Greece vs Macedonia: Playing Hardball With a Soft Target

Greece and Macedonia are negotiating a new name for the Republic of Macedonia and now, it seems, also the national identity of the Macedonian people. Following a period of positive signals and meetings destined to build trust and confidence, Greek statesmen recently sent a clear message — they are immovable from their ‘historic’ position on Republic of Macedonia: that Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, exists only as part of a wider geographic region and that its inhabitants cannot exist as Macedonians but ought to transmogrify their ethnic and national identity by law, within their country’s constitution.

And what is the ultimate explanation for the Greek intransigence on the issue? Macedonia may stir irredentist pretensions towards Greece. Let that sink in for a moment. Macedonia, with an army of 8000 professional soldiers, without an aviation, versus Greece which has 33,000 personnel just in its aviation force, besides the 450 aircraft. The impression in Macedonia is that Greece is determined to wipe the floor with the dignity of their neighbors. Is this the point of any peacetime negotiations? This is not a post WW2 treaty and Macedonia has never been an aggressor, not against Greece, not against anyone.

This attitude by Greece is backward, not in the European spirit of good neighborly relations and cooperation, and seems to work against the benefits the region can arrive at through economic and institutional integration. Or does it? Let’s do some good old reductive thinking and get to the bottom of it by asking continuously the uneasy question why. Why does Greece want to subdue Macedonia in a such an unfair and brutal manner?

Is it because Greece wants to be the sole proprietor of the name Macedonia?

Greece renamed its northern provinces Macedonia in the 80s and behaves as it is the actual owner of that name and may continue doing so uninhibited by any law or pressure. Even though most countries have recognized Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name, Greece has Macedonia in front of universities, the airport in Thessaloniki, associations, businesses, and so on. Macedonia is a name which in reality is not contested. Macedonia is Republic of Macedonia and Greece uses Macedonia as it pleases is will continue doing so.

Is it because Greece wants to bar Republic of Macedonia from professing anything to do with the Macedonia of antiquity?

No matter the petulancy of this claim. This is a real concern for greece. And so what if some people in Republic Macedonia may claim part of the ancient Macedonian heritage? That claim is a free-floating idea, a construct of low relevance to anything and has nothing to do with the Greek nation, which is another construct, just like the Greek anger over Macedonia is a construct in and of itself. Greeks can claim Macedonian heritage and continue educating their young in that manner and that is just fine. Macedonia has never and does not intend to meddle in that manner.

Is it because the Ancient Macedonian symbol that is used by both Macedonians and Greeks?

The symbol by itself deserves a separate inquiry. Can anyone claim sole ownership of a symbol, such as the celtic cross or the rosetta swastika? Absolutely not. These are part of the world’s heritage. So is the Vergina sun. However, Greece pressured Macedonia to change its flag which was that very symbol, which is still dear to some Macedonians, while most like to forget it ever existed and make the point of moving on with the past. People take it to national sports matches, but Greece is intent or banning the use of this symbol as it were the Nazi swastika. Greece can submit legislation in the EU Parliament to ban the yellow sixteen ray sunburst on a red background from sporting events and products, and allow the same symbol, but on a blue background, to act as a Greek nationalist decor all over Greece and Europe.

Is it because Alexander the Great, the brand?

It seems as if Greece wants to slap the © symbol both on Alexander and Macedonia. For both economic and cultural reasons Greece wants to sell t-shirts, statuettes and magnets with his look and name and Greeks want to swag around the globe in the one-of-a-kind, Greek-limited Alexander outfit. It is understandable, Alexander is the only conqueror related to Greece of antiquity and this country cannot project its picture-perfect image and the various myths of national creation without exercising ownership of his image. Again, Greece can continue doing so and Macedonia cannot and does not want to meddle there.

Greece can make hundreds of movies and documentaries about Macedonia and Alexander the Great and can organize just as many conferences and lectures and go on the mission of convincing the world how Greek he was. Macedonia can make one or two media projects and hold one event per year; and what will it achieve by that? Greece can slap Macedonia, Phillipos and Alexander on thousands of commercial products. Macedonia can do that to ten, but also Egypt can do the same and Turkey and Italy if they wish to. In a globalized world, historic persons and symbols related to them are global; consider for a moment the images of, say, Che Guevara or Buddha or Jesus Christ. How ridiculous would it be for anyone to pursue an agenda for their ownership and control!

But pertaining to the question Why? let’s up the notch to a more serious area:

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