There is a sort of a joke about political, social and academic meetings to do with Balkan countries and regions that all you have to say is “Macedonia. What do you think?” to start a fracas that may well lead to fisticuffs.
As part of the break-up of Yugoslavia, as created in 1918 as opposed to the one that was around for a few years after 1998 (no, this is still not about Kosovo), Macedonia became an independent republic. Or, to be quite precise, it became independent of the other Yugoslav republics, specifically, of Serbia.
As it happens, the Yugoslav wars did not affect Macedonia heavily, despite the fact that it had voted for independence in 1991 until the very end when there was a spot of trouble with Albanians, particularly refugees from Kosovo. (Woops, I did mention it after all.)
That seems to have been sorted out by NATO in 2001 and Macedonia’s existence as an independent state would have carried on with little attention being paid to it from the rest of the world (that does not include other Balkan nations, their politicians and, above all, their academics) but for one fact.
Greece announced that it cannot acknowledge that there could be such a country as Macedonia as it was properly a northern province of Greece. Alexander of Macedonia, they said grandly, did not speak a Slavic language. No, he did not but he did not speak modern Greek either. (This is quite a useful summary of the convoluted ancient history of that area.)
By 2005 the country was officially a candidate for European Union membership under the name the Greeks have been insisting on, which is Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM. Understandably, that name was abandoned by all but EU officials and Greek politicians and the country is known as Macedonia by everyone else.
Now the subject has come up again as Macedonia, together with Albania and Croatia are due to be invited to apply for NATO membership. As it happens I think that full membership is probably not the most sensible idea for those countries, as they are unlikely to contribute much. But then, how much does Greece contribute?
In any case, Greece is objecting to Macedonia being included because of the name. The argument is now somewhat different. Gone are the references to Alexander the Great of Philip of Macedon. Welcome modern Greece as the perennial victim.
Athens objects to its neighbour taking the name of a northern Greek region. It says the name implies a territorial claim on the region, which Macedonia denies.The Greek Foreign Minister, Dora Bakoyannis, made a rather convoluted statement:
Unfortunately the policy followed by the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in its relations with Greece, particularly as concerns its intransigent stance and its actions of an irredentist and nationalist logic, do not allow Greece to take the same positive stance as in the case of Croatia and Albania.A UN envoy is trying to find a compromise solution. Sending the Greek Foreign Minister to clear out the art cupboard and not come back until she is ready to shake hands sounds like quite a good idea.