Protecting the brand name Macedonia – lessons from Byzantine Diplomacy

By Miltiades Elia Bolaris

A 2007 article by the Greek political scientist Constantinos Holevas, originally published in Antibaro, a Greek magazine made its re-appearance in the Akritas Macedonian blog recently.
It is titled “The importance of the name and Byzantine Diplomacy”.
Professor Holevas reminded us in this article that the Byzantines never called their state Byzantium. They called themselves Romaioi/Ρωμαίοι (Romans) and their state Romania/Ρωμανία (State of the Romans). They were in full conscience of their Greek language descent and culture, yet they did not consider their state simply a kingdom of the Greeks but an ecumenical empire, a representation of Christ’s kingdom on earth, a continuation of the Roman empire of the Caesars, aspiring to govern the whole known world. Constantinos Holevas reminded us that even in the bleakest moments of the empire, when, after the fall of Constantinople to the Franks of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 a Latin king was sitting on the throne of Constantinople the Eastern Romans, the Byzantines, never relented on their title. John III Doukas Vatatzes / Ιωάννης Γ΄Δούκας Βατάτζης (1222-1254) the Greek king of the tiny Byzantine kingdom of Nicaea (modern Iznik in Asia Minor-Turkey), replying to the Caesaropapist demand of Pope Gregory 8th (1227-1241) that he recognizes the Latin king of conquered Constantinople as the a legitimate Roman Emperor, he refused. He reminded the Pope that all his predecessors called themselves Emperors of the Romans / Ρωμαίων Aυτοκράτορες and that he would not give up his title to a forger who simply happened to be sitting on some of his lands. To the Pope’s claims that he is simply a king of the Greeks, and not a Roman Emperor, John III Doukas Vatatzes replied, that yes, obviously culturally we are Greeks “Εν τω γένει των Ελλήνων ημών η σοφία βασιλεύει / Among us descendants of the Greeks the Greek wisdom rules”
and furthermore, from our Hellenic roots sprouts out human wisdom and all the goods that are derived from it “η σοφία και το ταύτης ήνθισεν αγαθόν”. Doukas Vatatzes speaks of his predecessors as “τους από γενών ελληνικών άρξαντας” having started from Hellenic-Greek roots. And he stood firm on his demand that he must be called Emperor of the Romans, as tradition and protocol required.
Greece is now under a lot of pressure. Financial speculators the world over have smelled blood in Greece’s high deficits and are circling over her like vultures, betting on the collapse of the Greek economy and the default of its debt. George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister has become airborne, flying from Berlin to Paris and From Washington to Brussels in his attempt to create the favorable political and financial climate that will give his country the breathing space it needs to implement the necessary structural changes. It seems to be working. The EU partners have recognized the need to create the support net that will buffer Greece, and any other Euro zone country that will find itself in a similar condition.
Like John II Doukas Vatatzes found out the hard way, being pressured by the Latins and the Pope, George Papandreou’s administration is also finding itself under heavy pressure to “close” several issues that are important to Greece’s international friends, and close them in a haste.
President Obama, for example, did not fail to remind Mr. Papandreou, when he recently received him in the White House, that the State Department is anxious for Greece to hastily recognize the so called Former Yugoslav Republic of Makedonija – FYROM under the pseudonym “Northern Macedonia”.
Macedonian Greeks the world over hope that even in this bleakest of financial situations the Greek government will not give in under pressure to this historical travesty. If anything else, it does not even make economic sense, and I will explain.
I type three words in Google: “tourist destination macedonia”. Nine out of ten entries that stare back at me are for (you guessed it): the fake “Macedonia” of Skopje.
Then I type, again in Google: “macedonian wines”. Four entries come out for wines of Greek Macedonia, five for wines from Skopje-Makedonija-FYROM and one (images of Macedonian wines) was mixed.
Incidentally, two well paid international television campaigns has been launched recently by FYROM. One is promoting their “Macedonia” to international tourism ( )and the other is promoting Skopjan “Macedonian” wines( ).
Macedonia, if anything else, is a PRICELESS brand name. The Skopje administrations fully recognize this simple fact. The Macedonian Greeks fully recognize this too. Does Athens recognize this? Recent experience is, to say the least, very discouraging.
