Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Macedonian, Greek name feud continues

The end of December saw the ongoing quarrel between Greece and Macedonia flare up again. The catalyst this time was the announcement of the new name for Skopje airport -- Aleksandar Makedonski (Alexander the Macedonian).

Accusing Skopje of falsifying history, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis reiterated Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' threat -- made two months previously -- to nix Macedonia's EU accession bid.

"More than 2,000 years later, history can be neither changed nor falsified," Bakoyannis said. "Their behaviour is out of sync with the duties of good-neighbourly relations set down in the interim accord and in their obligations towards the EU. It does not serve their Euro-Atlantic ambitions well. Greece has made its stance clear to its allies and partners. It is a stance backed by the country's entire body politic."

The cultural heritage of the ancient Macedonians, of which Alexander constitutes the pinnacle, has been hotly disputed ever since the state claimed its independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. Points of contention have included the name "Macedonia", the star of Vergina -- discovered in Greece but still used in a modified form as Macedonia's official flag -- and the disputed presence of a "Macedonian minority" in northern Greece.

Greece's northern province of Macedonia has been particularly sensitive to the alleged usurpation of the region's culture, forming a hotbed of protest against the Macedonian government's policies in the early 1990s. The minister responsible for the administration of the region, which -- to confuse matters still further -- has its own airport named "Macedonia", was equally firm in his criticism of the renaming of Skopje's airport.

"We want good neighbourly relations with them, but we don't want to see the distortion of historical truths," Minister Georgios Kalantzis said. Acts like this are unfriendly, and won't provide a solution to the problems they have in their country."

Also last month, Athens reacted angrily to the Macedonian government's expressions of concern over the fate of a "Macedonian minority" in northern Greece, the existence of which Bakoyannis strongly denies.

Solutions to the name of the former Yugoslav republic, still known to the UN as FYROM, were proposed by Special Representative Matthew Nimetz in 2005, but were rejected by both parties. With the prospect of Macedonia's EU and NATO membership looming, however, both sides will be under pressure to sacrifice some domestic political capital to reach a mutually acceptable compromise.

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