12 August 2021
John Thomas Williams for International Policy Digest, based in Richmond, United States
What has become of Macedonia, the once-proud land where Alexander the Great and Cleopatra’s family hails from? A once proud nation, steeped in history that literally affected the world. In recent history, it was a land that belonged to the Ottomans and then later the Slavic nations, and even Greece has claims to the country. The Ottoman Empire does not exist, the Greeks of old do not exist and Macedonia of old does not exist, yet the pride of a people of a shared history lives on.
A brief look at its history since the beginning of the 20th century shows how territorial claims over the people and the land decimated the once glorious state and proud people. Ottoman control over Macedonia ended due to the Balkan Wars of 1912–13. To add insult to injury, Macedonia was divided amongst the Greeks, Bulgarians, and Serbians. The Balkan Wars was a devastating defeat for the Ottomans that lost most of its European territories to ill-equipped and inferior forces. Following the Greek victory, which was considered nothing short of miraculous, in their arrogance, Greece claimed the people and land were Greek. Following the First World War, the Serbian segment of Macedonia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes which was later named Yugoslavia in 1929. During the aftermath of the Second World War, the Serbian part of Macedonia became a constituent republic within the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. This was considered an acceptable outcome as Greece had its own civil war to contend with at the time.
The once allies of Europe were now under Soviet influence and covertly helped the communist forces during the Greek civil war. Macedonia at the time still did not officially exist, except in the hearts and minds of the people. Only in 1945 was the Macedonian language even recognized once it became part of Yugoslavia, which was part of the Eastern bloc and under the USSR’s crushing “influence.” The collapse of Yugoslavia led the Republic of Macedonia to declare its own independence in 1991. But the road to freedom was costly. Macedonia was able to secede from Yugoslavia in 1991. Then the country was able to become a member of the United Nations in April 1993, but not before getting into a diplomatic dispute with Greece over the name “Macedonia” who claimed it was too Hellenistic and belonged to Greece.
The use of the name “Macedonia” was disputed between Greece and North Macedonia. The specific naming dispute was reignited after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the newly gained independence of the former Socialist Republic of Macedonia in 1991. Greece opposed the use of the name without a geographical “qualifier” to avoid confusion with its own region of Greek Macedonia to the south. Greece in its arrogance still thought that the former glory of Macedonia still belonged to them, as some ethnic Greeks identify themselves as Macedonians in order to reclaim the pride of their ancient ancestors. Meaning, they believed that the true Macedonia is not related to the Slavic people who are associated with the North Macedonia of today.
Greece further objected to the use of the term Macedonian for the neighboring country’s largest ethnic group; it accused the country of appropriating symbols and figures that are historically considered parts of Greece’s culture (such as Vergina Sun and Alexander the Great), and of promoting the irredentist concept of a united Macedonia, which would include territories of Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, and Serbia. Macedonia was later admitted under the provisional description “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in June 2018 and then later an agreement was reached that the country should rename itself “Republic of North Macedonia.” This renaming came into effect in February of 2019.
It is not right that these proud people should have to bow to Greece. Yes, once upon a time Macedonia was Greek in culture, so was Palestine, yet there is no illusion that it belongs to Greece. It became clearer how the people wanted to reclaim their pride and identity, which some believed led to a conflict. The conflict took place between the government and ethnic Albanian insurgents, mostly in the north and west of the country, between February and August 2001. The conflict ended with the intervention of a NATO ceasefire monitoring force. Under the terms of the Ohrid Agreement, the government agreed to devolve greater political power and cultural recognition to the Albanian minority. The Albanian side agreed to abandon separatist demands and to recognize all Macedonian institutions fully. In addition, according to this accord, the Albanian insurgents were to disarm and hand over their weapons.
Even now there is a dispute over Macedonia being part of the European Union. Discussions to allow Macedonia to join the EU was blocked by Bulgaria in 2020 due to disputes over history, national identity, and language.
Enough is enough. North Macedonia belongs to the people of Macedonia no matter their ethnic heritage as it stands today. The people share a common history, language, border, and the government has the ability to enact policies. This according to the 1st article convention of Montevideo is enough to determine a country as its own state. The Slavs and Greeks need to accept that Macedonia belongs to the Macedonians.