MACEDONIAN NAME GAMES and the future of FYROM’s European integration

By Miltiades Elia Bolaris

This article was written in August of 2009 and it was originally published in the Slovak language under the title “Macedónsky zápas o názov a budúcnosť európskej integrácie bývalej Juhoslovanskej republiky Macedónsko” in the October 2009 edition of the Slovak political and diplomatic magazine “Euro-Atlantic Quarterly”.

Miltiades Elia Bolaris

We are both neighbors. I live in this nice villa by the sea, called Macedonia, and you live in a smaller house further up on the hill. I belong to a few prestigious neighborhood clubs, like the Rotary club and the Gulf club, where I am a respected member.

Lately you have decided to come down from the hills and join these clubs. In order to join, you need my recommendation. Now I am placed on the spot: Should I help you? Your situation becomes precarious; because for me to recommend you to the local clubs, I have to feel that we are friends and that you truly belong like a friend in these places. Are you acting as a friend though?

You go around the neighborhood and tell people that my children are illegitimate, not really mine. You spread rumors that my great-grandfather Alexandros, son of Philippos was not really my grandfather, that I am simply an impostor. Indeed, you claim that he was YOUR grandfather. By claiming that he was your progenitor you clearly make the case that he had given you the deed to the sea side villa, and I simply took over a property that should rightfully belong to you.

Everyone in the neighborhood knows that your family name was Bulgarov on your mother’s side and Serbovic on your father’s side, yet, somehow, after WWII you came to the City Hall and registered your children under a new family name: Makedonski. then you made claims that villa Makedonia is yours.

Since I can’t let you have the title to villa Macedonia, you now demand that only your home up the hills should be named Macedonia, and you also demand exclusivity to the name Makedon. You seriously insist that I must now change my name and not call myself a Makedon, because supposedly YOU are the ONLY Macedonian in the neighborhood. Did you also say that you want me to help you join my clubs?

This is exactly the dilemma Greece is facing: FYROM wants to join NATO, and the EU too. The Greeks will not cooperate. Is it maybe some old enmities that hold them back? Not at all. During all the major conflicts of the 20th century, the Balkan wars I and II, WWI and WWII, Greece and the people of ex-Yugoslavia stood side by side and fought as as allies. By contrast, Greece and Bulgaria always fought against each other during the Balkan war II, and in both world wars. Yet, Greece has become the largest investor in Bulgaria (in FYROM too), and greatly assisted Bulgaria to secure a position in both NATO and the EU, something for which the Bulgarians are openly grateful. Greece and Bulgaria are model neighbors who buried old issues and cooperate in creating prosperity for their people, in the same way France and Germany or Russia and Germany did.

Greece is not a rich and powerful country, but it has a long history and culture, and a language that has been documented in written form for the last 3650 years. Greeks are immensely proud of their history, culture and language and they did a splendid job showcasing them to the world in the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics.

When FYROM came to the scene, and tried to become registered among the nations of the world under the name Republic of Macedonia, Athens said that it felt threatened by Skopje’s irredentist talk about capturing Thessalonike and making it their capital, and also by Skopje’s cozy ties to Turkish militarism. Everyone is talking about the circus-like “antiquitist” atmosphere in FYROM and Alexander the Great’s gigantic statue being prepared for Skopje’s main square. It wrecks havoc with Greek cultural and historical sensibilities and it makes Greeks laugh at the clowns from Skopje, but few are talking about the statue of Turkey’s founder Kemal Attaturk soon to be unveiled in the same city. This gets Greek radars on alert mode. They do not need a second front if something ever goes wrong with Turkey.

This creates a paradox: poor little FYROM, is actually on the strong part of the equation. Greece has the cards in its hands but it is in the weak position. Proof of that was given last year in Bucharest. FYROM’s PM Nikola Gruevski and Foreign minister Milososki showed up for the NATO enlargement conference under the paternal protection of president Bush, certain in their hybris that Greece would not ever say “NO” to America and assured by Condoliza of FYROM’s entry into the alliance. They had the champagnes ready to pop when, to their dismay, the Greeks showed up in Bucharest with a veto in their sleeves. George W. had to swallow his imperial pride and FYROM was politely asked to come back later, after it reached an agreement with Athens.

