No. That’s Not Your Name!

As someone whose research and teaching center on modern Eastern Europe, the most recent news from across the Atlantic is just more fodder for a great lecture. For the umpteenth time, the Greek government has vetoed Macedonia’s entry into a European structure–in this case NATO–because those pesky Macedonians persist in calling their country Macedonia. Can you believe the nerve of those guys?

If you have followed events in the Balkans since 1989 at all, you know that this particular comic opera is one of the few comedic moments since the wars in the former Yugoslavia began. If you haven’t been following Balkan events, read on to find out why the Macedonian ambassador to the United Nations has to site behind a nameplate that reads FYROM rather than Macedonia. That’s Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for those not up on the abbreviations.

The root of the problem is a dispute about history, which is why this story makes a good lecture topic. Any Greek nationalist worth his or her stripes will tell you that the ancient kingdom of Macedon was a Greek state. And any Macedonian nationalist worth his or her stripes would shake his or her head and with great weariness remind you that, no, Macedon was a Macedonian kingdom and so when Alexander the Great conquered the rest of the Greek states, Greece became Macedonian, not the other way around.

For something like 2,000 years no one thought to argue about whether that territory north of what is now the Greek state was or wasn’t Macedonia. But in the late 19th century the new Balkan kingdoms of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece all cast their covetous eyes on the place. During the Balkan Wars that preceded World War I, some of the worst fighting was in and over Macedonia.

After World War II, though, the real trouble started, because Greek communist fighters operating out of Yugoslavia tried to topple the Greek government and many Greeks came to believe that Tito had named his country’s southernmost province Macedonia as a way of claiming sovereignty over northern Greece.

But so what? The communist insurgency failed and Yugoslavia behaved. The name of that southern Yugoslav province still rankled plenty of people in Greece, but in the end, what was there to do? I suppose there are people in Mexico who don’t like the fact that the United States has a state called New Mexico either.

The real trouble started after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991. Can you believe it? The people who call themselves “Macedonians” and who speak a language called “Macedonian” decided to call their new country “Macedonia.”

No! No! No! The Greeks shouted. Posters, buttons, bumper stickers, even patriotic songs (in Greek) trumpeted the slogan “Macedonia is Greek!” And the Greek government used its leverage as a NATO, EC (later EU) and UN member to prevent the newly independent Macedonian state from calling itself Macedonia, hence the FYROM compromise.

When I was living in Slovakia in the mid-1990s I met a American human rights lawyer who was working in Macedonia. He had recently traveled to Greece for a conference and when he crossed the border into northern Greece, the border guards stamped “Invalidated” (in Greek) on his Macedonian visa and work permit. Not surprisingly, when he returned to Macedonia, the Macedonian border guards just shrugged and snickered at those silly Greek border guards.

As recently as this past February, the U.S. State Department proposed what we might call the “New Mexico” solution, trying to convince the Macedonians to call their state “New Macedonia” in their membership in various multilateral organizations like NATO and the UN. Wisely, the Macedonians declined.

During the height of the first phase of this controversy in the 1990s, a Bulgarian friend told me that Bulgaria’s foreign minister had proposed that the Macedonians try something similar. His suggestion was that they call their country “Not Macedonia”. That way, whenever the Greeks complained, they could say, “But it’s Not Macedonia.” I have no idea if this story is true or not, but if it is, I think it’s the best solution anyone has come up with.

I’ll conclude by pointing out that the Macedonians are definitely winning the naming dispute, all aggravations about NATO membership to the contrary. The Wikipedia entry for Macedonia calls the country the Republic of Macedonia or just Macedonia. And if Wikipedia says that’s your name, well, that’s your name…isn’t it?

[NB: After two weeks of energetic discussion by a number of readers (see the comments below), I have cut off comments on this post, in part because the discussion had ceased to be civil. TMK]

19 replies on “No. That’s Not Your Name!”

