Don't rewrite Balkan history

A country called Macedonia


, National Post · Nov. 29, 2011 | Last Updated: Nov. 29, 2011 3:19 AM ET

Rarely has a country's standing in the community of nations collapsed as quickly as that of Greece. For months now, the nation has been on the cusp of defaulting on its massive debt, thereby threatening not only the global economy, but also the very structure of the European Union.

And yet, Greece always seems to have plenty of money on hand to wage its obsessive propaganda war against the independent republic of Macedonia, which sits on Greece's northern border.

As always, Balkan problems are rooted in history. More than a century ago, the Macedonians fought to free themselves from the Ottomans, at the Ilinden Uprising. A decade later, world powers succeeded in using the proxy armies of Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia to push the Ottomans out of Macedonia, and eventually Europe. But those three kingdoms then went to war against one another, while the indigenous Macedonians were pushed aside.

In 1913, the Treaty of Bucharest crippled the prospect of an independent Macedonian state. A large part of Macedonian territory was annexed to Greece; another large part went to the King of Serbia; and a smaller part to the Bulgarians.

Since then, the Greek state has been paranoid about losing its northern territory to a unified Macedonian entity. This fear led to, among other things, systematic killing of Macedonians in northern Greece. Through three major wars, countless Macedonians were killed or forced from their homes by the Greek state. This "Hellenization" policy ultimately failed, and a restless Macedonian minority continues to struggle under Greek rule to this day.

Until the mid-1980s, the word "Macedonia" itself was taboo in Greece. But, when it became obvious that Yugoslavia - into which part of Macedonia had been absorbed when that country was formed - would disintegrate in the twilight of the Cold War, Athens decided to switch tactics by co-opting the Macedonian "brand."

By the late '80s, Greek officials had started renaming everything in northern Greece, to give it an artificial Greco-Macedonian façade. Airports, universities and roads were renamed as "Macedonian" and new Alexander of Macedon statues were erected for the first time. To this day, Greece demands that the term Macedonia be used, by itself, only in reference to the region of northern Greece upon which it has fastened this geographical label.

In 1991, the real Macedonia declared independence peacefully - one of the first pieces of the former Yugoslavia that went its own way. This angered Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Greece's Constantinos Mitsotakis, who even considered a military invasion. Greece blocked Macedonia's UN membership and imposed a devastating three-year trade embargo, which left Macedonia with 70% unemployment. But Milosevic eventually became preoccupied by wars in Bosnia and Croatia, so the invasion never came.

In response to Greek objections to Macedonia's alleged appropriation of "Hellenic" symbols, Macedonia modified its national flag and eventually was admitted to the UN under the ridiculous temporary term "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" ("FYR Macedonia"). Such compromises were embedded in an agreement called the Interim Accord (IA), which led to the diplomatic stalemate that persists to this day. The IA forces Macedonia to continue "negotiations" with Greece ad infinitum, even though the Macedonians (rightly) have no intention of backing off from their name or identity. Meanwhile, the Greeks continue to make life as difficult as possible for Macedonia in international fora. In 2008, for instance, Athens vetoed Macedonia's NATO membership.

Canada has taken a different approach, however. In 2007, Canada officially dropped the use of "FYR" before the word Macedonia and fully recognized Macedonia as what it is - Macedonia, full stop. In 2009, National Defence Minister Peter MacKay suggested a "consensus minus one" formula for new membership, to free NATO from obstructionist Greek tactics.

The NATO Summit in Chicago next May represents a historic chance to lift any doubt over Macedonia's future security. Macedonia has met all the requirements for NATO membership. Indeed, it is the fourthlargest contributor per capita to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, despite not even being a NATO member yet.

It is a moral imperative for Canada to truly stand up to the bankrupt Greeks next May, to support Macedonia's identity as a prospective NATO member, and to preserve peace and security in the Balkans.

- Metodija A. Koloski is the president of the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) - a leading international nongovernmental and non-profit organization advocating for the interests and needs of Macedonians and Macedonian communities worldwide. Mark Branov is the editor of UMD Voice magazine.

Don't rewrite Balkan history


National Post · Dec. 23, 2011 | Last Updated: Dec. 23, 2011 5:24 AM ET

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. Centuriesold 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 per-sonalities, 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.

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