GREECE: The 'Macedonia ' Issue

GREECE: The 'Macedonia ' Issue

Elisa Mari, Pitt Law '10, files from Athens:

A huge public outcry erupted in Greece in March when NATO expanded its membership, the reason being that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) wanted to join the alliance under the name of "Macedonia".

For nearly all the existing NATO members this is not a big deal. The United States, for example already officially recognizes the country as "Macedonia". Greece, on the other hand, which refers to the country by the name of its capital Skopje, used its veto power to block FYROM's entrance under the name of Macedonia. Greece is afraid that FYROM will use the historic name of "Macedonia" to try to expand its territory, claiming the regions of Northern Greece that also are known by the name Macedonia.

This is a very sensitive issue for the Greeks, and they are not completely paranoid in their fear. Nationalist movements in FYROM have called for an expansion of the territory and have even claimed the Greek city of Thessaloniki as their capital. To make matters worse and further validate Greek fears, portrayals of the Greek flag with a swastika instead of a cross have been circulating in FYROM.

Greece's ruling New Democracy Party as well as the main opposition party (PASOK) while vehemently disagreeing with each other on practically every other issue, are in complete agreement over the Macedonia issue. In all honesty they have to be. The public is so united on this issue as well, and any government party that did not take a hard line would not survive a single day. Dora Bakogiannis, the Greek Foreign Ministe.r gave a clear explanation of Greece's position. Macedonia, is a larger region that encompasses Northern Greece, some of FYROM, a part of Albania, and a small part of Bulgaria. Therefore, one country cannot claim the title that belongs to the larger region, the majority of which is located in Greece. On the other hand, Bakogiannis has said that the government would be willing to accept the name of Northern Macedonia, or New Macedonia. Many think that even that is too much of a concession.

This issue is of such a national concern and so pervasive that it recently made an appearance on the Greek "Star Ellas" beauty pageant, (the Greek version of Miss America). During the question and answer part of the competition one girl was asked, what would she do if she were Miss Greece and at an international beauty competition the candidate from Skopje was wearing a banner that read "Macedonia"? The girl hesitated, not knowing what to say, and had to be prompted by the event's host to reply. The correct answer? "I would leave!"

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