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The real reasons why Greece is opposed to the name of Republic of Macedonia

by Borce Georgevski

Greece has been misusing its standing and membership in international bodies to block the recognition of Macedonia and thus slowing its political and economic progress, which can have long standing negative consequences for the stability of the volatile Balkan region. However, Greece has chosen to ignore the consequences of its actions, and even completely economically embargoed Macedonia in 1994-1995, causing huge economic damage, for which it still has not paid reparations.

The paranoia in Greece has become so strong, that in the early 1990s it renamed the „University of Thessaloníki“ to „University of Macedonia“, then renamed the „Thessaloníki Airport“ to „Macedonia Airport“ (and has the audacity to object to the renaming of the Skopje Airport), then put Alexander the Great on the 100 drachma coins, the star of Vergina on all the city buses in Thessaloníki, and a big sign above the entrance to the central train station in Thessaloníki saying „Macedonia is Greek“. This all happened since 1990. Why the Greek government was not so proud of its ‚Macedonian‘ heritage before is anyone’s guess. The most ridiculous thing would probably be that Greece adopted the exact same flag (only with blue background) that it forced Republic of Macedonia to abandon in 1994, as the official flag of the province of Greek Macedonia.

One may wonder: why are the Greeks so afraid of their much smaller and poorer neighbor to the north? Is it because Republic of Macedonia might act on the alleged territorial aspirations towards northern Greece? Even the most misinformed military expert would have a good laugh at that. Is it because of the identity of Alexander the Great and his compatriots 2,000 years ago? The greatest world historians still cannot agree on this, not to even mention that our modern concepts of nation and nationality not only were nonexistent 2,000 years ago, but would be completely foreign to the people of that era. Is it that by calling itself Macedonia, the republic somehow ‚appropriates‘ the name of a wider geographic region exclusively for itself? But we have plenty of similar cases, not only in the world, but right in the midst of Europe, like the Republic of Moldova and the Province of Moldova in Romania, the country of Luxembourg and the province of Luxembourg in Belgium, and yet this has not been a great concern to these countries. These three reasons are touted by Greek nationalists as the main points for their opposition to the name of the Republic of Macedonia, but they do not ring true even after a superficial examination. Then what is the real reason for the Greek paranoia towards anything (non-Greek) Macedonian?

One doesn’t need to venture far into ancient history or scholarly books and discourses to discover this. It is enough to look at the Human Rights Watch (HRW) publications about Greece, especially the works titled “ „Denying Ethnic Identity: The Macedonians of Greece“ “ and “ Free Speech on Trial: Government Stifles Dissent on Macedonia“ both of which can be found at HRW’s Greece publications page at http://www.hrw.org/en/publications/reports/189/related .

Ever since Greece received the southern portion of Macedonia in 1913 as war spoils after the Balkan Wars, it has waged a consistent policy of forced assimilation, molestation, and exile of the ethnic Macedonians in Greek Macedonia, sometimes masked as ‚population exchanges‘, but most of the time just plain ethnic harassment, bordering on ethnic cleansing. After the 1949 Greek Civil War, even more ethnic Macedonians were exiled because they were fighting on the wrong side of the conflict. In 1982, a discriminatory reconciliation law was passed in Greece, which allowed the return of communist fighters who were Greeks ‚by origin‘, and effectively disallowed the return of ethnic Macedonians to Greece and reinstatement of their properties, confiscated by the Greek government in 1949.

It is this that the Hellenic Republic sees as the greatest danger from recognition of the Republic of Macedonia. It is the fact that Greece is the only European country that does not recognize ANY ethnic minorities within its borders, but claims that everybody is Greek, thus depriving the thousands of ethnic Macedonians (and Vlachs, Turks and Albanians) of education in their own language, preserving their national culture, customs and language, under the threat of beatings, imprisonment, and other harassments by Greek officials. Numerous recent cases have been documented in detail by the organization of the ethnic Macedonians in Greece on their website http://www.florina.org including their own very thorny way to existence, after beatings, false trials and property destructions, which at the end, required a judgment from the European Court of Justice against the Greek government to allow the organization to exist.

The Greek ultra-nationalist go even further, not only denying the name, but also the complete existence of Macedonian Identity and the Macedonians, staging ridiculous claims like the Macedonian nation being invented by the late Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito in the 1940s, when even a cursory glance at any encyclopedia or scholarly work can show that people with separate ethnic Macedonian national consciousness have existed at least 200 years back, and have been mercilessly prosecuted by whichever ruler was currently occupying Macedonia, who called them ‚Macedonists‘ and other pejorative terms. The fact that the modern ethnic Macedonian consciousness might have arisen later than the surrounding nations‘ on the Balkans does not make it any less valid. The same Greek ultra-nationalist need to be reminded that the Holocaust started by denying the right to exist to a whole nation, and also in recent times the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur. It is dangerous for people from ‚the cradle of democracy‘ to use the same rhetoric as the perpetrators of the worst crimes against humanity in history.

Republic of Macedonia is recognized by its constitutional name by 125 countries so far, and the number is constantly growing. Greece’s EU partners are growing increasingly irritated from the unreasonable Greek stance and the unnecessary obstacles it poses to bringing stability and prosperity on the Balkans. The recognition of the constitutional name of Macedonia by major countries like USA, Canada, China, Russia and the UK is a clear signal to all nationalists, inside and outside of governments, that it is not for the politicians to decide whose history is more right, and what happened 2000 years ago, but that they should concentrate on the present, and protect the basic human rights of self-determination and pursuit of happiness of all people living today.

Borce Georgevski
(Vancouver, BC, Canada)