …. um, well, not exactly Greek … but near enough. Well, anyway, they conquered the Greek states first before Alexander went on to other places, like Persia and India.

The problem is that as centuries have gone by and various historic forces have played themselves out, the territory of the Kingdom of Macedon became (largely) Macedonia, until about twelve years ago, part of what was then Yugoslavia. Sad but true and the cause of many a row.

As Yugoslavia went through its painful dissolution that lasted around a decade Macedonia, too, declared its desire to be an independent state around 1994. Up with this Greece would not put, announcing that it was the height of insolence for some Slavs to claim descent from Alexander’s people. Alexander, they said huffily, did not speak a Slavonic language. Indeed not but then he did not speak anything like modern Greek either.

The EU, as ever, fell into line and the new country became known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM. Of course, most people ignored that and Macedonia was known as Macedonia, especially by the Bulgarians, who have also laid claim to the entity. (Don’t ask, I can never remember. Like the Greeks with anything Ancient, the Bulgarians tend to lay claim to anything that might conceivably have anything to do with Old Slavonic or Thracian.)

So it went on until now, when Canada, of all countries, formally recognized the country known as FYROM under the name it prefers, Macedonia. This looks like the making of a major international incident and as Greece is part of the EU and the EU needs to have a common position on all such matters, we shall soon be drawn into the squabble.

Greece has already expressed its displeasure while Macedonia, needless to say, has welcomed the decision.

Bulgaria (also now in the EU, in case any of our readers have forgotten this important fact) has taken the opportunity to remind the world that she had recognized the country by its preferred name of Macedonia some time ago and found herself in dispute not just with Greece but with most international organizations, such the UN, the EU and the IOC.

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