Macedonia is being threatened with isolation by Greece unless it changes the name of its country - is this the mark of a good neighbour?
As of this writing, there are roughly even odds that the prime ministers of Macedonia and Greece, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, will sign some kind of a treaty that is supposed to put an end to the nearly 30-year name dispute, and allow Macedonia to join NATO and open accession talks with the European Union.
This is the optimistic view taken by European and American diplomats and the left wing parties in both countries, who are pushing for this agreement. The reality is that the signing of a document will solve nothing, in fact, it will likely make relations between the two countries worse.
The issue looks absurd to foreign observers, but to people involved in the Balkans, it is very real and clear. It is clearly not just a fight for the name, 'Macedonia'. The Balkan countries that were formed in the 19th and 20th century fought bitterly amongst each other after the Ottoman Empire withdrew from the Balkans.
Greece, Serbia, and to a lesser extent Bulgaria, began a brief and intensely violent land grab, that started directly after WWI, and was later followed by a long period of fear, worry and anxiety about whether they will be able to hold on to the territories they snatched, after growing so large in such little time.
Clearly these countries, for most of their existence, were not democratic and open-minded enough to rule over the various peoples and religions they conquered, and instead relied on oppression, colonisation and assimilation to support their gains.
Serbia is the best known and most extreme case - it went to war with Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo to keep the territory it took in the early 1900s.
The Greek approach is very similar. They also insist on having a uniform, homogenous, exclusively Greek and Orthodox Christian state, but the reality on the ground, as well as their future demographic and economic developments, guarantee that this model is unsustainable even in the near term.
Therefore we see the extremes of Greek nationalism mobilising against Macedonia, Turkey and Albania, and against other ethnic groups living in Greece and against other, smaller minorities like the Roma.
Greece also bans Turks living in its territory from calling themselves Turks, but instead insists on using the name Muslims. These are the symptoms of a weakening, decaying regional power, which is constantly looking over its borders at real or imaginary threats.
Specifically, with regard to Macedonia, it fears for the future of the part of historic Macedonia which has only for the past 100 years been part of Greek territory.
Greece has settled this region with ethnic Greeks that moved there during the population swap with Turkey in the 1920s (hence all the town names like Nea Marmaris and Nea Mudanya), and has followed up on this with an expulsion of ethnic Macedonians from the regions of Solun, Kukush and Kavala, and the forced assimilation of Macedonians in Voden, Lerin and Kostur.
Greece fears that a prosperous Republic of Macedonia may lead to a renewal of this suppressed Macedonian identity to its north, and has worked for decades to try and keep Macedonia poor, unrecognised internationally and unintegrated with Europe.
The gamble has backfired, as it is Greece, not Macedonia, that went bankrupt. Supported by its international friends, including Turkey, Macedonia has been able to grow and develop itself.
Macedonians proved that you can prosper even if you are outside of the European Union, while Greece proved that you can destroy yourself while being inside.
The supreme irony of the latest push to "resolve the name issue" is in that it is being made by two parties who do not represent the people of Macedonia nor Greece.
Neither Zaev, as Prime Minister of Macedonia or his Greek counterpart Tsipras are representative of the Macedonians who were expelled from Greece, or of the Greek settlers to Macedonia, and can not assure them that a deal will be just and sustainable.
This is a project led by a group of outgoing American and European diplomats, who want Macedonia as a full EU and NATO member and have proven they are willing to violate the rule of law, make faustian bargains and deeply frustrate the dignity of the Macedonian people in order to do it.
This is not a recipe for having a stable partnership. Any name change imposed from the outside will lead to an endless push to rename: companies, towns and locations in Macedonia, ban/rewrite books and songs, engineer the collective memory of an entire people in a top down fashion, down to personal names and commonly used words. Such an unnatural request was never made of any people.
Countries have changed their names, willingly, often to drop a colonial-era imposed name or identity. But forcing the huge majority of Macedonians who have no intention to accept a new and made up identity and collective memory is a tortured insult that will not bring any stability in the region, quite the contrary, it can only deepen divisions, anger and mistrust.
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