  1. Your post shows a lack of understanding of the name dispute. FYROM occupies 38% of the geographical region of Macedonia, Greece occupies 51%. It’s irrational for the small part to claim for itself the name of the whole. That is why Greece has accepted a compromise solution such as “Republic of Upper Macedonia” which qualifies the noun “Macedonia” with a descriptive adjective “Upper”. Greece is not dead set on this particular solution and would be open to alternative ones such as “Slav Macedonia” or even “New Macedonia”.

  2. I too work on modern EE, the Balkans specifically. And this serio-comic dispute has always just amazed me. Thanks for explaining it in terms non-specialists can appreciate. Now, if we could get the Greeks and the Serbs to be rational….

  3. Lol…I think you mean “if we can only get those Americans to be rational.”

    Factual mistakes and ommisions abound in the screed above.

    Look at this:
    “…many Greeks came to believe that Tito had named his country’s southernmost province Macedonia as a way of claiming sovereignty over northern Greece.”

    ummm, well, you mean the US came to believe and worked hard to convince the Greeks that Tito’s 1944 naming of the Yugoslav province as “Macedonia” was a way of claiming sovereignty over northern Greece.

    You are projecting the US government’s strong advocacy which originated this uproar. That is a very American habit. This is akin to explaining the Vietnam conflict by saying “many Vietnamese were concerned with the potential ‘domino effect’ across Asia.”

    In fact, accroding to the nationalist Greek newspaper — the New York Times — here is how the reaction to the 1944 renaming by Tito was seen:
    “Washington became alarmed when Tito created a Yugoslav Macedonia, seeing it as a springboard into Greece and an embryo for a Greater Communist Macedonia. Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius Jr., in a 1944 memorandum, condemned any reference to a Macedonian “fatherland” or “national conscience,” calling it a potential “offensive action against Greece.”


    Also having worked in Skopje for four years (and Greece for two), I can tell you that the 40% to 45% of the country which is a long oppressed Albanian minority don’t consider themselves Macedonian.

    Are the Greeks right in taking this position now? I say no, but reducing and explaining their rational concern about the future stability as irrational or nationalistic ravings ist disinformative. Greece was bore the hot war part of the cold war and also suffered the mass forced population movements and expulsions of Greeks from other lands.They are done with bloodshed and see the countries to the north as continuing to hold onto revisionist views of long dead fights. To the Greeks the name means an assertion by Macedonia that the issue of the borders isn’t settled.

  4. In 1939, Hitler addressed the German nation with a story that the Austrians and the Dutch are artificial nations made with a sole purpose of stealing the German land and twisting the German history. This became an instant “truth” accepted by all Germans. Hitler said that he will correct this “historical unjustice” and he did one year after that.

    Is it only me that I see simmilarity with the greek argumentation?

    Greece does not have only a problem with the name of the state, but also with the name of the nation, language and the culture. Greece also has a problem with the recent history, like its ethnic cleansing of more than 200 000 slavic-Macedonians from the Greek part of Macedonia in the late 1940s.

    So in the Greek logic, if the Macedonians want to have some sort of future, they should redefine their national identity, culture and language and start suffering from a national amnesia. If this is not a facsism then tell me what is it?

  5. Republic of Macedonia IS a country – its people call themselves Macedonians and their language is Macedonian. Northern Greece, recently renamed Macedonia is not a country, it is a region of a country. Without going back to 1913 when Macedonia was devided and handed over to 3 countries, Greece grabed the biggest portion of Macedonia and renamed it Northern Greece. Now they claim that portion is the only Macedonia and no other Macedonia should exist. I got news for you Greeks, the Republic of Macedonia is here to stay and the Macedonian people aren’t going anywhere. We are God’s people and will be in Republic of Macedonia as Macedonians when Jesus returns. I am proud to be Macedonian.

  6. Yeah, Vlad, I think it’s only you who sees it that way. Especially since Hitler was hismelf an Austrian. Perhaps look in your own country–Macedonia, I presume–and see how your former Primer Minister Ljubco Georgievski now live in Bulgaria and says how Macedonians are really Bulgarians…

  7. The ”Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” has no connection with the Historical Macedonia of Alexander and the Greeks, since the term is used only because they live in a close geografical area of the Historical Greek Macedonia.

