Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The issue with F.Y.R.O.M.

One of the most important current E.U. agendas is the further expansion of the Union and the inclusion of all Western Balkans. There are many issues that must be resolved, for some of the countries to be eligible to join.

Many of them have issues with corruption, financial, social and judicial problems. One of them has an additional name dispute with an existing E.U. member state, Greece.

Not that the only obstacle for full EU membership that FYROM is facing is the naming dispute. Corruption, a fragmented multi-ethnic society, equality issues between the Albanian and the Slavic communities, freedom of speech are also serious issues.

But focusing on the country's spat with Greece, is the name dispute just "silly," as many of our fellow European nationals think? They are obviously influenced by their national media, that do not give an accurate description of the problem, or they simply do not understand it and are oversimplifying it. Perhaps it masks a deeper problem that is far more complicated for an average European citizen, with limited understanding of the region's history to understand.

Ancient Macedonia has undoubtedly Greek heritage and lineage.All archaeological findings and historical facts point out to this fact. And if in any doubt you may like to listen to a testimony from a non Greek here.

If ancient Macedonians were of different stock then how come we have after the expansion of the empire of Alexander the Great, the creation of the "Hellenistic" period in art, history and culture of Europe and not the "Macedonian"? The Greek language was spread from the Balkans to India, while there is absolutely no evidence that the ancient inhabitants of this land spoke the same language with the citizens of FYROM.

The Romans had also conquered Greece and spread its culture to the rest of Europe, but they also promoted their own language which was Latin. And so we have the different languages that originated from it, in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Romania. Why didn't ancient Macedonians promote their own language, rather prefered to make the Attic dialect of ancient Greek the lingua franca of the times? 

We have to understand that when we are talking about ancient Greece, we are not talking about one state or nation, not even one homogenous ethnic group. Ancient Greece was fragmented in kingdoms, city states, monarchies and tyrannies of the different Greek tribes, just like the different Celtic tribes and organized in different political systems.

Perhaps ancient Greeks were as different to each other as today are the Norwegians to the Swedish. They spoke different dialects of the same language and as they were a nationalist and chauvinist society, their favorite debate was who was a barbarian and who could be called a true Greek. To be called a barbarian was the worse insult you could give to another person or nation.

So welcome to the world of ancient Greek politics. When the Athenians, who were enemies of the kingdom of Macedon called them barbarians, they were actually insulting them. I guess their debates of who could be called a Greek, were not much different from our debates today on who is European, where Europe ends and if Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine can be called European and join the EU.

The Greek identity was not solidified back then, just like the very European identity is under a lot of debate now. And as it expanded and came in contact with other ethnic groups, it certainly kept absorbing them together with their culture, creating an ever shifting Greek ethnic identity.

Due to its long history Macedonia's population changed dramatically over the centuries. In fact Macedonians seized to exist as an autonomous ethnic group after the expansion of the Roman empire. Never again Macedonia will be independent until the liberation of the region from the Turks. Since its incorporation in the Roman empire Macedonia's borders will change constantly, depending its rulers' administration efforts to manage their empire's regions.

Macedonia was since the Byzantine and Ottoman empires constantly a multinational society. Its population was consisted of Greeks, Romans, Turks, Armenians, Slavs, Bulgarians, Albanians, Jews, other Europeans and middle Eastern people.They lived side by side for centuries and by geographical terms, they can all be called "Macedonians." Why should one nation today be allowed to monopolize its name?

With the Balkan wars and the collapse of the Ottoman empire, one question remained: how to partition the region of Macedonia, a region so rich in natural resources and with such geopolitical and strategic location. Many wanted it and tried to promote their interests in it. For the Greeks apart of any economical or political motives, there was also the historical aspect of it.

Thessaloniki's Jews did not want the region to fall under either Bulgarian or Greek rule. They held under the Ottoman rule most economic control of the region and in fact many ultra orthodox Jews did not even want the creation of Israel, as they considered Macedonia as their promised land.(1)

The big powers of Europe were also divided, but most of them did not want Macedonia to come under either Greek or Bulgarian control, as they have established good trade relations with the Ottomans and the Jews, plus they wanted to manage the region's resources. (1)

Austria even thought to campaign towards the south to conquer Macedonia for itself, but they were too late. The Greek army liberated the region before them. The Ottomans of course did not want to lose Macedonia either, as it was a very important stronghold of their empire in Europe. (1)

After the liberation by the Greeks, the newly created state came face to face with the multi-ethnic population of Macedonia. Population exchanges happened between Turkey and Greece, but also Greece and Bulgaria, in order to create a more homogenous state, something that all countries wanted. Bulgaria and Greece especially got involved in a nasty and bitter struggle to gain influence over Macedonia.(1)

