Giving it a bad name

Greek diplomats at the NATO summit in Bucharest have pulled off the hard part: Solving the Macedonia name dispute is now a NATO condition for FYROM’s membership of the alliance. Athens meets the political and institutional requirements to impose an honest settlement that reflects reality on the ground. But that does not necessarily mean it will do so. In reality, things could turn messy. The reason is that many conservative officials are taking a superficial approach to the issue. «Let’s agree on a composite name,» they say, «and get this over with.» But the problems will not be over unless the FYROM crowd abandons its talk of «occupied Macedonian territories.» Macedonia is a multiethnic region and not the country of a single ethnic group. Given the ethnic Albanian population, a national definition is not a realistic option. A definition must rather be geographic, like the name «Upper Macedonia.» This is what the opposition and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis have in mind. But Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is shying away from it, flirting instead with the name «New Macedonia.» That name was first proposed in 1992 in contrast to Ancient Macedonia. However «New Macedonia» is not a geographical definition. It refers to the entire region and not just part of it. Moreover, the name «New Macedonia» implies a rebirth. It suggests connection rather than differentiation. Places like New York or New Zealand were built by migrants or refugees. Should Greece accept the «new» prefix, it will effectively legitimize the usurping of Greece’s historical legacy and the Slav-Macedonian expansionism. The belief that the name «New Macedonia» will be accepted by the Greek populace is opportunistic but not groundless. But a wrong solution will soon backfire. And Greece might soon be faced with a new, perhaps bigger, problem.

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