Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What's in a name?

It's been a long, long time... Had to go back in time to take care of a few matters in Ancient Greece, but I'm back now.
And guess what I find upon my return?
My descendants are fighting over one of our most famous names with those squatters up north!
Yes, I'm talking about Macedonia, of course.
Between you and me I never really liked Alexander too much. Too quick to take out his sword, too eager to get good men killed in senseless wars, too uppity for my tastes. He was, however, a good Macedonian and a great Greek. He spread the ideals and the culture of Greece throughout the known world - and that was no small feat for that time and age.
But back to our current problem. Let's analyze it in the manner we would have done back in my time, during my first incarnation.
Why would a tiny upstart "nation" want to call itself "Macedonia", and more importantly, why should Greece care?
Apparently, neither one of these questions have simple, clear-cut answers.
FYROM (the Former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia) was apparently named that way by Tito, with the excuse that the land area was originally part of the Ancient Macedonia. And it was.
After World War II, Macedonia was split into three pieces. One-third was kept by Greece, one-third was given to the Bulgarians and one-third was given to Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia under Tito apparently never had any serious designs to reunite Macedonia, he simply called this Province Macedonia to get on the nerves of the Greeks - and he succeeded.
Tito went a step further. Not satisfied to simply usurp the name, he patiently undertook the long task of teaching every school child born in FYROM after 1946 that they were the actual descendants of the Ancient Macedonians,ergo Alexander the Great was not a Greek but a Slav!
According to Tito's version of history, FYROM is the true Macedonia and all the people who live either in Bulgaria or in Greece are conquered people! Never mind that the Slavs did not appear on the scene until the year 800 AD, never mind that Greek was the spoken language of Macedonia in ancient times and that the Macedonians shared the same culture and the same religion as Athenians and Spartans.
FYROM youths are convinced that they are the true Macedonians - they bought into Tito's propaganda. Therefore, it's only logical that when the time came to choose a name for their newborn country, they would choose "Macedonia".
So what? you might ask. Is Greece afraid of this new, tiny country whose people would be starving if it were not for the financial aid sent by Greece and for the jobs created by Greek businessmen there? It's kind of silly, isn't it? If anything, Greeks should be flattered that their ancient civilization was of such importance that a whole nation would fight hand and tooth to be named as one of the city-states of yore. And the Greeks would indeed be flattered if FYROM was located in the US or in Australia or even in Asia. But hey, guess what? FYROM shares the Macedonian border with Greece. And Bularia next door shares the other Macedonian border with both and is keeping a close eye on what is happening. Of course, they are all gentlemen. No one would ever go so far as to imagine that there would be a dog-eat-dog fight in the Balkans over a piece of land! These things just don't happen on this peaceful Earth!
I do have a vivid imagination!!
Enter the Americans, the Russians and the Europeans. Each one of these super powers have special interests in the Balkans. The Americans would love to have a NATO military base in the heart of the Balkans to keep an eye on Europe and Russia, Russia and Europe don't much like that plan, plus they all have interest in the oil and gas pipes coming in from the Caspian Sea. Hmmm... a quandrum.
How does the silly name of such a small country manage to provoke such passions?
Here it is in a nutshell:
1. Both countries lay claim to the name and passions rise high over it.
2. No one really wants trouble, but no one knows how to avoid it.
3. None of the parties involved have any imagination to come up with an original name for this place.
I suggested "Pseudo-Macedonia" and the Greeks were enthusiastic about it, but it didn't go down too well with the Slavs!
So what's in a name? Possibly the match that will light the fuse to the biggest bomb of the 21st Century.


Anonymous said...

What a misleading text! How can I label this except: "Greek Propaganda".
Let me share few thought as a Macedonian for "FYROM".
1) Alexander the Great has never been mentioned in the school books, I can tell you that as a Macedonain scolar from 1970s and 80s.
2) The region is called "Macedonia" during the Ancient, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman periods , etc... The slavic tribes came there in the 7th century and they have mixed with the local ancient Macedonian, bysamthinian population, etc... The first slavic kings have adopted the local symbols: the Alexander star, the lion... in hope that they will regain the ancient glory and power.