The solidly pro-Washington duo of Greek PM Costas Caramanlis and his Foreign minister Dora Bakoyianni being politicians, had recognized political suicide when it stared them in their eyes.

The Greek politician who will bargain away the name Macedonia to FYROM will need a nice home in a very secluded Aegean island to retire to. The Greek electorate, especially the voters from Greek Makedonia (twice as large and more populous than the whole of FYROM) will severely punish any politician who will dare bow to external pressure and cave in to Skopje’s demands. Thessalonike and the rest of the province of Makedonia are consistently sending conservative majorities to the parliament in Athens. Incidentally, historic Macedonia of Greece is never mentioned by its name by Skopje: they officially refer to it as “Aegean Macedonia”, betraying a refusal to accept Greece´s sovereignty of that territory, considering it an “enslaved” part of FYROM.

Despite their eagerness to please their NATO allies, PM Caramanlis and PM-hopeful Bacoyianni, were stuck between a rock and a hard place: They simply could not give in. A raucous LAOS party to their right is breathing down their shoulders, with cries of “treason” against anyone who will betray Macedonia to the “Skopianoi”. The European-leaning PASOK, widely believed to win the next elections to be held sometimes between now and March of 2010 will have even fewer reasons to compromise away Hellenic cultural and historical heritage to Skopje.

The best that Skopje will be able to bargain in a compromise out of Athens will eventually be some sort of a name combination like Gornamakedonija (Northern Macedonia, untranslated) or Slavomakedonija or something to that effect. While Dora Bakoyianni declares that Upper Macedonia might also be an acceptable solution to Athens, this is probably wishful thinking of a staunchly pro-Washington politician who will soon be voted out of her job. Bakoyianni, as the Greek expression tells it, is “more royalist than the king”. And the king now is Barack Obama, who, as congressman from Illinois on August 3, 2007 co-sponsored Senate resolution SR-300, (, proposed by Senator Bob Menendez of Florida and supported by Senators Olympia Snowe of Maine and Barack Obama himself. S.Res.300 is “A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) should stop the utilization of materials that violate provisions of the United Nations-brokered Interim Agreement between FYROM and Greece regarding “hostile activities or propaganda” and should work with the United Nations and Greece to achieve longstanding United States and United Nations policy goals of finding a mutually-acceptable official name for FYROM.” It urged FYROM “to discourage acts by private entities likely to incite violence or hatred, and to review textbooks, maps, and teaching aids to ensure their information’s accuracy;”

NATO’s enlargement in Bucharest came and went, and everyone thought that cooler heads will finally prevail in Skopje. Instead, Nikola Gruevski’s government made a deeper leap into pseudo-Makedonist abyss: Following the re-naming of the Skopje airport to Aleksandar Veliki, Gruevski ordered a 33 meter tall bronze statue of Alexander the Great in Italy, to be erected in the middle of Skopje. He re-named the country’s main stadium after Philip II, the first king who united Greece, and the part of the Belgrade to Thessaloniki expressway crossing FYROM into Aleksandar Veliki. He invited Gazanfar Ali Han, a tribal leader of the Hunza tribesmen from Pakistan, who claim to be lost soldiers of Alexander, and created a circus atmosphere for the visiting Pakistani ” Makedonci”: Pseudomakedonist delirium in apotheosis!

The Greeks were amused by the comical aspects of it all, but they also noted the serious ramifications. As for incitement to violence, it was not surprising that in this climate of ethnic hatred and intolerance that Gruevski’s VMRO party is creating, two buses full of elderly Macedonian Greek retirees from Thessaloniki on a tour of the Byzantine city of Ochrid was attacked during a VMRO party congress, by fanatical hooligans, earlier this summer. A few old people were beaten and their buses were vandalized with “United Makedonija”, “Alexander the Great” and “F..k Greece” graffiti written on their sides ( “United Makedonija” is the irredentist slogan through which Skopje ultra-nationalists promote their plans to anex northern Greece and southwestern Bulgaria.

