By Ilias Kouskouvelis *
The “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (hereinafter FYROM) and Greece are in dispute over the former’s name, since the time of its independence (1992). FYROM insists on using its communist era name (“Macedonia”), while Greece reacts.
It is obvious that Greece did not oppose the formation and does not oppose to the existence of a state in its northern boarder, especially when the social and commercial relations between Greeks and FYROM’s citizens (either Slavs or Albanians) are very good. Thus here, it is not a case similar to the stance – just to mention one case – of Turkey opposing the formation of any Kurdish state outside its borders. On the contrary, Greece has supported the unity of FYROM in 2001 – when the country came close to a civil war – and has provided military assistance to the country’s government.
What Greece simply wants through negotiations is that the name of its neighbor does not create confusion and allows the clear distinction between, on the one hand, FYROM’s history and culture, and, on the other, his own. It is so simple: a larger population than the one of FYROM, live in Macedonia (you see, here I have to clarify:) of Greece, study at the University of Macedonia, produce goods linked to the region (i.e., Macedonian wine), and undoubtedly speak the same language as Alexander the Great and Aristotle.
For years the counterargument I have consistently heard is that everybody knows that ancient Macedonia, Alexander the Great and Aristotle are Greek. Who may be confused?
Reality however works in mysterious ways and an EU personality, first a Commissioner and now the EU Parliament’s President, fell into the trap of the name and distorted the very basics of History. Mr Tajani, visited in February 2016 Skopje and said the following: “Macedonia is a beautiful country. Everyone in Italy knows Macedonia. Why? Because Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon are very popular ancestors of yours. Without Alexander [the Great] we would have no Europe because he was the first king who stopped the invasion by Iran and those countries. That’s why they call him Alexander the Great. He strengthened the European borders”.
Of course Mr Tajani, after the reactions of Greek MEPs, corrected his statement. But the point is not there! The point is that Mr Tajani got confused – as perhaps many others – with a country named “Macedonia”. From there it was rather easy for him, as for many, to slip and fall into the trap.
This event demonstrates that names do matter, and Mr Tajani has to be thanked. They matter in every day life, they matter in business (who can label his product after the name of another trademark?), and they do matter in politics, particularly international. Consequently, it demonstrates why, as Greece argues, a solution should be found in a name that clearly distinguishes among the two what is most important: their culture!
- He is a Professor of International Relations and Director of the IDEA Institute (idea.uom.gr), University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece
- Professor of International Relations and Director of the IDEA Institute (idea.uom.gr), University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece.