Friday, January 30, 2009

Alexander the Great

President Barack Obama said "the time has come to set aside childish things". Evidently the leaders of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia weren't listening.

They have just done an unbelievably childish thing and named their section of an important north-south trans-European highway - known in Eurospeak as "Corridor 10""- after Alexander the Great. In 2007, they renamed Skopje airport after him.

Now, as we know, Alexander certainly had a taste for travel. He extended his empire as far as India. But these persistent efforts to attach his name to modern European transport systems are, I'd say, beginning to stretch the point.

The Macedonians in Skopje think their state has a rightful claim on Alexander's memory because of his connections to their territory in ancient times. But the authorities in Athens regard Alexander as an exclusively Greek warrior-hero.

The result: Greece has made clear it won't pay one euro towards the cost of the Macedonian part of Corridor 10. And relations between Athens and Skopje are in yet another mess.

In Brussels, European Union officials are beside themselves with frustration as they watch this dispute jeopardise their carefully laid plans for the EU's slow but steady enlargement into the Balkans. The argument over what former Yugoslav Macedonia should call itself has dragged on for almost 20 years, and a solution seems no closer now than when it first broke out.

Of course, the dispute arouses great passions on both sides - as shown in the posts to this story on But the way it's being handled would be enough to make the great Alexander turn in his grave.

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