The Name Game – The future of EU expansion? It all depends on what the meaning of the word “Macedonia” is



The European Union is a club with a long line out the door. Just ask Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, or Turkey. But for one Balkan country, the biggest problem is showing the right ID at the velvet rope. Seven former communist countries were able to enter both NATO and the EU by the end of the Bush years. But last year the Greek government blocked the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from joining NATO, citing bad neighborly relations, and is determined to torpedo its EU bid as well. The reason? It’s all in a name. 

FYROM, perhaps due to the unwieldiness of its acronym, has tried to enter as just “Macedonia,” the name of the ancient empire of Alexander the Great. But Greece also has a northern province called “Macedonia” and worries that Skopje has expansionist ambitions.

The United States supports the eastward expansion of NATO in an effort to shrink the Russian sphere of influence and — the name issue notwithstanding — FYROM would seem to be a perfect candidate for membership. The Obama administration can help the United Nations solve the dispute by abandoning the Bush administration policy of stubbornly backing the “Macedonians” and talk its fledgling friend into a compromise that will push it over the Balkan hump.

But doing so won’t be easy. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia understandably doesn’t like to be known by its cumbersome post-Titoist tag. “Don’t You FYROM Me!” is a favorite bumper sticker on the streets of Skopje. In the 1990s, foreign observers doubted the viability of this landlocked country with an explosive cultural makeup and powerful neighbors. Ethnic Albanians, Turks, Roma, Serbians, Bulgarians, and Greeks are all packed together in a state the size of Vermont. It’s not surprising that such a fragile country would want to cling its oldest and most respectable heritage.

The largest minority in FYROM are Albanians, who desperately want to become members of the EU and NATO. Besides the obvious economic benefits, membership would ultimately allow these Albanians closer ties with their coethnics in the western Balkans. They are growing impatient with the recent surge in “Alexandermania” backed by the Slav majority that promotes an exclusively “Macedonian” identity for the country. Last month, the government unveiled plans to erect an $8 million, 72-foot statue of Alexander the Great atop his horse, Bucephalus, in the capital square. Never mind that the historical Alexander’s actual capital was located inside modern Greece.

More troubling are the maps in “Macedonian” textbooks that show their ancestral homeland stretching far into present-day Greece (as well as Bulgaria and Albania) and describe Thessaloniki, the capital of the northern province of Greece, as occupied territory. These are irredentist claims that justifiably worry the Greeks.

Imagine how Californians would feel if Baja California wanted to be called simply “California”? Or how Swedes would react if Norway changed its name to “Scandinavia”? The U.N.’s designated mediator has floated various possible names for FYROM, and Greece has recently indicated it would accept “The Republic of Northern Macedonia.” But such a solution implies there is a “Southern Macedonia” in Greece inhabited by the same people, as in North and South Korea. But this is not the case linguistically or ethnically. A more sensible solution would be “Vardarska Makedonija,” named for the river that flows through the region, which respects the dignity and identity of Greece’s northern neighbor but also distinguishes it from the northern Greek province.

It’s no accident that the EU and NATO both require prospective members to have no outstanding border disputes, but the government in Skopje has exacerbated tensions with Greece. It has renamed its airport, streets, and squares after Hellenistic heroes and interferes with the internal affairs of Greece by claiming there is a “Macedonian” ethnic minority living there under duress. This week FYROM even brought a case at the International Court of Justice in Hague against Greece for blocking its NATO bid.

Where does FYROM get its chutzpah? From the United States and its allies. In 2004 the Bush administration hastily recognized the country as “the Republic of Macedonia” in return for its support of the Iraq war. It did not expect Greece actually to block an alliance with a meddlesome neighbor. Barack Obama’s administration now has the opportunity to encourage FYROM to find a compromise agreeable to both parties.

The move will find support among realistic Republicans and Democrats who want to unclog the NATO bottleneck and undermine the increasing cooperation between Greece and Russia. By giving lip service to sovereignty — Georgia — and at other times supporting ethnic separatism — Kosovo — the Bush administration gave the impression that the United States will change its stance on these concepts whenever they suit its narrow strategic interests. By helping Greece and FYROM reach a mutually acceptable agreement, the Obama administration can reverse this impression, and more importantly ensure the future peace of Europe.

