It’s not quite as tedious as the battle over Cyprus unity (41 years) or Middle East peace (some centuries old) but the question of what will be the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – the key word being Macedonia – has been going on 24 years and shows no signs of ending with Greece.
Or has it?
A Greek government in 1991, for reasons unknown still, agreed to let its northern neighbor during the breakup of Yugoslavia, append the word “Macedonia” to its indigestible acronym, not knowing obviously that headline writers would defer to that singular name.
Since then, successive governments in both countries have wrangled over that single word without making an inch of progress, frustrating so many diplomats that they just threw up their hands and walked away, but not before declaring progress as they are wont to do.
First of all, FYROM sounds like a lubricant (“I can’t get this screw out, honey, hand me the FYROM”) and if you have even a hint of dyslexia or type too fast for a news story or column it sometimes comes out FRYOM.
Greece gave the name away and has been trying to get it back ever since. It holds the advantage, being able to veto FYROM’s hopes of joining NATO or the European Union until there’s a resolution.
Given that, you’d think the FYROMians would be more willing to compromise but have shown a peevishness that’s kept them from having any hope so far, provoking Greece by naming the international airport in Skopje for Alexander the Great – they think he was from their land, sigh – and even erecting a statue of him.
That’s an irredentist for you, he keeps taking out the same tooth and declaring it’s his, but when it involves a whole country there’s just too much at stake to be left to politicians who don’t have a leg or argument to stand on.
What’s FYROM’s case beyond revisionist history? Macedonia, the northern province of Greece, and from which Alexander came, is Greek. Still is, always will be, no matter what FYROM calls itself in a fervent sense of jealousy and desperate bid to have some sense of identity.
Maybe FYROM officials can play the Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner card and identify as Greek or Macedonian or whatever else they think will work so they don’t have to steal other people’s culture and say it’s theirs, right down to flags with FYROM stealing its from Greece, the sun symbol of Thessaloniki.
While from time-to-time the FYROMians use international events to call themselves Macedonia, it rings hollow because in diplomatic circles and most countries around the world it’s still that silly acronym.
FYROM’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, apparently finally seeing the handwriting on the wall will otherwise spell FYROM, says he is willing to reopen dialogue on the issue with Greece, but that it would have to go to a referendum in his little country.
“We are ready to discuss, to open dialogue with them, and to find some solution,” Gruevski said in an interview with the Guardian. Of course, he’s said that before and nothing has happened and nothing will until FYROM realizes it’s firing blanks.
Greece too will lose once the name game is settled because every option on the table has included the use of the word Macedonia, albeit with a geographical qualifier such as Republic of Upper Macedonia or Inner Macedonia.
Why stop there? In the interest of diplomacy, let’s offer some other solutions so that Gruevski can save face and persuade his people that he’s beaten Greece and moved the country toward NATO and the EU.
How about Upper-Inner Macedonia? Outer Limits Macedonia? Slavs-Who-Are-Jealous-of-Greeks Macedonia, otherwise known as SWAJOGM. Outsy-Insy Macedonia? Slavakiland? New Macedonia? Old Macedonia? New-Old Macedonia? Next-to-Greece-Macedonia? Faux Macedonia? Not Really Macedonia?
Greece should first insist that FYROM change the name of its airport and try to find a Slavic hero, if there is one, or some other name that’s not Alexander, should take down Alexander’s statue, and change the stolen flag.
The FYROMians keep raising and dashing hopes at the same time though so don’t hold your breath because they are a fickle bunch. Just days ago, FYROM’s Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki came to Athens beaming that “conditions are more than ripe” for talks to resolve the 24-year-old debacle – even though Gruevski said they weren’t – before changing his mind.
Keep in mind this is the same Gruevski who in 2008 sent a letter to the then-United Nations mediator Matthew Nimitz calling for the recognition of the so-called Macedonian Orthodox Church and for Greece to rename Thessaloniki’s Macedonia airport to suit him, drawing a response from Athens that the FYROM leader was “hysterical” which was pretty much on target with that guy.
After he met with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, Poposki admitted he’d put his foot in his mouth when he was optimistic and the two sides were nowhere close to a resolution after all.
“There are huge mountains between us,” he said, adding that, “The creation of false expectation is in no one’s interest.” He skipped the part that he was the one creating the false expectations.
He said his government has “the political duty not to agree to just any solution,” although it will, and it will win because the last word will be Macedonia.