And here….we….go An attempt to change Macedonia’s name and identity
It’s almost impossible to keep up with it all — a frenzy and flurry of articles, analysis, and commentary over the so-called “name issue” which Greece has with Macedonia. Daily — oftentimes throughout the day — these hit the digital sphere — written both by those who have followed the issue for many years, as well as casual observers who think they know something about the issue but are merely looking to put their own names out there. The one thing that is missing from all of them, however, is the one thing I will continue to write about — this is about much more than the “name” — it is about identity. Example number one: an article in Greek Reporter gave a fairly good history of the issue reminding readers that, in 1992, the “Council of Ministers under Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis,” convened and demanded that, among other things, that Macedonia “recognize that there is no ‘Macedonian minority’ in Greece.” With all of the proverbial back and forth over creating a new name (per media reports, Zoran Zaev and his government want this to be for international usage only) what is missing is that a new name, if agreed to by the SDSM-led government of Macedonia, will fundamentally change the identity of those living in the Republic of Macedonia — and will extend to all of those living anywhere else — including Greece — who call themselves Macedonian. It will also extend to anything now called “Macedonian” — be it the language, Church, arts, sports, culture, agricultural exports — anything and everything.
But let’s start with the latest developments from the Macedonian side. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev most recently (January 8) told Greek media that a) he has no red lines and b) he already has a solution (meaning a new name) in mind but won’t tell anyone. Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Osmani, who apparently has taken over the role of foreign minister from Nikola Dimitrov who has gone missing, told another media outlet on Monday, January 8, that we shouldn’t be talking about a referendum now. Then on Tuesday, January 9, and according to Greek Reporter, he reportedly said “A possible referendum….on the name issue might be detrimental to the upcoming negotiations. A referendum on the issue of naming should not be imposed on the country’s internal political scene, nor should it be the subject of party controversy.” Granted it was only a few weeks ago that so-called “speaker” of parliament Talat Xheferi told Macedonians that there really is no need for a referendum and that parliament could simply agree to a new name. Confusingly, Vice Prime Minister Koco Angjusev reportedly stated that “New,” “Northern,” or “Upper” would be fine with him but at the same time noted that “The Macedonian identity and language is the red line from which there should be no concessions.” I think the bottom line here is a) there are many confusing and contradictory messages coming out of the Zaev/SDSM government, and b) they will say whatever they think needs to be said to whoever they are talking to in order to get a deal.
But of course a deal is far from certain. Looking at the Greek side, and for this part, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Greek newspaper Real News that “Macedonian Republic of Skopje” would be acceptable to him but also that Macedonia must rename its airport in Skopje, pull down certain statues, and agree to a new name, erga omnes. He also noted, according to the newspaper that “All the names mentioned before have been put at the negotiating table with UN envoy Matthew Nimetz. Athens has no positive attitude towards the name proposals such as Northern, Upper or New Macedonia, recently mentioned by the Deputy PM Koco Angjusev. They imply that two or more Macedonia’s exist. It is worth mentioning that members of the government in Athens positively view the proposal Macedonian Republic of Skopje.” For their part, Greek citizens and organizations are mobilizing to work on making sure that the Greek government does not agree to any name which includes the word “Macedonia” in it. Numerous Greek officials, associations, cultural figures and others are pointing back to that agreement in 1992 among the then-leaders of Greece that stated that they would never accept the word “Macedonia” to be in the “new name.” At the same time, Greek officials, including Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, have criticized Zaev and his government for doing nothing but talking, stating that the “results, so far are not that encouraging.” To be fair to them, Zaev and his government have spoken a great deal of words but have not yet done what they have said they would do, leaving room for interpretation of their actions. I think the bottom line, with respect to Greek officials, media, associations and others is that they too are sending both contradictory and confusing messages and that not all of the political leaders are on board.
I think — and hope — that Macedonians of all political backgrounds are waking up to the possibility of losing something precious, something which they do not have to give up — their very name and their very identity. There is no reason to negotiate your name and identity away but that is what the current government of Macedonia is attempting to do. Macedonia has other alternatives to the EU and is, in all but name, a member of NATO. These are options we must be discussing because giving away your name and identity is no option at all. Once you do so, it is forever.