It is not just the name Macedonia, but the use of it and the propaganda around it the last half century by Greece’s neighbour!
Being a bilateral problem between Greece and the self proclaimed “Republic of Macedonia” (internationally recognised as the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), the two sides seem to approach to a solution after 26 years of non-continuous negotiations. Having a new Social Democratic government in Skopje with the support of Albanians and a left-wing party governing in Greece, hopes for reaching a solution to the naming dispute have risen and negotiations have progressed in a few months more than the last years in total. But why is this problem a problem in the first place and why does Greece seem to behave like an annoying stubborn state which blocks the way to its poor neighbour to become member of bigger international organizations?
Historically speaking Macedonia is linked with the spread of the Ancient Greek spirit and civilisation to the East. Macedonia for Greeks is one of the most glorious part of the nation’s history. The Ancient Macedonians were a Greek tribe organized in their own kingdom who managed to conquer the rest of Greece and lead a successful war against the Persian Empire. Modern Greeks being the descendants of Ancient Greeks makes Modern Greek Macedonians the descendants of Ancient Macedonians.
The problem, though, occurs to the confusion between the different ethnicities living in the region of Macedonia during the Byzantine times. It is a fact that the Byzantine Macedonia was not only Greek populated; Jews and Slavs were also a big part of the population. Being a region with deep historical background, the geographical area of Macedonia was split in the Balkan Wars between Greece (51%), Yugoslavia (38%) and Bulgaria (11%); The modern former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, claimed the name of Macedonia in 1944 and started to educate its people that Greeks were the oppressors of their nation and stealers of their historical lands, that Macedonians spoke a different language and were a different ethnicity. And that is exactly the problem that has made Greece “annoying”; not just the name “Macedonia” but the use of it and the propaganda around it the last half century.
Greeks identifying as Macedonians for centuries face a rather ridiculous situation from their neighboring country to monopolize the name of Macedonia, provoke with the use of the Ancient Macedonian symbols and defend that everything Macedonian is not Greek. That is simply the reason that Greece opposes the use of “Republic of Macedonia” by its neighboring country and asks for a name that will show the difference of the Slavic nation’s identity from the one of the historical Macedonians. A “New Macedonia”, a “Northern Macedonia” or an “Upper Macedonia” are names that Greece would support, provided that its neighbor stops the unhistorical propaganda and accepts that name “erga omnes”, meaning the use of that name towards everyone, both outside and inside the country.
Being quite an unstable country and with the experience of the Gruevski administration the last years (the kitsch project “Skopje 2014” and his denial to even accept a new name) Greeks are rather skeptical that a future VMRO-DPMNE government in Skopje would keep the deal of using the name. Even if Prime Minister Zaev is seemingly an open-minded negotiator who has already made some symbolic steps and has admitted that his country was provoking Greece, this is not enough; the refusal of President Ivanov to sign the bill for the use of the Albanian language shows how weak his power is and the respect shown to the Parliament by the Head of State. The change of the name in the country’s Constitution along with an international agreement is the absolute guarantee for Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic in order to be supported towards its euro-atlantic integration.
The final deal would still allow the country to use the name “Macedonia” in a new form, thus leaving in the past the ridiculous name “FYROM”. Furthermore, Greece has promised that a solution would mean strong support for the country’s accession to NATO and the EU, as well as financial investments in the country. Accepting the historical facts and a new name including the term “Macedonia” is the request of 3.5 million Greek Macedonians and 10 million Greeks towards a country of 2 million people who insist to declare ethnically “Macedonians” for the last 68 years. Given the small compromises asked by Greece and the benefits that it is willing to offer, is Greece really to blame for the Macedonia naming dispute?