Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Macedonia must defend Europe

Macedonia hopes to be invited to join NATO at the alliance’s summit, which is to be held in Bucharest, Romania in early April. However, Greece has threatened to veto Macedonia’s accession, on the grounds that it objects to Macedonia’s name. Based on its own blinkered, nationalistic and pre-democratic interpretation of history, Greece claims exclusive right to use the term ‘Macedonia’, and is entirely prepared to bully this much smaller and more vulnerable nation until the latter gives up its name, regardless of the cost to regional stability and to NATO. It is difficult to express the degree of disgust and contempt that such behaviour makes one feel.

Greece argues that it has a province of its own called ‘Macedonia’, and the existence of a ‘Republic of Macedonia’ implies a territorial claim on this Greek province. This is belied by the fact that the Republic of Macedonia has existed since the 1940s, initially as a member of the Yugoslav Federation, while Greece only named the province in question ‘Macedonia’ as recently as 1989, presumably with the deliberate, cold-blooded intention of having an excuse to provoke the current dispute when Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Having spent the best part of the twentieth century forcibly assimilating or dispossessing its own Slavic Macedonian minority, it was also presumably only in 1989 that Greece felt it was safe to do this, without undermining this same policy of national homogenisation.

The second Greek argument is that Macedonia is allegedly trying to ‘steal’ Greek history; supposedly, as the Macedonians are a Slavic people, they have no right to use the name of the country of Alexander the Great, whom the Greeks claim as ‘theirs’. This, of course, involves a selective view of history; as the Macedonians are fond of pointing out, the Ancient Greeks are widely on record as having viewed the Macedonians as non-Greek barbarians. In the fourth century BC, the Athenian Greek orator Demosthenes, a prominent opponent of the Macedonians, said of Alexander the Great’s father, Macedonian King Philip II, that he was ‘not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honours, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave’. But even to make this point is to descend to the level of the Greek nationalists, who try to hijack ancient history, imposing their contemporary nationalist stereotypes upon it in order to use it as propaganda.

I appreciate that it may be difficult for a sane person to understand what is happening here: try to imagine the English fighting with the Welsh over whether Boadicea was ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’, or with the French over whether Richard the Lionheart was ‘English’ or ‘French’. Try to imagine the French fighting with the Germans over whether Charlemagne was ‘French’ or ‘German’. This is something that no mature, democratic nation would do. Yet in the twenty-first century, it is apparently possible for NATO expansion and Balkan stability to be jeopardised over something like this. In fact, the implications are even more dangerous: if Slavs are not allowed to share in the heritage of Alexander the Great, are British citizens of West Indian or Asian origin allowed to share in the heritage of Boadicea or Richard the Lionheart ? Are German Jews allowed to share in the heritage of Frederick Barbarossa, or Italian Jews in the heritage of Julius Caesar ? If we permit Greece to impose racial homogeneity on ancient history, what is left of Western values ?

Macedonia should under no circumstances back down on this question. The whole point of joining NATO is to acquire security. But what meaning does ‘security’ have if one is not even allowed to use one’s own name ? NATO will be discrediting itself if it allows Greek national chauvinism to veto its expansion.

Macedonia’s position is not so weak. The Western powers will never allow Macedonia to collapse; the country’s strategic position; the possibility of its break-up leading to conflict between Greece and Turkey; the growing Russian encroachment in neighbouring Serbia and in Bosnia’s Serb Republic – all these are reasons why Macedonia can feel confident that the West cannot afford to abandon it. Furthermore, Greece’s own position is not so strong; northern Cyprus is under Turkish occupation, and Greece and Cyprus ultimately need US and European goodwill if this issue is ever to be resolved. Some of us may feel that, if Greece continues with its current policy over Macedonia, and if Cyprus continues to follow the Greek line, then these two nations have forfeited any right to Western support for Cyprus’s reunification. Macedonia may have to wait a while longer to join NATO, but it will survive, while Greece may end up paying a heavy price.

In resisting this aggression, Macedonia is upholding not only its own honour, but NATO’s and the West’s. Macedonia must stand up for itself, for in doing so, it is standing up for Europe, for democracy and for the dignity of small nations. If the Macedonians under Alexander the Great could conquer Persia and go as far as India with their armies, I am sure today’s Macedonians can face off a tin-pot neighbourhood bully.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008 - Posted by | Balkans, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey


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