    The present political regime, useless try to confuse their young citizens that their slavs ancestors mixed with indigenus greek macedonians,so to giustify the conflict about the name issue with Greece.

    But the statements of different political officers of FYROM confirm the truth.

    Indians, Persians, Afgans, Egyptians are more related to Macedonians and Greek culture than Slavs of FYROM.

    a. The former President of The FYROM, Kiro Gligorov said: “;We are Slavs who came to this area in the sixth century … we are not descendants of the ancient Macedonians” (Foreign Information Service Daily Report, Eastern Europe, February 26, 1992, p. 35).

    b. Also, Mr Gligorov declared: “We are Macedonians but we are Slav Macedonians. That’s who we are! We have no connection to Alexander the Greek and his Macedonia …; Our ancestors came here in the 5th and 6th century” (Toronto Star, March 15, 1992).

    c. On 22 January 1999, Ambassador of the FYROM to USA, Ljubica Achevska gave a speech on the present situation in the Balkans. In answering questions at the end of her speech Mrs. Acevshka said: “We do not claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great …; Greece is Macedonia’;s second largest trading partner, and its number one investor. Instead of opting for war, we have chosen the mediation of the United Nations, with talks on the ambassadorial level under Mr. Vance and Mr. Nemitz.” In reply to another question about the ethnic origin of the people of FYROM, Ambassador Achevska stated that “we are Slavs and we speak a Slav language.”;

    d. On 24 February 1999, in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Gyordan Veselinov, FYROM’S Ambassador to Canada, admitted, “We are not related to the northern Greeks who produced leaders like Philip and Alexander the Great. We are a Slav people and our language is closely related to Bulgarian.” He also commented, “;There is some confusion about the identity of the people of my country.”

    e. Moreover, the Foreign Minister of the FYROM, Slobodan Casule, in an interview to Utrinski Vesnik of Skopje on December 29, 2001, said that he mentioned to the Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, Solomon Pasi, that they “belong to the same Slav people.”;

    Do i need to add anything more? Grow up people and stop living in your paranoid myth.

  8. Greeks do not claim the Northern Macedonians are Greeks, they claim that they are Bulgarians and Albanians. A more apt comparison would be Germans claiming that the Belgians are French and Flemish.

    And Greeks are not alone in this opinion. Thousands of Northern Macedonians are flocking to Bulgarian embassies for Bulgarian citizenship. Former PM Georgievski is one of them – is he also a Greek nationalist?

    I feel no enmity towards Northern Macedonians, to the contrary I feel sorry for a people whose national identity was destroyed by a ruthless communist dictatorship, and has not yet been recovered.

  9. Greek veto shows the extent of their nationalism.
    A veto is a very heavy artillery in the diplomatic negotiations and is very extreme measure.

    Extreme nationalism …

    Whats the status of minorities in Greece?

  10. greece should rename its province not Macedonia change its name….mexico is independent and new mexico is part of USA……rep of ireland is independent and northern ireland is part of UK…..MACEDONIA is independent and aegean macedonia is part of greece…….so logicaly greece should change the name of its province like they do in 1988 from northern greece to macedonia………and all the problems r solved……if macedonia (the greek part of it) claims independance than we can talk into changing our names in upper, lower or north, south otherwise its nonsence macedonia (the actual one not the macedonia ocupied by greeks) to change name

  11. the language of todays macedonians comes from ancient macedonian language check about roseta stone found in egypt from th time of the ruling Ptolomean dynasty (macedonian king of egypt after alexandars death) it is writen in 3 languages on the upper part of stone on the hieroglyphes (the language of gods) in th middle on runes (language of kings and millitiary) and on the lowest on greek (language of common people)
    the scientist r now resaerching the middle language part of the stone and the greeks will be very surprised, and denying all their lies they have made about ancient history……the only truly greek history is nothing more than myths and dreams of great battles but nothing actually happened only the lost of battles against Fillip and the murder of 40k greek merceneries in the army of the persian king daries from Alexander the Great


