Kofos on the Macedonian Name Issue at the NATO Conference in Skopje

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Articles by Tymphaios

November 04, 2010

In a recent presentation at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly´s Rose-Roth Seminar, Skopje 20.10.2010, Dr Evangelos Kofos made an assessment of the current dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). He concluded with a proposal that “The constitutional name, which will replace the current one as well as the temporary international appellation, will use the Macedonian name” but with an appellation, such as Northern Macedonia or Vardarska Macedonia. Moreover he suggests the two ethnic groups should be distinguished in the following way: the FYROM will be referred to as Makedonija (e.g. Northern or Vardarska Makedonija) and Greek Macedonia will be referred to as Elliniki Makedonia. Similarly, in the international documents the respective adjectives should be Makedonsko vs Makedoniko, at least in the nominative of the neutral gender.

This is a very moderate position by Dr Kofos that represents the official position of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). Dr Kofos is the Senior Advisor for the Balkan Area in the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and was Consultant on Balkan Affairs at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the previous government. Dr Kofos, as the ELIAMEP expert on the issue has often provided good insight on the debate. For example he has pointed out that Skopje, rather than honestly striving to fulfill its commitments under the UN sponsored New York Accord of 1995, has embarked on a speculation exercise of gathering bilateral “recognitions” of the controversial constitutional name as a means of bypassing its obligations under the Agreement.

“In 1995, the signing of the Athens-Skopje Interim Accord offered hopes for building good neighbourly relations, which would assist in resolving the issue of the name. Nevertheless, ten years later, despite proposals by successive Greek governments to find a compromise solution, no progress was recorded as the other side responded with evasively tactics. Skopje aimed to gain time in order to silently bypass the UN procedure to negotiate with individual countries the recognition of its constitutional name, “Republic of Macedonia”.”

Dr Evangelos Kofos, “The Current Macedonian Issue between Athens and Skopje:

Is there an Option for a Breakthrough?”


Among other insightful observations Dr Kofos has noted the paradox of the name of the new Yugoslav republic being identical with the name of the wider region and pointed out the difficulty of finding a name that contains the word Macedonia that would not imply a divided country:

“The official Greek position in no way can be viewed today as a “maximal” one. With considerable political cost, political elites in the country have overrun public feelings about the use of the Macedonian name by the neighbouring country. The Greek government as well as all major parties favour a compound geographical name for their neighbour country, provided its state name clearly defines Macedonian regions within its own jurisdiction. The current constitutional name, “Macedonia”, is, however, identical with the name of the wider geographic region “Macedonia”. Of this region, roughly 52 per cent is Greek territory, 9 per cent Bulgarian and 1,5 per cent Albanian. UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz has apparently realized that such a tautology of the names for two different geographical regions could become a harbinger for expansionist claims. His latest proposal, “North Macedonia”, although it might tentatively provide a way out of the current impasse, certainly is not a perfect one, as it might convey the impression of a divided country.”

Dr Evangelos Kofos, “The Current Macedonian Issue between Athens and Skopje:

Is there an Option for a Breakthrough?”


It is in this context that Dr Kofos has sought a compromise favourable to the FYROM by proposing a name that would contain the word Macedonia but in a form different from the name of the wider region. ELIAMEP, the organization of which Dr Kofos is a member, is an association of Greek academics, who traditionally tend to be of liberal/leftist disposition. Oddly ELIAMEP´s adversaries, the nationalist party of VMRO headed by Nikola Gruevski in FYROM, formulate their own nationalist policy regardless of the opinion of moderate or liberal elements among the academics and other intellectuals of that country. The oddity is that Greece from a position of strength as a member of NATO does not attempt to formulate a steadfast policy in line with NATO interests. Considering the prior involvement of communist Yugoslavia in destabilizing Greece by supporting the 1946-9 communist uprising during the Cold War, the sympathies ought to be for a strong Greek position not for a weak compromising one. Indeed, the recognition by the former US administration of FYROM as “Republic of Macedonia” for bilateral relations came soon after Greece announced it was prepared to accept a compound name with the word Macedonia in it.

