Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Many Battles of Us


I know it’s difficult to imagine a nation more at war with itself than us.  Notice I used a small caps “us,” because this is not directed at Capital/Capitol US. 

That’s not to suggest the US faces any less political firestorms than other places, but rather to emphasize how so many “us” citizenries around the world are immersed in crises wrought upon them by elected leaders pursuing polarizing “us against them” political agendas.

It enough to makes one want to scream, “yUK yEU!” 

[My apologies to all immersed in Brexit, but I just couldn’t help myself.]

And what, you may ask, leads me to raise this topic today?

Simple: This past Thursday, the Greek Parliament ratified a June 12, 2018 agreement approved by Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).  That agreement—called the Prespa Agreement after the lake venue where it was signed—had been previously ratified by the FYROM Parliament, meaning the Greek Parliament’s vote put the agreement into effect, bringing to a close a quarter of a century of negotiations by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz (no relation to US Admiral/Aircraft carrier Nimitz). 

Prime Ministers Zaev and Tsipras
 By far, its most incendiary issue has been—and likely will remain—allowing FYROM to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. Largely over that issue alone, Greece had blocked its northern neighbor’s entry into NATO and the EU. As part of the Prespa Agreement, Greece shall no longer oppose its admission to those bodies.

More that sixty percent of Greeks opposed ratification of the agreement and violent demonstrations surrounded Parliament’s consideration of it.  Greece’s left wing ruling party SYRIZA lost the support of its right wing coalition partner over its decision to ratify the name change. 

Feelings run deep over this galvanizing issue, for the name Macedonia is sacred to Greeks, and a historic distrust of their Balkan neighbor’s intentions hovers large. 

 The official position of the Hellenic Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the FYROM name issue is spelled out in detail here.  But, the essence of the dispute can be gleaned from this excerpt taken from that document:

The issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not just a dispute over historical facts or symbols….

The name issue arose in 1991, when the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia seceded from Yugoslavia and declared its independence under the name “Republic of Macedonia.”

Historically, the term “Macedonia,” which is a Greek word, refers to the Kingdom and culture of the ancient Macedonians, who belong to the Hellenic nation and are unquestionably part of Greek historical and cultural heritage.

Geographically, the term “Macedonia” refers to a wider region extending into the current territory of various Balkan countries, with the largest part of the region being in Greece and smaller sections in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania. The core of what was ancient Macedonia lies within contemporary Greek borders, comprises the northern portion of the Greek state, and is called Macedonia. Some 2.5 million Greeks reside in this region today and they and their forebears have considered and called themselves Macedonians through the centuries.

The roots of the name issue go back to the mid-1940s, when, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Commander in Chief Tito separated from Serbia the region that had been known until that time as Vardar Banovina … renaming it, initially, the “People’s Republic of Macedonia,”, and later, the “Socialist Republic of Macedonia.” At the same time, he started to cultivate the idea of a separate and discrete “Macedonian nation.”

Tito of course had many reasons for making these moves, the main one being to lay the foundations for future Yugoslavian territorial claims in the wider region of Macedonia and secure an opening on the Aegean. Tito’s intentions in the wider Macedonian region had been confirmed as early as 1944, when he declared publicly that his goal was to reunify “all the sections of Macedonia that were broken up in 1912 and 1913 by the Balkan imperialists”….

Against this historical background, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia declared its independence in 1991, basing its existence as an independent state on the artificial and spurious notion of the “Macedonian nation,” which was cultivated systematically through the falsification of history and the exploitation of ancient Macedonia purely for reasons of political expediency.

I think you get the point—there’s a bad-blood history here.

And here’s the Hellenic Foreign Ministry’s official position on the name change: 

Greece is firm in its sincere will to achieve a viable solution of the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Greek government has proposed a realistic and viable settlement framework that is aimed at the finding of a definitive solution to the issue of the name. Our position is clear: a compound name with a geographical qualifier before the word “Macedonia,” which will be used in relation to everyone (erga omnes), for all uses domestic and international. 

And thus, with the addition of the “geographical qualifier” NORTH to Macedonia, advocates of the name change hope their fellow Greeks’ long held suspicions and distrust of their neighbor will fade.

But it remains a lightening rod issue, around which much anger rages, making it an irresistible draw for office seekers in this year’s Greek national elections—especially for those who’d rather not address their nation’s economic concerns.

Sky News

 The looming question is how will this archetypal polarizing “them” issue be used for perceived political gain, and at what cost to the nation’s “us.” 

Stay tuned.



  1. Sheesh. "A rose by any other name is just as thorny."

  2. Having been in the US for two weeks and having been bombarded by 'us' news (most of which seems focused on WA DC and or Hollywood with little mention of anything beyond our borders). . .I am ready to be back in Greece. Simple as that!

    1. I can assure you there are Greeks who share that view back in their homeland. :) The same sorts of stories seem to circulate across both nations' media, only the players and talking heads are different.

  3. Why does it seem that the closer the neighbour, the more bitter the feud?

  4. I am so glad Virginia has not decided that West Virginia can no longer share its name since these two states are so very different in so many way. All sarcasm aside, I am glad this one controversy appears to have been put to rest.