3) Over the time, the slavic dialect in the Macedonia region started to differ from the Eastern slavic dialect (Bulgarian) and the Northern (Serbian). People started to call themselves "Macedonians" purely from the geographical reasons.

4) There are numberous records about Macedonian nation and languange in many British, American, Russian, French and German books and news from the 19th century even from the 18th century.

Last but not the least, The MAcedonians never asked for an exclusivity on the terms and name. Greeks do. And nobody in the world can understand that. As if the Italians ask for a copyright and exclusivity of the Roman history or Israel on christianity.

ancientgreekreborn said...

OK, let's look at your comments one by one.
1. If your schoolbooks never mention Alexander the Great in some sort of way, then they are surely lacking from an educational standpoint! I mean, Greek schoolbooks teach us about Tito, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln and so forth without any clain that these people are Greek in any way, shape or form. OF COURSE your school books mention Alexander and CERETAINLY it is stated that he was a MACEDONIAN, no?

2) I never said Macedonia did not exist as a REGION, and its borders have changed depending on who had what interests in the area. I'm glad you agree that the Slavs came there in the 7th C AD, therefore, they are NOT indigenous. I'm glad that you also admit that all signs, references etc. in your emblems were USURPED for the purpose of gaining some self-impoprtance.
Whether people of the various nationalities have intermarried is irrelevant. Greeks are not claiming that your population doesn't exist, only that it has no sole propriety rights to the label "Macedonia".
3) So what? All dialects change over time.
4) Also irrelevant. Any references to "Macedonia" in such publications refered to the region as a whole, not to a single people or to a national identity.

AND your LAST POINT is where you are TOTALLY WRONG!! Have you been following the news lately? It's FYROM that is adamant about calling itself anything ELSE besides the "Republic of Macedonia". The Greek Province of Macedonia has existed with the same name since time imemmorial, and its populace has ALWAYS been Greek Macedonians. They have no need to call themselves anything else.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your feedback and releasing my post. I honestly thought that you will delete it, because I have tried to have a sincere talks with the Greeks on their blogs, and all my posts have never been released.

Regaridng the "FYROM educational brain-wash". You can beleive it or not, but during the Tito's YugoSLAVIA, all history was beginning from 1945 and was very much SLAVIC centric. We have stadied 90% of the time about the partisans, about the communism and kicking the German butt. Beleive it or not Alexander was not mentioned at all. Maybe one or two classes , in the "World Ancient History" section. As a matter of fact, there was a Macedonian Nationalistic movement in the 1940s and 1950s, who whispered about the Macedonian roots before 1945, but all of these people ended up in the "Goli Otok (Naked Island)" concentration camp and got liquidated.

We don't deny that the Macedonia Province is Greek and that the term Macedonia is part of the Greek heritage. We resprect that. Now, myself; and I can tell you also overwelming majority of Macedonians; strongly objects on the latest stupid decision of the government to rename the airport and do some low key provocations. I strongly think that someone in the goverment is working for the Russians and is trying to hurt the Macedonian NATO candidacy by such provocations to Greece.

But regaring the name, the national identifications, the symbols-- what I'm trying to say is that: over the time and in the past centuries, our people have adopted the name and the symbols not because they wanted to piss-off or steal something from the Greeks, but simple because they lived in this glorious region called Macedonia. They have found the symbols of the Alexander Star and lion in the ancient ruins, and adopted it as their symbols. We have all been under Otomans for 5 centuries, the Helenes has started to call themselves Greeks, but the non-Helenes have started to call themselves Macedonians.
And I can tell you that this dispute is not from 15 years a go, it has been forever. Everyone tried to wipe out our identity: the Turks called us "Kaurs", the Serbs called us "South Serbians", the Bulgarians called us "Macedonian Bulgars", the Nazzis called us "The Slavs"...Same goes for the land. In 1913, Macedonia was divided. The Serbs called their chunk "Vardarska" in attempt to completely wipe out the national identity of the local population. The Serbian king Alexander said that "We can make a wonderful Serbs from these local Slavs". Bulgarians did the same by saying basicaly "Macedonia=Bulgaria". Greece - actually this is the moment when Macedonia became Greek. They have started with Helenization of the region. More than 500 000 Slavic Macedonians were expelled , they fled mainly to USA and Australia (you can check the american immigration records in the period of 1915-20, there are more than 200 000 immigrants registered as slavic speaking Macedonians with birthplaces like Edessa, Thesaloniki, Voden, Kukush, Lerin... ( I don't know the todays greek names of these cities , sorry for this ).

