Macedonia: name dispute may soon be settled
A solution seems close at hand in the long-standing name dispute between Macedonia and Greece. Macedonia's new prime minister, Zoran Zaev, signalled last week in Brussels that his country may seek membership of the EU and Nato under the name "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". What do commentators in the two countries have to say about the initiative?
Our country is eating humble pie
The government's backing down will result in a shameful loss of sovereignty, the Macedonian news portal Kurir fears:
“Twenty-six years after our independence, the Greeks will be our godfathers and baptise us with a name that stays with us forever. They will dictate to us what we call our state. ... What does that look like, dear Macedonians, if not a spineless capitulation on the part of the state and cause for our state to be eternally ashamed? However, the most shameful and perverse thing about it all is that we're now supposed to accept our new name [in a referendum], so that they can later say that we chose it ourselves and confirmed it with a popular vote.”
Tsipras has little leeway
The Greek daily Kathimerini explains the difficult decision Athens faces:
“It's clear that it's in our interest to find a solution that doesn't hurt Greece's reputation and at the same time protects our neighbouring state. In view of the domestic balance of power Mr Tsipras's room for manoeuvre is minimal. The new government in Skopje is trying to demonstrate that something has changed since Gruevski's defeat. Concrete measures and concessions will be necessary to repair the strained relations between the two countries. July will be a hot month for Greek diplomacy. With consensus and without discord we can face this challenge.”
Right-wing nationalists ready to pounce
Changing the state's name could trigger major social and political turbulence in Macedonia and bring the right-wing nationalist party under former prime minister Nikola Gruevski back to power, Duma warns:
“The still influential opposition party VMRO-DPMNE could exploit the people's disgruntlement over the change of name for its own purposes. Gruevski's people, who like to portray themselves as patriots and defenders of the 'national identity' and shroud themselves in the fake aura of an antique Macedonia, won't miss the opportunity to come to power again. A referendum in which the people spoke out against the change of name would pave the way for a new election which Gruevski would easily win.”
Why not Southwest Bulgaria?
From a historical perspective the most appropriate name would be Southwest Bulgaria, historian Boshidar Dimitrov explains in 24 Chasa:
“In antiquity, the modern Macedonia east of the River Vardar was called Paeonia, named after the Thracian tribe that lived there, the Paeonians. The ancient tribe of the Illyrians lived in western Macedonia. Their country is said to have been called Illyria or Dardania. After the founding of the Bulgarian state under Khan Kuber in 681, these areas received the name Bulgaria. … It wasn't until the 18th and 19th centuries that European humanists revived the antique name Macedonia, whereby the borders of the country were defined completely at random: the eastern border was drawn along the River Nestos, whose Bulgarian bank is just 10 metres away at certain points. Do you really believe that only Macedonians live on the one side and only Bulgarians on the other? That's absurd. If we want to be honest, Macedonia should be renamed Southwest Bulgaria.”