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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 April 2018
24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 APRIL 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Figure 1. The ‘United Great Macedonia’ map, an expansionist, nationalistic concept that claims Greek, Bulgarian and Albanian territory. SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA Figure 2. A banner used by members of FYROM’s diaspora in a recent rally in Melbourne (4 March 2018), calling for the ousting of 2.5 million Greek Macedonians from a Greek territory in which they have lived for over 3,000 years. Note that the banner also displays a map that includes Greek and Bulgarian territory and is decorated with the ‘Sun of Vergina’. How FYROM became a victim of its own aggression Written by Dr Anastasios Panagiotelis and Dr Vasilis Sarafidis, members of the Executive Board of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies The geographical area of Macedonia is primarily split between three countries, namely Greece, the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia' (hereafter FYROM), and Bulgaria. Although home to distinct peoples, within each subregion the population identifies as Macedonian. For example, in northern Greece people regard themselves to be both Macedonian and Greek, in a cultural and historical sense, in the same way Greeks in Crete regard themselves as both Cretan and Greek. The usage of the term is pervasive in northern Greece with an airport, newspaper, television network and university, among the institutions bearing the name 'Macedonia'. Recent developments have seen FYROM and Greece reenter negotiations over the naming issue. Greece's official position for the past couple of decades is one of compromise. In particular, Greece proposes that the name FYROM be replaced by a compound name with a geographical qualifier before the word 'Macedonia', to be recognised by all countries and for all purposes whether internal or international. In this way, Greece does not wish to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbour but instead seeks to protect its own sovereignty, identity and cultural heritage. The present article challeng- es the false, albeit fairly common view that casts Greece as an obstinate aggressor and FYROM as an underdog and a victim. Instead, we argue that FYROM has been a victim of its own aggression, which has undermined the stability of the country and its prospects for further integration with Europe. WHY IS MACEDONIA CONTESTED? There is a consensus amongst modern scholars and historians that the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia belonged to the Greek world: prominent ancient Macedonians, including Alexander the Great and his father Phillip, self-identified as Greeks, a Greek dialect was spoken, Greek Gods were worshipped and ancient Macedonians participated in the Olympic Games, which were restricted to Greeks only. This kingdom lay exclusively within the borders of the modern Greek state and for this reason all prominent ancient archaeological Macedonian sites are located in Greece, including Alexander's birthplace and site of his father's tomb Aigai, the city of Mieza where Alexander was tutored by Aristotle, and Dion, where Alexander worshipped the Twelve Gods of the Olympian canon with all other ancient Greeks. Subsequent to the Roman conquest of Macedonia in 168BCE, the administrative boundaries of what became the Roman province of Macedonia expanded to the north and west. Over time different ethnic and linguistic groups came to populate this broader region, including Slavic peoples in the 6th century CE. The region has remained a diverse one ever since. For most of the duration of Ottoman rule in the Balkans, identity had more religious rather than national character. Therefore, it is not surprising that during this time the usage of the term Macedonian had a purely geographical connotation , similar to a 'Northerner' in England or to 'Mid-Westerner' in the United States. In the 1800s, an awakening of national consciousness took place among Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians, each establishing a state that became either independent or autonomous from the Ottoman Empire. In Macedonia, which remained under Ottoman rule, local Greek and Slavic populations began to agitate for independence from the Turks and integration with their respective national centres. There was at this stage no 'Macedonian' national consciousness amongst the Slavic peoples of what would become FYROM. As a result the area became contested between the three new states and during the Balkan Wars 1912-13, each of these countries gained a portion of new territory. During the first half of the 20th century, in so far as the Slavs of Macedonia had developed a national identity, it was predominantly a Bulgarian one that had been encouraged by the actions of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (the then Bulgarian Exarchate), although they were aware of differences among themselves and the inhabitants of Bulgaria. On the other hand, according to Jovan Cvijić, a well-known geographer of the Balkans who essentially articulated the Serbian position on the matter, the Slavs of Macedonia (whom he called 'Macedo-Slavs') were a transitional group, located culturally and linguistically between the Bulgarians and Serbs. According to Wilkinson, "the Macedo-Slavs, whatever might have been their origins, had arrived at a state of national development when identification with either the Serbs or Bulgarians was no longer possible in theory or in practice". In 1946, the part of Macedonia within Serbia was incorporated as a constituent republic in Tito's Yugoslav federation under the name 'People's Republic of Macedonia'. The recognition of the existence of a separate 'Macedonian nation' by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia served two pur- poses: to eliminate the sense of Bulgarian national identity shared by many inhabitants of the area, and hence to gain control and eventually justify retaining it as part of the Yugoslav federation; and the desire to extend Yugoslav control over Bulgarian and Greek Macedonia as well. When the Yugoslav Federation began to dissolve in the early 1990s, the southernmost part declared independence and sought recognition under the name 'Republic of Macedonia'. NATIONALISM THREATENS FYROM'S NEIGHBOURS The dissolution of Yugoslavia represented a significant change to the status quo in the southern Balkans, as a newly independent FYROM claimed the name Macedonia exclusively for itself as a sovereign state, as opposed to a member of a federation. In this context, the maximalist name 'Republic of Macedonia' was not simply an expression of sovereignty but also a threat to the stability of the region. This becomes clearer when combined with other actions that were taken by the new republic, such as irredentist claims in the constitution, as well as publishing maps of a 'United Macedonia' in official government and governmentfunded documents, violating and threatening the national security and sovereignty of Greece and Bulgaria. The threat to Greece was particularly pronounced, since territorial claims were reinforced by cultural and historical claims, after a baseless link to Ancient Macedonia was promoted as part of the national narrative of FYROM. In particular, it was claimed that the people of FYROM were direct descendants of Alexander the Great, a stance particularly offensive to Greece since Alexander selfidentified as Greek and his birthplace and capital city both lie well inside Greece's modern borders. Also the flag adopted by FYROM included the 'Sun of Vergina', an ancient symbol found in Greece inside a 4th century BCE royal tomb belonging to Philip, which has clear origin within Greek history and dates back to Homer's Iliad. As part of an interim accord in 1995 between Greece and FYROM that took place under the auspices of the United Nations, FYROM agreed to use a different flag and make some constitutional amendments. In exchange, Greece agreed to remove a 19-month trade embargo against FYROM. However, expansionism and cultural appropriation have continued to be promoted by FYROM even at the highest levels of governance. Maps of 'United Macedonia' remain part of the school curriculum.
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