  12. Macedonia by my opinion should not change its name due to the simple fact that Mexico is independent and New Mexico is US state, Ireland is independent and northern Ireland is part of UK… logically the ones who should change the name is the greek province that made its name from northern greece to Macedonia in 1988…..the only logical way to make Macedonia to change its name into norhtern or upper Macedonia will be if the greek province macedonia proclaims independence from greece and like in the korean way the one should be Northern and the other southern or upper-lower otherwise the greeks should take it slow on this issue

  13. After reading your post it’s obvious that you have a limited overview of the issue and are posing as being some kind of ‘expert.’


    First of all, the Slav people who make up these fake “Macedonians” did not even migrate to the Macedonian region until the year 900 AD. They were in Asia at the time of ancient Macedonia.

    They do not speak Macedonian. There is no such thing. The ancient Macedonians spoke Greek, which is known to everyone with even a passing interest. The language they speak in FYROM is a 100% Bulgarian dialect (Slavic).

    In ancient Greece (the Hellenic World) there was not any concept of “nationalism” or “nation.” There were City States. And they waged war upon one another. Sparta vs. Macedonia, Athens vs. Troy, et al.

    I mean duh! This guy who wrote this is a pseudo intellectual. Also, it’s further obvious that this wanna-be hipster knows nothing about the regional politics of South East Europe.

    It was just announced a few days ago by the Greek government that not only is FYROM not getting into NATO but now they are not going to be allowed European Union (EU) membership. Greece has full veto power so… too bad for those fake slav-Macedonians.

    This guy is no friend of Greece and demonstrates a clear lack of understanding or concern of the problems the Greek nation faces today.

    PS.. Your comparison of the issue to New Mexico is… hilarious. Idiot.

  14. It’s hilarious to see how greek propaganda here are trying to convince a professor of history that he’s wrong.

  15. mk: yes, it’s wrong to question. We are sooo sorry.

    You should perhaps learn to start thinking for yourself (a persons title does not often impress me, but rather their logic).

    Here is a question for you: when every respectable historian in the entire world recognizes Macedonia as a part of the ancient Hellenic world, why then does this so-called “professor” somehow believe (obviously) that a Slavic tribe that migrated to the region of Macedonia in the year 900 AD has the right to call itself the “heirs of Alexander?”

    Two Presidents of the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia have even stated that Slavic-Macedonians have no relation to the people of Alexander. I mean, DAMN.

    Further, I invite everyone to go and do a Goggle image search for “Greater Macedonia.” See how they lay territorial claims upon Greek soil? That is no joke. It’s a threat to the national security of the Greek nation.

    Greece is a super friendly country. If you don’t know this then you are in the minority. This entire issue is an insult to the Greek people. Is that their foreign policy? To insult friendly neighbors? Is this what they have founded their infant (1991) nation upon?

    Don’t try to steal another peoples identity!

    Greece will veto them because NATO and the EU is supposed to be an association of allies and therefore they will not move forward with them until they can build trust and friendship based upon a solid, stable foundation.

    The region of Macedonia is large. No one is saying that they cannot call themselves Macedonians. Greece suggested to them that they change the name to Republic of North Macedonia, as this name makes no de facto claim upon foreign sovereign territory (see “Greater Macedonia”).

    Don’t know about the unstable climate in this country? This is from Wikipedia:
    “The 2001 Macedonia conflict was an armed conflict which began when the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) militant group attacked the security forces of the Republic of Macedonia at the beginning of January 2001.” (look it up to see the combat photos, this conflict lasted a year).

    I’d like to add that the road to friendship is compromise. Lets make it happen. But lets also be realistic. The FYROM is simply going to have to come to terms if they ever hope to see the inside of the European Union and NATO. They are being obstinate, unfortunately (for them).