Throughout the Ottoman years, the Greeks and the Bulgarians were competitive against each other to gain influence and lands in Macedonia. Its population in many regions was bilingual from all these struggles. (1)

Before the collapse of the Ottoman empire, we have the beginnings of the creation of an effort to keep Macedonia either Turkish or have it as an independent state, because it suited the interests of many. Therefore various Jewish, Turkish and communist organizations were dedicated in the creation of a pan-Macedonian consciousness, in order to keep the region independent. (1)

Many preferred to see it as an independent nation rather to fall into the hands of a newly emerged state like Bulgaria and Greece, that they argued that they could not handle the potential of the region on their own. And here is where the problem starts. (1)

There was a Slavic or Bulgarian speaking population in the region of Greece, plus also a significant Jewish population. The second community was decimated by the Nazis in WW2, while the first community after the end of the war and when Greece fell into a bloody civil war, chose to side with the communists and co-operated with Tito. Tito wanted the region to join the rest of the communist Balkan states on the side of USSR, and he had views on Macedonia.

So he assisted the Greek communists and the Slavic speakers of the region, in order to break Greece and create a new Korea in Europe. A northern Greek communist state in Macedonia and Thrace, and a nationalistic pro-Western southern Greek state.

After the war the Greek Communists and the Slavic speakers of Greece who sided with them, were expelled from the country with the blessings of the West and settled in what is today FYROM, most eastern Europe and ex-USSR states. Their descendants in FYROM demand to be allowed back into Greece and regain the properties of their ancestors that have been confiscated after the war. So they use the issue of the naming dispute to put pressure on Greece, to accept their demands.

But most of the people of FYROM are of Slavic descent and migrated to the region of Macedonia 1000 years after the years of Alexander, so they can not have any claim on the history and heritage of ancient Macedonia. Their language is a Bulgarian dialect.

They have settled in the region for centuries, so for geographical reasons they can call themselves Macedonians, but there are not a separate and distinctive ethnicity under that name. Ancient Macedonians are vanished and gone. Their heritage and legacy remain with Greece, as they were a Greek kingdom.

Just like the legacy of the ancient Greeks of south Italy or "Magna Grecia" belongs to Greece too, even though by modern geopolitical terms they are Italians. Sicily in fact is also a Greek originated name as it was called "Sikelia" by the Greeks. The name of a region can never be an obstacle. The narrow minds of its inhabitants though, surely can.

The name Sikelia (Sicily) is still used by Italians but they do not have any claim of the Greek heritage of the region, or denounce it just like the FYROM people do, in order to present it as or create their own. They embrace it and proudly acknowledge it! Something that not only the people of FYROM but of the Balkans in general, still drenched with blind nationalism, are not mature enough to do.

Today Macedonia has two or more ethnic groups living in its land, the Greek Macedonians, the Slav Macedonians with Albanian and Roma minorities also present. The Greeks actually call the inhabitants of FYROM, "Slavomacedonians". That translates to Macedonians of Slavic descent. Another proof that the issue is not about the name, rather  about land, heritage, history and the "truth."

We could share the name, provided they drop their claims over Greek national history and heritage plus the mud throwing against Greece about non existent oppressed minorities in its territory. A name that could include the term "Macedonia," could be accepted by the Greeks if they are reassured. Slavonic Republic of Macedonia, or Macedonia of Vardarska could be successful candidate names. But can they be trusted?

Macedonia is and should remain a region of Europe. With two separate ethnic groups separated in two different states. The Greek Macedonians and the "Vardarska" Macedonians. Vardarska was the name of the region of FYROM before the propaganda of Tito, who changed its name and who's legacy in fact is the "Macedonian naming dispute." 


Name disputes are not anything new. France blocked the UK's entry in EEC back in the '70s, under the name of Great Britain, because they thought it implied territorial claims over the French territory of Bretagne (or Brittany)! So that is why the UK entered EEC as United Kingdom!

FYROM belongs in the EU and all European institutions. It is in Greece's interests to have stable and prosperous nations as neighbors, but we should not have to sacrifice our national heritage to see this plan through. Pity, because the people of FYROM are victims of the megalomania of it's current leadership.

I am a Greek Macedonian from Thessaloniki, and a European. There is no reason for Greeks and SlavoMacedonians to be hostile to each other. It is in both our interests a common understanding and solution to the problem. It is also in our interests to have closer cooperation and integration in the region, within the EU framework.

(1) Extracts from Mark Mazower's book: "Salonica, City of Ghosts."

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