NATO is certainly aware of the surge of nationalism in Yugoslavia. NATO has not forgotten one of the most bitter episodes of the Cold War. NATO wants to see that a new country entering the alliance would share the concerns of the other states. Yet the Greek government formulates unfortunately also through Kofos an unnecessarily moderate and overly kind proposal. Whereas the Gruevski government, wishing admittance of FYROM to NATO and with hardly any cards in its favor, actually insists on a policy offensive to Greece, its desired future ally.

Other than its moderation, there are additional problems with Kofos´ proposal. The first problem, the real question, is to what extent foreign journalists and ordinary people are going to start using names such as Makedones, Athenaioi, Spartiates and Korinthioi instead of Macedonians, Athenians, Spartans and Cortinthians, etc. Similarly, are the academics writing on the topic going to erase the word Macedonian when dealing with Greek history and replace it with Makedonikos, Makedonike, Makedoniko(n) in their books and articles?

Foreign journalists and common people but probably also academics are highly unlikely to start talking about the Makedonike city of Thessaloniki vs the Makedonska city of Skopje. It is extremely doubtful we will have descriptions in history books about the Makedonike dynasty of Byzantium or the Makedonike uprising of 1821 vs the Makedonski books of the Bulgarian folk tales of the Miladinov brothers and the short-lived Makedonska Republic of the Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs and Vlachs of Krushevo. This sort of thing is so cumbersome – not to mention that the journalists will have to become acquainted with Slavic and Greek grammar – that it is just not going to happen. It will be Macedonia and Macedonian for everything and by all but it WILL be monopolized in practice by FYROM. It is happening already in newspapers, magazines and the internet. There is a Greek Macedonia which is part of Greece but its government, newspapers, tourism, wines, etc. are identified normally as Greek, rarely in the foreign press as Macedonian.

In addition to the Greek administrative region of Macedonia since 1945 there is also FYROM, now an independent state. Both countries have equivalent numbers of Macedonians (of different sorts) living in them – in fact more live in the Greek province which has a population of two and a half million. Yet the vast majority of links in internet searches for Macedonia are about FYROM. Rarely can one find anything about Macedonia in Greece, even though it is the bigger and more populous country!

In fact the Macedonians of Greece are called Greek as if to avoid confusing the casual reader that they are referring to the FYROM. The existence of the word Macedonia in the name of only one state is enough to monopolize it. Despite being called FYROM for international purposes, that country is already de facto monopolizing the name. The monopolization is already there de facto without even NATO or the EU and the other international organizations adopting Kofos´ moderate proposal which proposes that the name Macedonia, or perhaps Makedonija, should be part of the country´s name.

Secondly, surprisingly, Dr Kofos, himself a Greek and a Macedonian, takes on behalf of the Macedonians of Greece a much more moderate position than the 369 academics of the Macedonia Evidence team. The academics, many from some of the most prominent universities and museums of the world, actually state in a letter to US President Barack Obama that “Macedonia and Macedonian Greeks have been located for at least 2,500 years just where the modern Greek province of Macedonia is. Exactly this same relationship is true for Attica and Athenian Greeks, Argos and Argive Greeks, Corinth and Corinthian Greeks, etc.”.


The academics do not propose that there are other Macedonians than the Greeks, nor that the Greek Macedonians should be called Makedones, the Greek Athenians, Athenaioi, the Greek Corinthians Korinthioi, etc. They rather squarely accuse FYROM of wishing to adopt the name Macedonia and refer to it as “silliness”. Unfortunately, Dr Kofos is silent about the opinion of these other academics on the issue.

The third problem with the proposal of Dr Kofos is that it does not take into account the opinion of the Macedonians of Greece. How does the position of the ELIAMEP and Dr Kofos, as the official position of the Greek State, compare with the position of the Greek people and especially the Macedonians? Dr Kofos recognizes that “The Greeks, today, do not raise claims over lands outside their borders. They perceive, however, the historical and cultural heritage of the ancient Macedonian kingdom as a basic ingredient of their Hellenic identity, in the same way they view the Greek city-states of the south of classical antiquity. This explains the vast popular reaction among Greeks against the recognition of a new independent state in their neighborhood, bearing the name “Macedonia” and using Ancient Macedonian symbols (the “Sun of Vergina”) in their national flag.”

