The ancient poet Menander once said that “the tongue has led many to peril.” In the case of Greece’s onomastically challenged northern neighbor Skopje, this couldn’t be truer. Despite Athens’ acceptance of the grossly injurious Prespes Agreement, Skopje’s path to the European Union was blocked by Bulgaria last month over Skopje’s insistence that its language be recognized as ‘Macedonian’.
The development justifies all those who opposed the Prespes Agreement, while exposing those who refused to defend Greece’s historic and cultural heritage by citing international pressure and the expected diplomatic fallout from a Greek veto. While the ethnonihilist neo-left and countryless neoliberal right collaborated to ambidextrously weaken Greece’s national security, Bulgaria showed itself ready and willing to hold Skopje accountable and demand an end to their misappropriation of history.
The previous Greek Government conceded not only to Skopje’s use of the name ‘Macedonia’ together with the geographical qualifier ‘North’, reversing a national position maintained by Athens for decades, but went even further, accepting the existence of a so-called ‘Macedonian’ language and ‘Macedonian’ ethnicity, without so much as requiring the use of compound terms that could differentiate the fraudulent Skopjian epithet from the authentic Greek one. This may be Athens’ greatest concession on this issue, and ironically, it was needless, because the bilateral row essentially had to do with the constitutional name of the former Yugoslav republic.
Aside from being disadvantageous, the terms accepted by the Greek Government are also historically false. According to linguist George Babiniotis, the language spoken in Skopje, “is Slavic – and to be exact, Bulgarian-Serbian – and belongs to the family of southern Slavic languages using the Slavic Cyrillic alphabet. This language was purposely chosen by the Skopjians to bear the name ‘Macedonian’, so as to allude to the Greek language of Macedonia (ancient and modern).” Skopje did this “because language is an element of identity and not just a name, and so, it serves as the main claim to support the existence of a Macedonian identity.”
Since, however, nature abhors vacuums, and in light of the fact that the last two Greek Governments are spewing nothing but hot air regarding Skopje, Bulgaria has seized the opportunity to refute the falsehoods surrounding the official language of Skopje. Sofia is right to object to the bogus term ‘Macedonian language’, noting that its western neighbor’s official language is merely a Bulgarian dialect.
Bulgaria also goes a step further, demanding an end to Skopje’s falsification of history and the recognition of revolutionary (and komitadji) Gotse Delchev’s ethnicity as Bulgarian. Delchev is revered by both nations as a hero, however, a quick historical overview of the Macedonia Struggle will easily reveal the terrible persecution endured by the indigenous Greeks at the hands of the komitadjis, who rivaled the Turks in brutality and barbarism.
Finally, Sofia asks Skopje to renounce claims to the existence of any Skopjian minority in Bulgaria, accusing the latter of irredentism and cultivating a climate of hate through unfavorable references in school books, which it insists be removed.
Sofia’s veto is not only about checking Skopje’s irredentism, but also planning for future developments in the area. Albania’s influence is on the rise, with the Albanian populace in Kosovo and Skopje playing a growing role those countries. In contrast to Skopje, Albania’s path to EU accession seems to be going smoothly, and Tirana’s cooperation with Brussels will strengthen it even further.
Sofia is likely looking ahead and preparing for a future clash with Albania over control of the area. This is why it is making preparations to assimilate the Slavic-speaking Skopjians once their country becomes destabilized by increased Albanian intervention. This plan has existed for some time now, with a former Premier Skopje, Mr. Llubco Georgievski, having received a Bulgarian passport and openly advocating on behalf of his fellow Skopjians who identify as Bulgarian.
With its veto, Bulgaria hopes to compel Skopje to admit that the fraudulent ‘Macedonian’ language is nothing more than a local Bulgarian dialect and expose the illegitimacy of the non-existent ‘Macedonian’ nationality, which was contrived by the Yugoslav leader Tito for political purposes. Sofia aims to remind their neighbor that their identity has historically been tied to Bulgaria, so that when they feel the threat from Albania approach, they will know exactly where to turn for help.
Bulgaria’s veto may have confounded Germany’s immediate plans, but Sofia doesn’t seem particularly worried. Having fought alongside Germany in two world wars, the Bulgarians likely know how to read their former allies better than others, and retain the confidence that they can reach an understanding with them.
Sofia is doing its due diligence by attending to its national interest and laying the groundwork to exert its hegemony over the Slavic part of Skopje. But what is to become of the 300,000 ethnic Greeks purportedly residing in Skopje? Forgotten by the Greek state, they will likely have the same fate as their compatriots from Northern Epirus, or even worse.
Unlike the other Balkan nations, which are planning for the future, Greece’s successive governments are content to be the pliable pawns of Berlin, making shameful concessions and losing strategic ground, which renders the nation all the more vulnerable.
So long as the current Government insists on adhering to the Prespes Agreement, not only does it reward Skopje’s counterfeit claims, but it closes its eyes to future developments. Menander’s saying is truer than ever. The tongue has led many to peril. Especially when they don’t defend their history and identity.
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