Thomas Meaney is a doctoral candidate in history at Columbia University. Harris Mylonas is an assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

Source: Foreign Policy

Related posts:

Vardarska says:

The Struggle for the Liberation of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)

What can be said about the present day situation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia which could encourage a goal-oriented initiative towards deconstruction of its ultranationalist, parochial and irredentist ethos? The well-know state of affairs created by the overwhelming influence of the ideology of Pseudomacedonism, a patchwork of ideas establishing a several millenia old frame of reference within all levels of domestic discourse has been and still is a phenomenon not noticed by social anthropologists and other relevant thinkers. In the Balkans, where historicism often takes precedence over future-oriented pragmatism, FYROMian oppositional defiance to Greece is one of the key incentives that threatens escalation of conflict of the type typical for the region for much of the 1990´s. While Pseudomacedonian politics, with all of its core component: Hellenophobia and Slavophobia, formulation of “Macedonian exceptionalism” with common leitmotivs of mental and moral superiority based on biological determinism certainly deserves recognition as an academic question, preferably treated on multidisciplinary grounds, the objective of establishment of practical policy, both in form of general principles and practically applied methodology, has failed on multiple grounds. The problem is exacerbated by attempt to analyze the social and ethnopsychological reality of present-day FYROM in terms of “objective”, quantifiable parameters, an approach used by such international organization as the European Union and NATO, among others.

While systematic research and cross-comparison of the institutionalized, faceless type may create an illusion of “objectivity” and rationality and while there is no doubt that to a large extent (but with limited potential to portray the situation in all of its picturesque colorfulness) some of these data display accurate parameters of socio-economic affairs in FYROM, these are not much usefulness in deconstruction of the sheer anti-human dimension of the present-day political vector of FYROM. With a strong reflection on the daily, mundane lives of citizen of that small statelet, with a profound impact on psychological links among its citizen and culmination in the construction of a small, isolated world, cut from both the mainstream of trends in Europe and from infusion of alternativeness, the postmodern “nation building” of fascistoid intensity in FYROM is a phenomena with no precedent in the realm of modern politics.

The main premises of the plot are as follows: FYROM, a country which inherited colonial borders set in a mixture of arbitrary decision, de facto post-conflict situations and more than 4 decades of Communist totalitarian rule, is not a product of a natural, usual nation-building in which elite-imposed foresight provides selective continuity and discontinuity with the tradition. Instead, the concrete set of circumstances in which FYROM or “Republika Makedonija” emerged as an established subject of international politics (the Balkan wars 1912-1913, the post-1943 reestablishment of “Yugoslavia” and the bloody dissolution of the later in 1990´s) is indicative of conformism , coupled with dissonance among its elite, which inherited a premodern population, bypassed by the Enlightenment and Rationalism. For the early founding fathers of Pseudomacedonian nationalism, the revolutionaries of the so-called VMRO, the ultimate goal, in whose name much grandiloquence and pathos has been expressed and much blood was shed, was the emancipation of the “Macedonian Bulgarian”. The fact of their declared Bulgarian character, which is in harmony with enormous number of testimonies of outsiders intimately acquainted with the ethnological situation on the ground is not an obstacle to local historians-the clergy of current FYROMian ultranationalism, to enlist them into the rank of symbolic figures of alleged “Macedonian ethnicity”. This “ethnicity”, completely unbeknown to history, is one of the last enduring legacies of the Cold War, having grown in Tito´s Yugoslavia as an organ of the Communist empire specialized in Anti-Greek predatory geopolitics. The choice of the new nation´s name was an adaptation of VMRO nurtured idea that the inhabitants of the geographic region of Macedonia, the form of which is a recent construct unrelated with historic Macedonia in strict sense, while having a Bulgarian ethnic affinity are nevertheless also the only true “Macedonians” in some mystically superior sense excluding other inhabitants of the region, even bordering on parallel ethnicity, non-exclusive and synonymous with the wider Bulgarian one. The Commintern in 1934 and the Communist Yugoslavia took this absurd proposition to its logical extreme, severing the consciousness of the Slavic population of the wider Macedonian region from its Bulgarian core. The massive allocation of funds to creating national institutions: schools, press, universities, museums, academic centers by Belgrade to the southern Yugoslav province in order to sustain the new national narratives provided Yugoslavia safety against Bulgaria, Serbian unitarianism and provided a pretext for expansion into Northern Greece, the most serious attempt of which was the Yugoslav support for Communist combatants in Greek Macedonia (or Macedonia proper, as the present-day north Greek region is nearly identical geographically to Ancient Macedonia) during the Greek Civil War (1946-1949).

