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What's in a name?

Yet again the Greeks are raising the issue of the name of Macedonia. Now they refuse to allow Macedonia to join NATO because there is an area of Greece that is also called Macedonia.

The Greek state has been pressurising the fragile Macedonian Republic ever since it was created. They have changed their flag to answer Greek protests, they have changed the design on their money to avoid some supposed similarity with a tower in Greece. When it comes to the name, however, the Macedonians have no other.

The idea that Greece seems to have is that Macedonia (the Republic of) might want to claim Macedonia (the Greek Province of), just because they have the same name, and despite the fact that the government in Skopje explicitly rules out any such agenda.

Given that the south east province of Belgium has the same name as one of its neighbours, which it also borders and with which it shares a common history, one might- under the Greek rules- expect trouble, but somehow the two Luxemburgs manage to get along.

So should the two Macedonias

Greece is being astonishingly immature- and in the dangerous environment of the Balkan peninsula, it is asking for trouble.


Paul Hulbert said…
We've lived with the same problem for years - and almost nobody has noticed. In French Brittany is called Bretagne, and GB is Grande Bretagne. We haven't tried to invade (but don't give Gordon any ideas...)

Anonymous said…
It's not just that the region's share the same name. It's that Greeks see the Macedonians as trying to steal "their" history, and a part of their identity. Ancient Macedon existed entirely within Greece, and the Macedonians were a Greek people. The Slavs only arrived during the great migrations, and Slavomacedonians were thought of as Bulgarians before 1945. Now they call themselves Macedonians and claim Alexander the Great as a national hero.
Anonymous said…
Socrates, you mislead.

The ancient Macedonians were on the fringes of the Greek world, not "entirely within" it. They put a lot of effort into maintaining that they really were Greek. The Greeks themselves were always rather dubious about this (which is why the Macedonian conquests were so embarrassing for them) and regarded them as at best semi-Greek, if not actually Barbarians.

Ironic that modern Greeks are now so sure of the opposite.

What you say about the modern Macedonians being (mostly) Slavs is of course true, but it is also true to some extent of the "Greeks" of today, who are in fact a mix of original Greeks with Slav and Turk incomers. Which is why they are so touchy and insecure about their Greek "heritage". Their connexion with the people who built the Acropolis, etc. is tenuous.
Anonymous said…
I can't understand how one country can impose name on the other? Is there any other example of this kind of problem? Probably not because name of one country is a choise of that country citizens. As old greek democracy, demos- people, cratos leading! How is posible that western democracies EU and USA force one country to change its name when this is a example of breaking human rights on highest level. If EU and USA impose this on this small country called by their citizens Republic of Macedonia than that will be defeat for western values and democracy.
BCB Webmaster said…
I agree with the Welsh Jacobite about the place of Macedon in antiquity. I suppose one could say that Macedon put itself at the centre of the Greek world through Philip and Alexander's invasions of Greece but that didn't stop more Greeks fighting against the latter's army at the Battle of the Granicus at the start of his war against the Persian Empire.
Anonymous said…
This is History:

Demosthenes Philippic 3 31 [dem. 9.31]

[30] Ay, and you know this also, that the wrongs which the Greeks suffered from the Lacedaemonians or from us, they suffered at all events at the hands of true-born sons of Greece, and they might have been regarded as the acts of a legitimate son, born to great possessions, who should be guilty of some fault or error in the management of his estate: so far he would deserve blame and reproach, yet it could not be said that it was not one of the blood, not the lawful heir who was acting thus.
[31] But if some slave or superstitious bastard had wasted and squandered what he had no right to, heavens! how much more monstrous and exasperating all would have called it! Yet they have no such qualms about Philip and his present conduct, though he is not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honor, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave.
[32] Yet what is wanting to crown his insolence? Not content with the destruction of cities, is he not organizing the Pythian games, the common festival of the Greeks, and if he cannot be present in person, sending his menials to act as stewards? [Is he not master of Thermopylae and the passes into Greece, holding those places with his garrisons and his mercenaries? Has he not the right of precedence at the Oracle, ousting us and the Thessalians and the Dorians and the rest of the Amphictyons from a privilege which not even all Greek states can claim?]
Anonymous said…
Herodotus said this clearly in four words, introducing Amyntas, who was king c.500, as 'a Greek ruling over Macedonians....
. Writing in 346 and eager to win Philip's approval, , Isocrates paid tribute to Philip as a blue-blooded Greek and made it clear at the same time that the Macedonians were not Greeks. Aristotle, born at Stageira on the Macedonian border and the son of a Greek doctor at the Macedonian court, classed the Macedonians and their institutions of monarchy as not Greek, as we shall see shortly. It is thus not surprising that the Macedonians considered themselves to be, and were treated by the Alexander the Great as being, separate from the Greeks. The were proud to be so...
Anonymous said…
I love all these posts trying to make a case about different ethnic origins of Macedons (not being Greek, but proudly Macedonians, different!!) from the rest of the Greek cities, to prove a point. I like the selective (google - wikipedia, found) citations about how the Greeks hated the barbarians, non-Greeks, Macedons.

Besides the fact that one could find thousands of citations (all in Greek...) about rivalries and harder considerations among Greek rival cities - entities, it becomes irrelevant if not suspicious to consider the Classic world of Antiquity with terms of ethnic identities and nation-states of the 19th and 20th century. As I am not a historian I will not try to enter a fruitless, senseless debate about this, just taking note that a Macedonian King, Alexander, educated and speaking the Greek language contributed decisively to the Hellenization of immense territories in Asia...

As a Greek and a citizen, I learned a little about the Greek spirit and humanist lessons of this great civilization. As a matter of fact, we Greeks should be very happy that an ethnic group, Slav- "macedonians", want to share this glorious heritage. As I said, it becomes more suspicious when an ethnic group wants to revisit-alienate history in order to adapt it to its originating national myth!

If it can sound dubious and utopian to assert that modern Greeks are direct descendants of Plato and Aristotle (mentor of Alexander by the way) as a pure and continuous ethnic entity (blood descent), it sounds even more senseless and suspicious the systematic attempt of our northern neighbors to build a highly unlikely ETHNIC bridge between Slav inhabitants of the northern part of ancient Macedonia and the Macedons!!!!!

Doesn't that sound like good old Balkan nationalism? Doesn't that looks like clashing ethnicities claiming rights over other's territories, history, rights, etc?

Nobody in the Balkans is exempt of nationalistic passions (not even Greeks). And nobody should under-estimate the destructive power that such passions have brought to the region. Ironically "size does not matter" for the creation of tensions as this much afflicted region has demonstrated in the past (sound familiar?). I mention this above, to show that the argument of "small, powerless and harmless Macedonia" against "strong offensive and arrogant Greece" does not stand in the region.

Macedonian irredentism,as ANY irredentism, is dangerous for the region. Arguing the opposite is a proof of serious lack of... (recent) history.

What today's modern Greeks bring as a tangible reality to the world is a 3000 years cultural continuity (not ethnic).
This culture has freed the mind of the West and of Humanity with universal values.

If there is a lesson that can be learned, from these values, is that cooperation and understanding among our nations, sharing respect and freedom, is a necessity.

Nationalism has made too much damage in our lands and our hearts.
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
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