World View: More than 100,000 Greeks Hold Mass Protest over ‘Macedonia’ Name Change

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Greece and Macedonia negotiate a contentious name change to replace FYROM
  • Massive protests in Thessaloniki, Greece, threaten Tsipras government

Greece and Macedonia negotiate a contentious name change to replace FYROM

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks in Thessaloniki on Sunday protest any name change to the Republic of Macedonia that includes the word 'Macedonia' (Kathimerini)
Hundreds of thousands of Greeks in Thessaloniki on Sunday protest any name change to the Republic of Macedonia that includes the word ‘Macedonia’ (Kathimerini)

One of the most emotional issues in Greece and the Balkans is taking center stage over negotiations to change the name of the official Republic of Macedonia to one that is acceptable to Greece. The Kingdom of Macedon is an ancient name, dating back centuries BC, and is the birthplace, in 356 BC, of Alexander the Great.

The Republic of Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but Greece objected to its use of that name, claiming that having that name would give the country a claim to Greece’s own province of Macedonia. The country was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). It has also been admitted to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the name FYROM. The European Union and NATO also recognize only the name FYROM. However, many countries, including Russia and the United States, also recognize the name Republic of Macedonia, or just Macedonia.

Greece has repeatedly used its veto power to prevent the country Macedonia from joining either the EU or NATO under any name that contains the word “Macedonia.” As this situation has been going on for 25 years, there is now a great deal of pressure on the two countries to come up with a compromise.

The Greek government of prime minister Alexis Tsipras has indicated that it is willing to allow “Macedonia” to appear in the name, provided that it is modified or qualified in some way. There are five proposals on the table:

  • The Republic of New Macedonia
  • The Republic of Northern Macedonia
  • The Republic of Upper Macedonia
  • The Vardar Republic of Macedonia
  • The Republic of Macedonia (Skopje)

The last proposal references the capital city Skopje. The name Vardar refers to a river that rises in West Macedonia and then south into Greece, where it is called the Axios River.

Tsipras will be meeting his counterpart, FYROM prime minister Zoran Zaev, on Wednesday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos, and both men indicate that they would like to resolve the issue once and for all, if that is possible. Meta (Macedonia) and B92 (Belgrade) and RFERL and AP (18-Jan)

Massive protests in Thessaloniki Greece threaten Tsipras government

More than 100,000 Greeks rallied on Sunday in Thessaloniki (Salonica), the capital city of Greece’s administrative region of Macedonia. They were protesting any name change to the country Macedonia that included the name “Macedonia.” In particular, they objected to all five of the proposed compromise names listed above.

A poll shows that over 68 percent of the Greek people oppose agreeing to any use of “Macedonia” in the new name. Politicians from the opposition party New Democracy are siding with the protesters. The Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos initially agreed with the protesters, but after a meeting with Tsipras said that the country now needs “unity” and “national solidarity” with whatever agreement is reached in Davos.

In April of last year, I wrote an article on Macedonia and I included a brief history of Alexander the Great, referring to him as “the most famous leader in Macedonia’s history.” I was astounded when this description resulted in an extremely vitriolic and long-running comment stream, with comments coming from all sides – especially the Macedonians, the Greeks, the Albanians, and the Bulgarians.

In summary, Greek commenters said the following:

  • Alexander the Great was Greek, and, in fact, all Macedonians at the time were Greek.
  • Macedonians do not exist anymore. The country was taken over by Albanians and colonized by ethnic Bulgarians in the Middle Ages. Today’s “Macedonians” are really ethnic Bulgarians, with no ties to ancient Macedonia.
  • Macedonia is a fake country. It should be split up, with the west given to Albania and the east to Bulgaria.

Macedonian comments said the following:

  • There are Russian and Turkish documents from the 1700s clearly referring to Macedonian as distinct from Serbians or Bulgarians. The oldest surviving identity in Europe is Macedonian.
  • Macedonians do not want to be part of Bulgaria, and the Bulgarians do not want the Macedonians because they are Macedonians.

These comments became extremely acrimonious and went on for a long time. At one point I asked the participants whether there would be blood on the floor if they were all in the same room together. I did not get an answer. All this indicates to me that the Balkans region, which has been the site of repeated crisis wars throughout history between the Christian civilization and the Muslim civilization, may well provide the start of the next major European war.

Into that context, we now have this emerging issue of the name change for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to something else. We will have to see whether there is anything else that everyone can agree to. Kathimerini (Athens) and B92 (Belgrade) and Greek Reporter and Meta (Macedonia)

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Greece, Macedonia, Balkans, Yugoslavia, Kingdom of Macedon, Alexander the Great, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, Alexis Tsipras, Zoran Zaev, Vardar River, Axios River, Thessaloniki, Salonica, Archbishop Ieronymos
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