Macedonia: a name that spells trouble

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The Independent Online
IOANNIS TSALUHIDIS, the secretary-general of Greece's Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace, searched for an image to describe his opinion of the leaders of the Slav-ruled republic to the north. 'They are like children sticking a feather up our nose. Irritating,' he said.

The place in question is the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia which declared independence last year and, to the almost universal fury of Greeks, wants international recognition under that name. Greeks regard the campaign as an outrageous attempt to steal a name they say has been Greek for 2,700 years. But they also see it as the thin end of the wedge, likely to result in territorial claims against the northern Greek region of Macedonia.

Nowhere is that feeling stronger than in Salonica, Greece's second city and an important European port, providing access to the Aegean, the Mediterranean and beyond. 'Like the Ancient Greeks, I will fight with my teeth and nails if necessary to keep what is rightfully mine,' said Eugenia Koukoura, a tourist guide.

Feelings run high in Salonica, partly because the city did not become part of Greece until 1912; even then the Greek army arrived only hours before the Bulgarians. In the two world wars, Bulgaria occupied parts of Greek Macedonia; Greece could have lost the region if Communist insurgents, including Slavs, had won the Greek civil war of 1946-49. 'A feeling of constant insecurity from the north has conditioned Greek foreign policy options for well over the first half of the 20th century,' said Evangelos Kofos, a historian.

The EC, fearing a general Balkan war, may try at its Edinburgh summit next Friday to settle the dispute, but Greek officials say no solution is possible if the former Yugoslav republic insists on being called Macedonia. For their part, the republic's leaders, in Skopje on the Vardar River, deny expansionist ambitions and say that their Slavic people do not think of themselves as Skopjans, Vardarians, Bulgarians, Serbs or anything except Macedonians.

One of the main difficulties is that Macedonia refers to a geographical area that was divided in 1913 between Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. Known between the world wars as Southern Serbia, the Yugoslav part of Macedonia did not become a separate republic until 1944, when Tito created it partly to reduce Serbian domination of Yugoslavia and partly in the hope of forming a Greater South Slav federation that was to have incorporated Greek and Bulgarian Macedonia.

The fear in Salonica is that the present leaders in Skopje may revive Tito's ambitions. Mr Tsaluhidis, for example, can scarcely contain his wrath when he hears the name of Kiro Gligorov, the republic's president. 'He is a recycled Communist. Decades ago he was a Bulgarian army officer, not a so-called Macedonian,' he said.

Despite this, Mr Tsaluhidis thinks war could be avoided. He proposes a non-aggression treaty between Greece and the former Yugoslav republic and a mutual guarantee of borders, followed by Greek private and state investment in the republic. In the longer term, however, he said the republic's large and restive Albanian minority might cause the state's demise. 'All multi-national states eventually collapse. My opinion is that this will happen to Skopje.'