  16. Not all Greeks support the position that Macedonia is Greek. Allow me to quote from the book “OLD SALONICA”, Athens 1980, Kedros, by the late, and respected novelist, Elias Petropoulos, page 7 :” For two millennia Salonica wasn’t for one minute Greek.” on the same page the author says :
    “I absolutely do not believe the histories of Salonica as contrived by various modern Greek historians; they are histories which reek of chauvinism.” On his one page (p.10) Outline of Salonica’s History, Elias K. Petropoulos writes : ” In 1912 the Greek Army seizes Salonica”. So, 51% of Macedonia teritory was occupied and ethnicaly uprooted by the Modern Greek state.
    Posted by George

  17. Uprooted by the Modern Greek state?

    You need to go learn about Byzantine history – the Eastern Roman Empire. It was the medieval Greek Christian empire that lasted well over 1,000 years and did not fall until the 1460’s (in fact, the second longest lasting Empire in history, after the Egyptian). In 1453 the Turks of the Ottoman Empire sacked Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and for 400 years the Greek people were under this oppressive occupation.

    In 1821 the Greek War of Independence began (the very first European people to rebel against the Ottoman Empire). The Turk’s even occupied parts of Austria.

    Go look at the maps of the Greek Byzantine Empire. Better yet, go read about the Greek Genocide of the 20th Century. The Turks murdered 2 million Greeks and Armenians so they could have a “Turkey for the Turks.”
    This predated the Jewish genocide by decades (in fact, it was the first modern holocaust).

    In the 1920’s there were huge areas outside of modern day Greece where the entire population spoke Greek and identified as such. My point is, the Greeks did not “occupy” Thessaloniki (Salonica) – they liberated it. It has been Greek since recored history.

    That is a fact, jack.

    And chauvinism? How about historical reality. Nice attempt at spin.

    Here is some genuine chauvinism for you: It was the Byzantine Greeks that converted the Slavic peoples to Orthodox Christianity in 988 AD (starting with the Russians). The Greek church is the oldest Christian Church, who do not use a “translated” bible but read straight from the New Testament in the original Ancient Greek (not modern Greek). The New Testament was written in Greek originally. You might care less, but this Former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian. You’d think they would show more respect for the founders of their modern Slavic religious identity; the Greeks.

    Hows that for crass chauvinism?

  18. Latest breaking news:

    Greece stages a comeback

    “After years of isolation and indifference over its name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom), Greece managed to rekindle international interest and even support. France, Spain, Italy, Iceland and Luxembourg were the Nato members who came out in favour of Greece’s veto on Fyrom’s membership at the Nato summit last week. That marks a turnaround from the pre-summit situation in which Greece stood alone in opposing the United States, the driving force behind Fyrom’s entry. Now both sides are expected to work towards a mutually acceptable name solution, with a first assessment due in December 2008.” –AP

    I’d also like to draw attention to this “professors” idiotic statement about Wikipedia. He actually stated that “And if Wikipedia says that’s your name, well, that’s your name…isn’t it?”

    I have contributed to Wikipedia for many years and as anyone involved in the Wiki community knows, hot issues like this one are often spilling over into the encyclopedic entries. Just look under the history and conversation tabs on the FYROM page. It’s constant back and forth. Fake-Macedonians and their dupes trying to shape peoples opinions with cleaver lies. The FACT is that the UN only recognizes this tiny country as “FYROM.” Period. So it’s not the truth to just try to go ahead and call it that on the Wiki. Desperation is a stinky cologne.

    Any idiot who uses Wikipedia should know that it’s user based and full of errors (big time). Anyone can go there and edit any page in any way they wish. I love Wikipedia (use it every single day) but I’m also keenly aware to it’s flawed nature. Always check the resources (most are a flat out joke, often linking to armature web pages).

    I’d also like to add that none of FYROM’s neighboring countries recognize this antagonizing republic, especially the very one that their Slavic language comes from; Bulgaria.

Comments are closed.