The majority of the Slavic people in FYROM, and this includes the academic Blaže Ristovski, are flabbergasted by the June 2009 pronouncements of the government History publications claiming that they are not Slavs, but descendants of the ancient Macedonians, with some minor Slavic admixture ( and ). This reminded many of Ante Pavlic’s Ustashe fascists during WWII who were proclaiming that the Croats are descendants of the Goths who absorbed some Slavs on the way.

For a people whose Bulgarian-related Slavic dialect has no original ancient Greek or Latin words in it, other than obvious modern loans, a claim of descent from or even relation to the ancient Macedonians who left us thousands of Greek inscriptions, and who, by promoting their language from Egypt to India made Greek into the international language of antiquity, is, to say the least, unsupported. Skopje intellectuals, who still have their feet on the ground, have sarcastically coined a word for this lunatic fascination with Alexander’s Macedonia: they call it Bucephalism, named after Alexander’s horse ( Academics from the best Universities around the world on May 2009 signed a letter to Obama, expressing frustration at the outrageous slaughter of historical truth by FYROMian propaganda ( Their suggestion: call it Paionia, if you want an ancient name.

For all practical purposes FYROM is not a nation state. It is a multinational entity, a mini Yugoslavia. Christian Slavs are about 60-65 %, followed by Albanians, Turks, Vlachs, Greeks, Muslim Slavs, Gypsies and others. The “Makedonci” are not a uniform ethnic group. Many identify themselves as Serbs or Bulgarians, and still others, especially in the south, close to historic Macedonia are true Slavomacedonians in the geographic and historically proper sense. Tito’s 1944 plan to create a Narod out of the residents of Vardarska Banovina was only half baked. A forced unity can breed disunity and divisiveness, as Yugoslavia taught. The escape in a mythological-un-historical past with Alexander riding Bucephalas through the streets of Skopje is as unnecessary for the long term stability of this multi-ethnic state as it is dangerous to its unity and existence. Albanians have time and again shown their displeasure to Skopje’s fanatical attitude against Greece and the name issue: “Call it Coca Cola”, exclaimed recently a frustrated Albanian politician, “just get us into NATO and the EU”!

Instead of trying to forcefully impose a false unity under a fake, de-Slavicised identity and clamping down of anyone who raises a voice of Slavic descent against this travesty, an alternative progressive policy could suggest an open society that accepts its multiculturalism and thrives in it; a state where a Muslim Slav or an Albanian can feel as part of the society as a Bulgar, a Serb, a Greek Vlach or a Slavomacedonian. Instead of trying to create a Central-Asian, Turkmen-type, repressive regime under the “illustrious leadership” of an “eternal father of the Macedonians”, a truly imaginative leader, definitely with more culture than the current one, could easily transform this little country into a Balkan Switzerland.

Pseudo-Makedonism, the dominant political ideology in Skopje, and the name Macedonia are what stands in the way of FYROM’s progress and its path to European integration. They are poisoning FYROM’s relations with all its neighbors as well as intra-ethnic relations within the country, creating divisions instead of unity, pitting Slav against Albanian, Christian against Muslim, Bulgarian against Slavomacedonian, and FYROM against Greece, Bulgaria, Albania and the world; Pseudo-Makedonism and the provincial narrow mindedness of its self-serving political nomenclature, irrevocably stuck in its Titoist roots, is keeping FYROM time frozen, unable to make the next step.

PS: As was obvious to everyone following Greek politics, at the time this article was written, the Costas Caramanlis government with Dora Bacoyanni as foreign minister lost in the October 2009 Greek elections.


Several articles at:

Is there a Rift between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of “Macedonia” on Alexander?

A brief overview of the Macedonian name issue

The alleged differences between the Macedonians and the other ancient Greeks

Ali Ahmeti Demands a Solution to the Name Dispute Between Skoplje and Athens [06-V-2009]

Delirious Pseudomacedonism: Fascist Official Video of the FYROMian Government, on State TV [Full version]

Ljubčo Georgievski Denounces Historical Revisionism at a TV Debate [17-VI-2009]

Opposition journalist Branko Geroski on the Greek-FYROM name dispute:

Letter to President Barack Obama

I am an Indigenous Macedonian I am Greek

Slavic Philhellenic Network - Vardaraxios

Vasko Gligorijević’s Videos in YouTube

Source: Macedonian Issues Blog

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