Tom Ellis TOM ELLIS

Northern or New Macedonia, in English, not Slavic

COMMENT

TAGS: Diplomacy, Politics

Very few Greeks, if any at all, are keen to see Skopje use the term “Macedonia.” However, that battle was lost 25 years ago. The uncomfortable fact is that over the past decades, virtually all countries around the world have officially recognized Greece’s northern neighbor as the “Republic of Macedonia.” Political leaders and ordinary people refer to the former Yugoslav republic as “Macedonia” at every opportunity.

In a sense, and despite Greece’s diplomatic success in 1994 to have the Balkan country accepted into the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), all those years even Greeks have been using a name that includes the term “Macedonia.”

Athens’s diplomatic objective at the moment is – or should be – to limit the damage that was inflicted decades ago. Today, for the first time in a quarter of a century, there are prospects of a change to the country’s name. The outcome of course is not certain. However, there is still the prospect of a deal entailing an addition to the name of a qualifier – most likely “Northern” or “New,” which this writer considers the least negative solution.

At stake for any Greek who is naturally annoyed at the use of the term “Macedonia” should not be what name Greece eventually decides to use to refer to its northern neighbor. Anyone who really believes that this is at the core of the ongoing dispute, at best, fails to understand what is really at stake here or, at worse, puts him or herself in the service of other ends that are contradictory to the national interest.

The key issue at stake is what FYROM will be known as internationally. In light of the above, Greek efforts to reach an agreement on a Slavic version of the name, although understandable, would have the opposite effect. From a practical point of view, such an agreement would not be workable. That is because third parties would be very unlikely to adopt a name such as for example “Severna Makedonija” (Northern Macedonia).

It would be good news for Athens if the international community were to endorse and use a name of that sort, in Slavic, but that is not going to happen. In the end they would just go for the more convenient English version – just plain “Macedonia.”

On the other hand, the “Northern” or “New” prefixes before “Macedonia” are practical, they have been used in the case of other nations’ names (i.e. New Zealand, North Korea), and, hence, they are more likely to be adopted by governments and citizens of third countries.

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