The second ethnic clensig wave of the Macedonians in Greece happend in the civil war in the 1948. Official census records from that time show somewhere around 150 000 refugees from Greece. But there were many more who fled into USSR, because they were more loyal to Stalin, and Tito had a big dispute with Stalin at that time.

Now here comes the real issue! All these people want their land back! And I'm not saying occupation of the Greek Macedonia, but the belongings of these ethnically clensed families - the house, the corn field, winyard...Greece know this very well, that if they recognize the country and the nation, they will have to release the ghosts from the near-past and take out the skeletons from the closet.
So it is not about Alexander, it has never been about it. It is much more delicate issue for Greece. And the only way for Greece is to deny the existence of the Nation, it is not about the name at all.

Thanks for having an open conversation.



ancientgreekreborn said...

Vlatko, thank you for providing your name - I hate to call someone "Hey, Mr. Anonymous"!!!
Some of your comments raised valid points and I can identify with them.
Greeks avoided annexation into the Soviet Block. In retrospect, that seems fortunate, although there are Greeks that will claim the opposite. Of course, Greece was also ruled by the Ottoman Empire for 400 years of slavery. Everything possible was done to try to eradicate our national identity, our language, our religion, and at times our very existence. Greeks were the first to rebel. That was because Greeks have such a long history ans such a strong culture that it could not be just wiped out. During the many wars, battles and skirmishes that followed, much blood was shed in order to gain back at least some of the lands that had been taken away from us. The Ottomans were notorious for transplanting entire populations and relocating them to a different spot, so that no one area would get too high a concentration of a single nationality. So, when Greece started winning back some of its lands, it often found them populated by foreigners. On the other hand, once the area called "Greece" was finally established, other countries - and especially the Turks - rushed to kick out the Greek populations still living in their own regions. In the Near East, which had been Greek since antiquity, Greeks were suddenly "persona non grata" and were kicked out with only what they could carry.
After the World War II treaties were signed and the Balkans and Near East were divvied up between the most powerful Allies to rule and to influence, Greece found itself with much less land to the East than in ever had and a little land to the West that it never had, thrown in as compensation.
With all these new borders being redrawn and the consequent power play between Communism and Capitalism, no one in the Balkans ever really knew what was his and what wasn't. The multitude of nationalities that either pre-existed in the Balkans, or had been transplanted from elsewhere but now lived there and considered their respective areas "home" have not been strangers to skirmishes, battles and sometimes outright wars.
This is why in my original post I wrote that the Balkans are a potential bomb ready to explode - with a little help from our super-powered friends!

Vladko, it's not just Greece... NO ONE wants your people to claim prior lands you may have lived in. You see, if they let you make such claims, then the Serbians would get a stronger claim for Kosovo, Greeks would not hesitate to ask for their lost lands in Pontos, Constantinople, Alexandria, etc. etc., Cyprus would immedately lay claim to THEIR lost property in Northern Cyprus and so on.
See what a mess it would be? Forget it - none of us are ever going to get back what we once had.
Which leaves us with FYROM's desire to join NATO and the EU and its parallel claim to the name "Macedonia".
And since the name "Macedonia" seems to be the only obstacle to obtaining the other two, it's foolhardy to give it even a second thought.
I mean, you already admit that you are Slavs, not Greeks, so why would you want a Greek name? You said you found the pretty ancient Greek symbols. They ARE pretty, but isn't it enough to have them in your museums and exhibit them? Must they be on your flag?
And I go back to the name. You know, if I were in your shoes, and not happy with any of my neighbors because they have walked all over me, I would want one of two things:
1. Either a name that reflects some brave deed from MY OWN history, OR...
2. A name that would give my people a new and hopeful start, something that would reflect my new country's objectives, such as "peace", "prosperity", "unification", whatever. Why drag up a dusty, old name from some other people's history?

