Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots.”

Erasing identity and preparing to become “Vardarians”?

Before I get into my thoughts on the attempt to erase Macedonia’s identity I want to bring up this point: up to 100,000 Greeks marched in Solun (Thessaloniki) on Sunday demanding that Macedonia change its name and not include the term Macedonia in it. Thanks, Zoran Zaev, for stirring up a pot that didn’t need to be stirred up. Yet another reason to drop these negotiations.

Moving on. With so much speculation and conjecture in the news and so little in the way of official statements coming from the government in Macedonia, I thought it might be useful to attempt to discern where we are by examining the statements and looking at the proverbial tea leaves. At this point, however, it should be abundantly clear that the whole issue on the talks between Macedonia and Greece revolves around the key issue of identity.

According to the website European Western Balkans, last October Macedonian foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov said “I believe that we need to extract identity issues from this negotiation process, because otherwise the problem will never be solved.” On his point about taking identity out of the equation or else the issue will never be solved, he is correct. The League of Macedonian Americans makes the same point: “But how can any solution to the dispute protect the Macedonian identity when the basis of Greece’s demands resides in its denial of the ethnic Macedonian identity?” Most recently, on January 17, Dimitrov told Balkan Insight “A solution is only possible if the [country’s] identity is not undermined…The nature of the dispute is such that it creates fear … so it is very important for the Republic of Macedonia that it is clear that the solution will not hurt the [national] identity.” Dimitrov also told Greek newspaper Kathimerini, “We were and will be Macedonians.”

And yet at the same time you have Greek officials and analysts stating that the whole point of the talks is “to change the identity of the Macedonian people” according to an interview with Jorgos Papadakis a Greek expert on the region, according to Macedonia’s Kanal 5 Television. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has also weighed in stating that there has never been an ethnic Macedonian nation or identity, and former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was reported to have “met on Tuesday (1/16) with representatives of groups from around the world comprising Greeks hailing from the region of Macedonia. According to a report on the Real News website, Karamanlis, whose family is from northern Greece, stated that there is ‘no Macedonian nation and this must be made clear and officially accepted.’”

So, even though Tsipras and UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz are prepared to accept a “new name” with the word “Macedonia” in it (despite the fact that the majority of Greeks are against this), the issue still comes down to identity. Here’s how: according to another report, “Greece would prefer the use of the name ‘Republic of Vardar Macedonia’ as part of the agreement for the name dispute, writes the Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini. On the other hand, Macedonia, according to Kathimerini would prefer more to use the name Republic of New Macedonia.”

So, for argument’s sake, let’s assume the Greeks prevail, the Zaev government caves in, and somehow Macedonia accepts the name “Republic of Vardar Macedonia” (whether just for international use or combined with a change in Macedonia’s constitution is beside the point for purposes of this example). At that point the Greeks will go to the UN Secretariat which is charged with determining adjectival use of the names of countries and will demand that the members of the newly named “Republic of Vardar Macedonia” be refereed to, by the UN (and hence by all UN member states) as “Vardarians.” At that point what Jorgos Papadakis said, above, kicks into high gear — the systematic plan “to change the identity of the Macedonian people.” And make no mistake — this will go on forever. The Greeks will attempt to regulate, however they can, whenever they can and wherever they can, what the Macedonians are called and referred to — and it won’t be “Macedonians.” And this will apply to everything now called “Macedonian” — the language, culture, Church, sports teams, products — everything. And the Greeks will still hold leverage over Macedonia — after all, Macedonia will still not be in NATO or the EU (the latter for a long time). With respect to NATO, even if a name change were to take place and Macedonia received an invitation at the NATO summit in July, Greece will still hold all the cards — after all, every NATO member parliament — including Greece — will need to ratify that before Macedonia is actually a member of NATO. And during that up-to-one-year process, if Macedonia does not obey Greece, Greece will simply not ratify it.

The famous Russian Orthodox believer and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously wrote that “To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots.” And Solzhenitsyn was clearly supportive of the distinctiveness of individual nations. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and, though he could not attend the award’s ceremony in Stockholm (as the Soviet authorities would not guarantee that he could come home to Russia), he did prepare a lecture. In it, he encourages national distinctiveness and rejects the idea of “various peoples disappearing into the melting pot of contemporary civilization.” “Nations,” he wrote, “are the wealth of humanity, its generalized personalities. The least among them harbors within itself a special aspect of God’s design.” Macedonia and Macedonians are a part of that wealth and have a national distinctiveness. It would be a historic tragedy — and frankly, a crime — to allow that to be destroyed.

Proud American & Arizonan w/Hungarian ethnicity & passion for Macedonia, Hungary & Estonia. Traveler, PR man, history buff & wine, craft beer & cigar enthusiast