The entire social development of the FYROM, as a nominal “Republic” in Yugoslavia, while heavily influenced by application of local version of Communism in political, economic and legal practice, was – quite unlike the situation in other Republics where traditional ethnohistorical narratives were viewed as dangerous to the concept of unitary Yugoslavia -- characterized by vivid expression of nationalistic sentiments encouraged by the local leadership and methodically carried through all conventional means of propaganda. TV and radio broadcasts, including documentaries, docudramas, songs of various genres with nationalistic overtones were prevalent form of public entertainment. Maps of “Greater Macedonian Homeland” incorporating Northern Greece and large section of Bulgaria were regular fixture in thousands school classrooms. Impressive body of government-subsidized and obligatory belletristic literature dealing with “national” themes, “national tragedies” in which the image of the “exploited Macedonian” as a tragic hero was central in a social-realist imagery imprinted a sense of victimization and deprivation in generation of Pseudomacedonians. With the complete independence from Yugoslavia in 1992 and inheritance of intact – although quite obsolete – infrastructure, as a result of avoiding inclusion into the series of Yugoslav wars, the young and small Balkan nation would perhaps had promising start if it was not for the fact that in those times of change it was left without national intelligentsia, in terms of intellectuals of non-Communist affiliation. The extermination of the Bulgarian leading strata immediately after the World War II, the expulsion of pre-war Serb colonists and the brain-drain from 1960´s onwards via emigration mostly in the Angloshpere countries depleted the nation from the existence of transitional elite which would redefine and reestablish suitable values and set dynamics of social recovery.

In the presence of such spiritual vacuum, what initially started as an imported speculation – that the origin of the “Macedonian” nation should be sought in unbroken racial, linguistic and cultural continuity with the Macedonians of Philip II and Alexander the Great – became throughout the 1990´s the main integrative trend which unified folklore, pop-culture, the ubiquitous “coffee-shop politics”, academia and the public education system. In the image of Ancient Macedonians, a Greek entity which created brief global empire as a substratum of Hellenistic civilization, suddenly the entire nation found itself. No more the colloquial “little Macedonian” ( “Makedončeto”) was a passive observer to his destiny as created by his (demonized) neighbors. No more the “Macedonians” just an aggregate of impoverished people in a poor, landlocked Balkan country undistinguished culturally, technologically, being outside the realm of the global trends at the eve of Third millennium. Now they could boast a tradition old thousands of years, not only as a historical narrative, but more importantly – in a naïve, popular biodeterministic wisdom – as an evidence of what may became of this group: a great, mighty people of first-rank international relevance.

From 2006, when the Government of VMRO-DPMNE led by Nikola Gruevski, a man mostly thought of as a obscure economic technocrat, won the popular vote, the entire revolt of people defeated so often in conflicts and competitions in modern times escalated, looking for a symbolic compensation. While it would be impractical to list the protagonists, the chronology, and more importantly, to analyze the causes of enormous popularity the fascist reorganization of society and the complete consolidation of a tribalist, xenophobic, collectivist FYROMian nation guided by pseudohistorical delusions, it is sufficient to say that the very precedent left the international community helpless, since no norms which would be used to extrapolate solution to the problem of this kind exist. There is no known instance that an ethnic group, on apparently voluntary and almost unanimous basis, completely rejected its ethnological nature – in this case of being a Slavic ethnic group originating in medieval times from the boreal regions of Eastern Europe, a fact held in consensus in global academia – and based it entire cultural, economical, educational policies, its “reason of being” on outrageous claims on continuity with an unrelated Greek ancient people with whose territory it has a very tiny overlap. Consequently, for now, Europe is left powerless in dealing with Nikola Gruevski, a brutal, authoritarian dictator who mesmerizes his nation with fables of “ancient imperial glory” in light of total inability to solve real problems faced by FYROM: 40% unemployment, 300 USD salaries, scientific and educational decay, the threat by the Albanian-led Islamic separatist block which accounts for 38% of FYROM´s population. What initially started as – undoubtedly clever in Machiavellian sense – Gruevski´s idea to provoke Greece in order to gain some negative diplomatic feedback and portray itself as the “savior of the endangered nation”, galvanizing people around “collective virtues” is now an elaborate fascist ideology, with its thinkers, institutions, manners of manifestation, unwritten codes, popular electoral and activist base and symbolism.