Anonymous said...


I don't think that you've understood my point. I will try to be more clear.

What Greece is doing is actually making an exlusive equation between a modern nation and modern state with ancient civilization, and on the base of this exclusive equation, Greece is proclaiming another modern state and nation as a national threath.(!?!) Can you imagine the face of US Secretary Rice listening Dora Bojkoyani expaining her that Alexander and today's Yiannakis are in fact the same thing and Macedonia and today's modern Greece and actualy the same thing? AND on the basis of that, the fact that another nation has been born as inspiration of the Macedonian heritage is a direct threat to modern day Greece???


The situation like ours is identical to the situations of any nation in Europe. Here are few examples:

Croatia! An old Roman province, it has been Roman and 100% populated by Romans for more than a millenium. At one point, the Slavic tribes came there and mixed with the local popuplation. They have adopted many latin words, the Latin alphabeth, the name and the symbols. Today they are called Croats and their country Croatia. Should Italy veto Croatia's bid to EU and NATO. Should Italy impose an embargo to Croatia and start convincing the world that they have stolen their legacy?
Then what should Italy and the Italians say about the country called "Romania" and a nation that call themselves "Romanians"???

Should I go on country by country in Europe? How about France - Roman province of Francia , populated by the Germanic tribes in the 6th century who mixed with the romans and created a new nation. If Italy takes your logic, they should be screaming all over the place.

I wish I can see you face if some today's country and nation names themselves "Hellenia" and "Hellenians".

Do you see my point? Are you still making a direct and exclusive equiation between you, a modern day Greek and the Ancient Macedonia? By the way, what does "Makedonia" means in Greek? In our language: "Make"=Mother; "Don" = home. "Makedonia"=Motherland. If we were brainwashed by Tito, how come this coincidence?

Asking an exlusive ownership on a place like Balkan is simply ridiculous. For god sake, your president is called Karamanlis, or "Black Field" in Turkish. Is this the guy with the same blood as Alexander?

In light of this explanation, I hope that you can realize how ridiculous are your request to change our name and "correct" our self-expressed identity.

Take care, I hope to hear form you soon,


ancientgreekreborn said...

Well, this has been an unexpectedly interesting exchange I must say!

If you reread my initial blog you will see that I never claimed that Greece considers Macedonia itself a threat. Come on now! LOL

I conceded to you the point that the Balkans are populated by various people of various heritages from the beginning and I think it's nonesense that you repeat the same argument.

If any other country named itself "Hellas" - not "Helenia"- and called themselves "Hellenes" - not "Helenians" they would probably make fools of themselves, pretty much the way FYROM is making a fool of itself by trying to claim that they are "Macedonians"!

"Macedones" in Ancient Greek means "the long people", that is, tall and "Macedonia" is the land where these tall people lived. Any other interpretation is pure coincidence, especially since your language did not exist at 3000 BC!!

Many Greeks have Turkish-sounding surnames because the Turks gave their ancestors these names during the 400 year occupation of Greece. So what? Is "Vlad" Greek? LOL

If you noticed my nickname, I am "ancient Greek reborn", so don't tell me about how I should feel like a modern Greek. I am proud of my heritage and my history and I try to live up to it at all times --- Which is why I published your comments and have tried to respond to them civilly, when others have not.

Wake up Skopjans! Be proud of what you are, show it by selecting a name that will be yours and yours alone, and leave us rusty, old Greeks to dream of past glories.

What are you complaining about? Let us keep our past. You have THE FUTURE!!