Last month, the National Post published an article entitled «A country called Macedonia» that contained scathing commentary about Greece – commencing with a reference to Greece’s economic strife and segueing into a critique of Greece’s opposition to the use of the name «Macedonia» by its northern neighbour. These accusations require a response.
Macedonia and the Macedonian identity have been integral parts of Greek history and culture since some of the first Hellenic tribes (known as Macedonians) settled northern Greek lands almost 4,000 years ago. Many renowned historians dispute the claims contained in the above-referenced article.
Apart from the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon – which existed almost entirely in what is now modern Greece – there had never been another «state» of Macedonia until communist Yugoslavia renamed its southern Vardarska Governorate region as the «People’s Republic of Macedonia» in 1943. This was a plan to acquire Greek territory after the Second World War, harkening back to territorial aspirations that neighbouring states had on Greece’s outlet to the Mediterranean. Greece objected, and the U.S. State Department noted this planned territorial grab with alarm in an official 1944 document.
In 1991, when the Slavic republic broke from Yugoslavia, declaring independence under the name «Republic of Macedonia,» Greece reacted strongly again. This was not a reflection of some spurious Greek political whim: The issue came before the UN Security Council. In 1993, the UN recommended that this Slavic republic be provisionally accepted into the UN as «the FYROM» (an abbreviation of former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) until a mutually agreed UN-brokered solution. The government of FYROM agreed to these terms; yet it and its diaspora groups court foreign governments and media using all their power to promote it as the «Republic of Macedonia» – against UN wishes.
Greece did not invade any country named Macedonia, as is suggested in the aforementioned National Post article. In fact, in 1912, Greece liberated the area of the modern Greek province of Macedonia, where Greeks have lived since antiquity, from the Turks, leading to jubilation in the streets. The 1913 Treaty of Bucharest, which is referenced in the article in question, set the borders of a defeated Bulgaria vis-à-vis its neighbours after the Second Balkan War. Centuries-old Ottoman censuses, as well as those of other Western powers, do not record any «Macedonian» ethnic group or nation; and allegations of killings of «Macedonians» do not reflect historical consensus on the matter. The fact is that there are 2.5 million Greeks in the Greek province of Macedonia, and one million Macedonian Greeks in the diaspora who have always called themselves «Macedonians.»
Greece has never viewed the name «Macedonia» as taboo, as the National Post article claimed; and is as proud of its Macedonian heritage as it is of its Athenian and Spartan ones. In fact, Greece was the first modern state to officially revive the name «Macedonia» in 1914 after years of Ottoman rule and Bulgarian expansionism.
Despite increasing public discord over its own economy (including 30% unemployment), limited media freedom, a large Albanian minority that rejects this new «Macedonian» identity, and other issues, the FYROM has spent millions to reinforce «Macedonism» on its people. This includes the erection of colossal public statues, renaming landmarks and thoroughfares after ancient Greek personalities, and the proliferation of schoolbooks/maps showcasing a «Greater» (or «United») Macedonia – a geopolitical artifice containing Greek and Bulgarian territory. State media proselytizes «Macedonism» feverishly: A 2009 TV segment had «God» saying the country’s inhabitants are «Macedonoids – progenitors of the white race» whereas others are «Negroids, Mongoloids, and Mullatoes.» Three months ago, the main square in the capital of Skopje showcased a giant flag of a «United Macedonia,» as part of the 20th celebrations of independence from Yugoslavia. As a result, Greece is not «paranoid about losing its northern territory» – without legitimate cause for concern for what may foment now and manifest itself in the future.
The recent International Court of Justice’s judgment against Greece regarding the FYROM’s 2008 NATO bid is not binding on the alliance. The court did not consider the fact that NATO allies decide by consensus, and this consensus was not there for the FYROM’s bid. Furthermore, and notwithstanding the ruling of the ICJ, NATO maintains the position that the FYROM’s accession to NATO is predicated on a resolution of the country-name issue with Greece.
The FYROM’s irredentism isn’t characteristic of a 21st-century country wishing good neighbourly relations. This is what Canadians should consider when they hear the complaints of the FYROM partisans, such as those who expressed themselves in your pages.
? The authors are leaders of the Hellenic Congress of Quebec, PanMacedonian Association of Canada, Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal, Macedonian Association «Philip-Alexander,» Macedonian Association «Alexander the Great,» Brotherhood Vogatsioton Kastorias «Ion Dragoumis,» Society of Kastorians «Omonia,» Pontian Association of Montreal «Efxinos Pontos,» Greek Community of Toronto, and Hellenic Community of Vancouver. These groups represent more than 200,000 Canadians of Greek descent.