It is certain that this criminal situation won´t resolve out of itself. The manner in which global bureaucracy can act is limited by the aforementioned idiosyncrasy of the way of rule of VMRO gang. As North Korea exemplified, tyranny based on ignorance and fear may propagate itself for a considerable period. The opposition in FYROM itself is relatively negligible and very much bellow the critical mass needed for ignition of a popular revolt. Insofar, the organized political opposition did not offered the most needed solution to the problem: radical rejection of Pseudomacedonism in it´s fabricated entirety. The internal identity debate is on the marginal position outside the spotlight of the wider audience and is being sustained by informal networks loyal to central authorities. In terms of productivity, capability of potential maverick scholars to change the discourse from within is limited due to total financial dependency and certain ostracization. Sustained pressures from outside are necessary in order to implement long-term solution for a prosperous Balkan without VMRO, without Gruevski. While the issue should be reviewed with the scrutiny typical of serious scholarship, such effort cannot culminate in the much needed change in short-term. Politics should follow and align itself with science and practical activism should be supported by external factors in order to bring down the Pseudomacedonism, an ideology that threatens to plunge South-Eastern Europe into war and to help liberate the Slavs of FYROM from the cult of state-imposed grandomania and paranoia.

Vasko Gligorijević

*Really; What did you do to the Vasko Gligorijević / Vasko Gligorov; Are you crazy; Not like different opinions; This is your ‘democracy’; Can you withstand historical debate; Of course not. As when you pamperer the USA?
* Really; This is crazy;

Diogo says:

Dear Slavs of FYROM,

Just for the record. In None of these examples:

-- The Prime Minister of one of these countries bows in front of an Irredentist Map which includes territories of the other country, like a common Ultra-Nationalist would do. Sadly this is the case with FYROM.

-- The governments have remained inflexible with their hard-line nationalistic stance while they struggle to preserve Irredentist Dreams about taking over territories of neighbouring countries. Sadly this is the case with FYROM.

-- The population has been nurtured from their state-sponsored Propaganda to consider itself as a “victim” while the others are always portrayed as the “Perpetrators”, perpertuating this way intense Hatred against their neighbours. Furthermore it contributes to the deterioration of the good relations between neighbouring countries with only result the gradual isolation of the country. Sadly this is the case with FYROM.

-- One country appropriate parts of the other’s country history in order to construct a fictitious “Identity” and invent a version of “history” since their real one is extremely insignificant. Sadly this is the case with FYROM.

It is essential for the Slavic element of modern FYROM to acknowledge that opportunist politicians advocating this hardline nationalism are undermining, not only any possibility to join EU and NATO, but also the future of their country´s existence. As soon as these nationalist policies are abandoned by the political elite, i believe Greece will have no reason to object to the country’s NATO and EU accession and this will constitute a significant step forward in the region’s stabilization.

Bottom Line for the Slavs of FYROM…Get over your Blind Nationalism!!!

Goran Momiroski says:

Dear professors

Providing various examples of two territories using similar names you forgot to mention the cases of Mexico and New Mexico or maybe Luxemburg used by the state of Luxembourg and the province of France. Or maybe the city of New York should change its name only because of the New York province in Great Britain. Or maybe the Americans should change the name of the official language because the English people are offended of US stilling their name. I understand that some of your colleagues have been financially supported by the enormous Greek foreign cultural propaganda budget for years distributed by Athens but it would be better if you before you publish such thesis and recommendations to Mr. Obama visit Macedonia and talk to the people here, even though we do not have money to pay for your special attention. Being raised as Macedonian for generation believe me it is difficult seriously to consider the pressure leading towards change of out national identity. Just for the record.