Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

Opinion

'Macedonia' no longer needs inverted commas

  • What's in a name? Old sign on Macedonian border (Photo: Robert Thomson)

About two months ago I ordered a cup of coffee at the cafeteria of the House of Commons.

The girl who was making the coffee asked me where I am from, because my accent sounded familiar. When I answered that I am from Greece she smiled, saying that she had thought so, being from Macedonia herself.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

I told her that I have passed through her country, on my way to Serbia. When it was time to pay, she did not take my money: "The coffee is on me, because you are the first Greek I have heard say 'Macedonia'".

As I recount this incident, I am assailed by doubts as to whether I should be doing so. I fear, first, that I am describing myself as a way-cool, open-minded liberal urging those compatriots of mine who feel offended because a neighbouring country is using the name 'Macedonia' to relax.

I also fear that some Greeks will regard me as a traitor. And lastly, for a few moments there I felt like an idiot for exchanging the family silver for a caffe latte.

I know many people who think as I do.

I have no friends in Greece who say 'Macedonia' when they refer to Macedonia.

No colleagues who can write down that name without placing it within quotation marks, not even those who couldn't care less about the matter of the name.

That is, those who indeed forgot, not in 10 years, as prime minister Constantinos Mitsotakis had once predicted, but in 10 minutes.

Cold War history

In 1991, the Greeks, with massive demonstrations and active diplomatic manoeuvring, had denied to the neighbouring country, which had just gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia, its right to call itself Macedonia.

The Greek argument was that a region within Greece was also called by that name and that former Yugoslav Macedonia would claim it. The issue remains unresolved to this day.

Of course, this whole affair about the name of Macedonia is over. A double appellation has prevailed.

The country is called Macedonia by all the world, and Skopje in Greece. If 'Skopje' as a national designation does not exist abroad, then the same applies for 'Macedonia' within Greece.

The intense diplomatic activity of recent days and the meeting between the Prime Ministers of Greece and Macedonia, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, at Davos, have raised expectations that the issue may be formally resolved after 27 years.

Macedonia may finally acquire a regular, formal appellation to be used by international organisations, perhaps Nova Macedonia or Macedonia of the North, which will differentiate it from Greek Macedonia and so appease the Greeks.

However, this glimmer of hope, or an "erga omnes" solution as the Greek side likes to say, is not really of interest to anyone else. No one, nowhere, will be using the new name.

The rest of the world is right, not Greece

Who is right? The rest of the planet is right, not Greece.

It is not possible to call a country by the name of its capital city, nor to demand that a third country call itself as we would wish.

Noone in Greece seriously believes the story about Macedonia's irredentist aspirations, so that we could ask anyone in Britain to do so.

How on earth could one of the poorest countries in Europe, with grave national minority problems of its own, a country which ardently wishes to join NATO, pose a threat to a country five times as large and as powerful?

Therefore, those of us who have no problem with this, can stop acting like officers of the ministry of foreign affairs, placing Macedonia within quotation marks in our writings or using tongue-twisting acronyms: PGDM (FYROM) is the no vowels appellation that Greece has provisionally accepted.

Let us call it 'Skopje' in Greece so we do not end up with a blackened eye, and 'Macedonia' when we are abroad so people don't think we are idiots.

Because the whole world does not merely call Macedonia 'Macedonia', but considers the Greeks insane in their persistence that it must be called otherwise - especially since we have never once in these past 30 years explained to anyone what it should be called instead.

Thimios Tzallas is a London-based journalist working for the parliamentary think tank Hansard Society and also commenting on British politics for Kathimerini, a daily morning newspaper published in Athens

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. Real Brexit progress needed by October, Barnier says
  2. Poland to face EU top court on rule of law
  3. Austria's EU presidency: a bridge over troubled water?
  4. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers
  5. Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal
  6. New book: Why war is coming
  7. EU parliament will not budge on office expenses
  8. Why Orban's project to reshape EU politics will be unsuccessful

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us