If you look in American supermarket shelves you can easily find several types of American-produced “brandy”, “blue cheese” or “sparkling wine”, but you will NOT find American “Cognac”, “Roquefort” or “Champagne”. Why not? Simply because the French are serious about protecting their brands. Their livelihood and well being depends on it. A similar walk through an American supermarket will land you several types of American-produced “Greek yogurt”, “Feta” cheese, and American “Ouzo”, among other internationally recognized valuable Greek trademarked items. Why is that? Obviously, the Greeks have been too relaxed and careless about protecting their valuable trade names. Willingness to fight back and a good lawsuit would easily settle this issue in American courts with any companies that are so blatantly disregarding international trade marks, while the Greek government is wasting its time petitioning the American Department of Commerce, getting the run around without results year after year.
Serious countries pay grave attention to what is considered their own and do not appreciate trespassers on their rights. Byzantium, or more properly the Eastern Roman Empire, did not become the longest lasting (for over a thousand years) state institution in human world history by letting others push it around. The Byzantine Romaioi steadfastly defended their internationally accepted ecumenical name and the rights emanating from it. Papal Legates in the 9th century court of Constantinople that dared ignore the protocol and addressed the Byzantine emperor as Rex Graecorum (king of the Greeks), instead of the ecumenically proper name Imperator Romanorum (emperor of the Romans) were immediately rushed out of the palatial audience hall and were thrown in prison. France does the same today for everything, from its political and foreign policy interests in Africa to its commercial interests in the United States. Greece, on the other hand has established for itself a pitiful record of self-destructive acquiescence to the trampling of its vital interests from de facto accepting Turkish “gray areas” in the Aegean to accepting a so called “geographic” determinant for (some kind of) “Macedonia” for Skopje, and down to the destruction of the good name of some of its best known quality products by inferior international imitations, like the oxymorous bovine-milk “feta” curds from Wisconsin. Greece is being self defeatist when it is shying away from the necessary fight when its own internationally recognized interests are at stake.
If internationally recognized quality Feta, Greek Yogurt, Ouzo and Greek Olive Oil or Wine from Greece are valuable trade marks that can help the Greek Economy rise itself out of its current low point, what then should be the value assessed on the PRICELESS brand name “Macedonia” which Greek governments are foolishly if not criminally ready to give away to its provocatively more aggressive neighbors?
If Athens, forgetting the timeless lessons of John II Doukas Vatatzis’ reply to Pope Gregory 8th, relents under “friendly” external pressure and accepts to share the name “Macedonia” by recognizing Skopje as “North Macedonia” it will be committing a world class IRREVERSIBLE blunder against its own historically understood ( ) self-interests.
Skopje will eventually drop the “north” from its name, becoming THE internationally identifiable MACEDONIA that the whole world recognizes, while Greek Macedonia, the historic Macedonia of Aristotle and Alexander the Great, twice the size of FYROM, with times and a half FYROM’s population will end up an international non-entity, a geographic void, a lame and neutered “South Macedonia”. Thessaloniki will end up being just another city of Greece, while Skopje will show off its colors as THE “capital of Macedonia”, yes the North one, which will then propagate for its “re-unification” with the “enslaved” Southern “other”; a North Macedonia” that is inhabited by ethnic “Macedonians” who speak “Macedonian” and all of this with Athens’ signature ( ).
John Doukas Vatatzes, where are you?
Greece needs to look forward to a new beginning. Business as usual, the careless, Balkan way, has led her to the point of near destruction. George Papandreou himself has proclaimed just that, by naming this crisis an opportunity that must not be missed. The opportunity, in other words has arrived for a more energetic rethinking of Greece’s older, inertia-driven, phobic and lame policies, the Macedonian naming issue being one.
Being slapped around by the kinds of Gruevski and Milososki into submission through “Macedonia-sharing” schemes (that -if nothing else- will spell disastrous economic consequences for Greek Macedonia with its vibrant tourist and cultural sector and world famous Boutari, Lazarides, Tsantalis and Pavlidis wines among others, even if all other historical and geopolitical considerations were to be left for the briefest second aside), should not be the internationally humiliating priority for any self-respecting Greek Foreign Minister.


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Greek Cruises says:

If I could live anywhere, it would be greece!