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Greek-Macedonian name issue myths debunked

By Sam Vaknin - posted Monday, 10 January 2011

The "name issue" involves a protracted dispute over the last 17 years between the two Balkan polities over Macedonia's right to use its constitutional name, "The Republic of Macedonia". The Greeks claim that Macedonia is a region in Greece and that, therefore, the country Macedonia has no right to monopolize the name and its derivatives ("Macedonian").

The Greeks feel that Macedonians have designs on the part of Greece that borders the tiny, landlocked country and that the use of Macedonia's constitutional name internationally will only serve to enhance irredentist and secessionist tendencies, thus adversely affecting the entire region's stability.

Macedonia retorts that it has publicly renounced any claims to any territory of any of its neighbors. Greece is Macedonia's second largest foreign investor. The disparities in size, military power and geopolitical and economic prowess between the two countries make Greek "fears" appear to be ridiculous. Macedonians have a right to decide how they are to be called, say exasperated Macedonian officials.


The Greek demands are without precedent either in history or in international law. Many countries bear variants of the same name (Yemen, Korea, Germany until 1990, Russia and Byelorussia, Mongolia). Others share their name with a region in another country (Brittany in France and Great Britain across the channel, for instance).

In the alliance's Bucharest Summit, in April 2008, Macedonia was not invited to join NATO. Macedonia was rejected because it would not succumb to Greek intransigence: Greece insisted that Macedonia should change its constitutional name to cater to Greek domestic political sensitivities.

In the absence of the glare of the global media, its coverage and exposure, the fourth-rate diplomats that stand in for the International Community in Macedonia ineffectually cajole its government with thinly veiled threats, Cassandra-like apocalyptic scenarios, and verbal bribery. To achieve their aims, they propagate three myths (not to say deceptions):

Myth number 1: The conflict initiated by Greece is “normal” and not intractable

The truth is that the “Name Issue” cannot be resolved because the diametrically-opposing positions of the parties occupy the same semantic and geopolitical space. Both fear for their cohesion and identity should they compromise.

The Greek demand - that Macedonia and, consequently, the Macedonians change their collective (national) name - is unreasonable ab initio. Unreasonable demands cannot be rendered reasonable by being modified or amended. Greek “flexibility” and “reasonableness” are, therefore, smokescreens behind which lurk irrationality and extremism.

Sovereign polities should never succumb to blackmail and extortion: not because of ethical or moral considerations or matters of national pride, but because concessions only tend to enhance the insatiability of blackmailers and extortionists. Macedonia gave in to Greek blackmail once (with regards to its flag), yet this did not slake Greece’s thirst for more.


The name issue negotiations consume vast and scarce resources, especially in terms of human capital. Macedonia is a poor country and this Greek diversion is proving to be lethal as far as its economic development and geopolitical prospects go.

In truth, Macedonia is winning the diplomatic and public opinion battle the world over. More than 120 members of the United Nations recognize it by its constitutional name and not a week passes by without a commiserating op-ed in some prime medium in the West. Greece looks bad: an extortionate bully in the throes of economic mayhem and domestic terrorism. Faced with such an asymmetry in global sympathy, why should Macedonia be the one to throw in the towel?

Myth number 2: A lack of progress (read: Macedonian capitulation) on the name issue will foster inter-ethnic unrest and worse

Ardent, well-choreographed protestations aside, the Albanians in Macedonia ought to be delighted with the lack of progress on both NATO and EU accession. The overwhelming majority of Albanians in Western Macedonia are enmeshed in activities which can only be charitably described as “informal”. The Albanians are the engine that runs the grey and black and criminal economies in Macedonia. EU accession will put an abrupt stop to all these lucrative endeavours and unravel networks that took decades to build and maintain.

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About the Author

Sam Vaknin ( ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, and international affairs. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101. Visit Sam's Web site at

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