One therefore expects that Dr Kofos probably realizes that his proposal is also in disagreement with the view of the majority of the Macedonians themselves who do not wish to compromise on the name. The Pan-Macedonian organizations have a clear view that the name “Macedonia” should not form a constituent part of the adopted name of the new republic. This view has been adopted by all Pan-Macedonian organizations and nearly 100 other Macedonian organizations in a meeting in Chicago in 2007 (http://www.panmacedonian.info/Panmacedonian_World.htm). Unfortunately Dr Kofos not only did not consider the view of the Macedonians in formulating his position, he was silent about their opinion in his presentation to a friendly audience of our NATO allies.

Dr Kofos also failed to point out that the European Union adopted in 1992 a more aggressive stand than Dr Kofos is asking from our NATO allies. There was an EC commitment in 1992 that the former republic would not be recognized until it relinquishes the term Macedonia because that designation raises suspicions of territorial ambitions.

In summary, the official position of Greece in NATO itself about the dispute is more moderate than the worldwide academic position on the issue as well as the demands of the Macedonians themselves. The official Greek position shirks from even mentioning the desires of the Macedonian organizations or the worldwide academic view on this issue. This seems surely an odd thing.

What is a real solution to the end of the monopolization of the name is that neither country, neither Greece nor FYROM, have the word Macedonia as a constituent of their national name, ethnic identity, etc. After all the Greeks have the upper hand since the Macedonians of Greece continue to speak the language of the ancient Macedonians, maintain some of their customs, many of the original Macedonian names of the land, live in most of what was in ancient times considered Macedonia, have a good continuity with an administrative province called Macedonia since ancient times, part of the Roman and Byzantine empires that used the Greek language as both the official and popular language almost at all times. Therefore, if the Greek state is not going to have the word Macedonia in its name, it is quite clear that in no case should another state have it in its name either to avoid monopolization.

There remains the issue of what the name of the country should be if neither country should use the word Macedonia in its name. There is no record whatsoever of a Slavic Macedonia until 1945. However, the inhabitants of that country in 1945 had ancestors. Their ancestors must have had names describing their ethnic groups, tribes, etc, whether Albanian, Slavic or other. These names were certainly not Greek, for example the name Macedonian could have not been one of them. There are countless records of the Albanian Gheg group and of the Slavic Sklavini, the Scordici, the Bulgars or Bugari and the Slavonic tradition. In addition to the Slavs and Albanians, there lived in the country groups whose languages have been forgotten although placenames such as Field of Mustafa or Kumanovo remind us of their presence. Still before those, there were the ancient Paeonians, Agrianes and Dardanians but never the Macedonians. Experts in the field can no doubt unearth additional tribal names, Albanian, Slavic and other affiliated with the history of the people of the FYROM.

There are, moreover, many regional names given to that part of the Balkans in older European maps such as

Uskup – the name of an Ottoman province that included much of the area of FYROM in an 1830 map of Turkey in Europe by Sidney Hall, published in London by Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green


Ghiustendil – another province that included part of modern FYROM from the same map of Turkey in Europe by Sidney Hall but also found in another map from 1830 by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain) published in London by Chapman and Hall:


Servia – perhaps South Serbia as known briefly after the Balkan Wars, as shown in a map titled “A general map of Turkey in Europe, Hungary &c.” by Herman Moll published in London by Thos. Bowles and John Bowles in 1732.


Kosova – perhaps South Kosova, from a Turkish map of the Ottoman period


Bulgaria – perhaps West Bulgaria, from a map of Greece by Cantelli de Vignola from 1689.


Topliza – from a 1581 map by Abraham Ortelius, Graeciae Universae Secundum Hodiernum Situm Neoterica Descriptio


With such abundant historical and geographical resources, choosing a name for the country would be a case of being spoilt for choice. The FYROM government has signed an international Agreement to adopt a name that would not offend Greece. It is obviously quite unnecessary to adopt for the country a new name from the Greek language, that of the Macedonians, especially if they truly wish to convince the world that they respect and wish to promote their Slavic and Albanian languages and their ethnic identities.



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