By Dr Chris Popov
Over the last few months, we have been assailed by arguments presented by ministers, members of parliament and spokespersons in the puppet Zaev government and their political allies in the media in favour of a name change.
Amongst this barrage of misleading information, mental acrobatics and pure disinformation, the argument most often presented is the one that posits that a name change will not affect Macedonian identity and self-identification. We have witnessed both Zaev and Nikola Dimitrov assure us that they will not even “countenance a solution” if there is any chance of Macedonian identity and the Macedonian language being described in such a way that they are diluted, diminished, ridiculed or disrespected.
UN intermediary Matthew Nimetz has also gone out of his way to say ad infinitum that the talks that he is mediating are only about Macedonian’s name and have nothing to do with changing the way in which Macedonian ethnicity/identity and the Macedonian language are described. All the while Greek Foreign Minister Kozias, Prime Minister Tsipras and nearly every Greek politician and public official have stated that changes to the way in which Macedonian ethnicity, nationality and language are described are necessary so that there is a clear distinction between “Gorna/Nova/ Severnamakedonija and the Greek province of Macedonia (which Greece annexed in 1913 before proceeding to ethnically cleanse and/or Greekify the indigenous Macedonian population). They have also demanded that several articles of the Macedonian Constitution be amended in the battle against “irredentism”.
The glib statements of Zaev and Co that Macedonian identity and language can still be preserved if Macedonia changes its name Erga Omnes have no basis in fact and very little connection with reality. The precise reason why Greece has disputed Macedonia’s right to its name is because it knows that the name of a country and that of its majority ethnic population are inextricably linked and that, over time, changing the official name of the country will affect the way in which the identity of its majority population is perceived. Consequently, people should be under no illusion that a permanent name change will lead to a permanent change in the way our ethnicity, language and identity are described internationally. For example, if the agreed name is the Republic of Gornamakedonija (although the Greeks may reject any mention of Macedonia)- despite so-called guarantees from Zaev that the ethnicity and language will still be described as Macedonian- invariably over time Greece will use that name change to promote the notion that these people are “Gornamacedonians” ( Macedonians with a small m or just simply Gornas) who speak the “ Gornamakedonski or Gorna” language in contrast to the Greeks (Asia Minor refugees and their descendants and Greekified Macedonians) in Macedonia (Aegean Macedonia) who will be portrayed as the true Macedonians who have a Macedonian identity which they will continue to also insist is the essence of being a Greek. This will lead to Greece claiming the name and history of Macedonia as its own and it will not hesitate to ruthlessly promote this line internationally.
I need not remind people in Australia that in 1995 the Kennett Government in Victoria changed the name of the Macedonian language to “Macedonian ( Slavonic )” under pressure from the Greek community and justified it by saying it was the logical outcome of the Federal Government’s decision to recognise Macedonia as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and to adopt the offensive term of “Slav-Macedonians” as a descriptor for Macedonians in March 1994. Kennett’s decision on the Macedonian language was only overturned in 2001 after many years of legal action. Such a renaming will inevitably occur over time again world-wide and the international community and individual countries will use the justification that Kennett used in 1995 and the fact that “the people of Gorna/ Severna/ Vardar/Novamakedonija” Macedonia have decided on a name change in a “free and fair referendum”, if a referendum is even held. As you know, the Greeks and the Albanians in Macedonia want the name change to be ratified in Parliament as an international agreement by a simple majority.
Such an outcome would signal the beginning of the end of the Macedonian people as a distinct ethnic group and of the Macedonian state which was brought about through the struggle and sacrifices of many generations of Macedonians. We will not be able to console ourselves with a ghettoised internal Macedonian identity in the newly-renamed country- if the Greeks and “international community” (read USA and EU/ NATO) allow even that- which was formerly Macedonia, while internationally the country is forced to use another name which will lead to the ethnicity and identity being portrayed as anything but Macedonian. This is why a name change should be resolutely opposed.
Another argument that springs directly from this erroneous reasoning is that many countries in the world have an internal and an international name and that the possession of dual names has not in the least affected the way in which its peoples identify. This argument is as specious as it is infantile. We all know that Germany is called Deutschland in German, Italy is Italia in Italian, Spain, España in Spanish, Holland/the Netherlands, Nederland in Dutch, and yes Greece/ Hellenic Republic, Elliniki Dimokratia in Greek. In all these cases and those of practically all countries in the world the “international name” is usually the name of the country in its own language translated into the world lingua franca, English.
Moreover, the international name is one that the country in question has no objection to and has freely chosen as part of the way in which it projects itself in the international arena and communicates with the world in general. In addition, in an overwhelming number of cases, the titular people in a said country have their ethnicity recognised internationally and by their immediate neighbouring countries.
It is more than obvious that this is not the case with Macedonia and the Macedonians. A name change is being sought by a country, Greece, which for at least 150 years has denied with a passion the existence of a Macedonian nation, ethnic group, language, identity and culture. An exponential intensification of its denial has occurred in the years since Macedonia’s independence in 1991.
Bulgaria’s denial of the Macedonians rivals that of Greece, while Albania ostensibly and begrudgingly recognises a separate Macedonian ethnicity while refusing to recognise Macedonia under its correct official name. One also has to mention in this regard the substantial support amongst both official Albanian/ Kosovar and Macedonian Albanian circles and the general ethnic Albanian population in the Balkans for the creation of a Greater Albania or at least a federal structure for Macedonia. While the Serbian position vis-a-vis Macedonia is not one of denial, of late their foreign minister Dacic has made increasingly anti-Macedonian statements and threatened to rescind Serbia’s recognition of Macedonia as the Republic of Macedonia. It is therefore clear that any “international name” agreed to by Macedonia would take place amidst a campaign either to obliterate the Macedonians as a distinct ethnic group and/or bring about the weakening or indeed destruction of the Macedonian state. Given the geopolitical space in which Macedonian finds itself and the increasingly emboldened appetites of its neighbours, any mooted “international name” touted by the apologists for the government in Macedonia would, far from safeguarding Macedonian identity and statehood, merely represent the most visible aspect of the campaign to ‘solve” the Macedonian Question in accordance with the desires of the Greek racism, US imperialism and EU/NATO denial.
This is why the international name argument is completely without foundation and its fraudulent nature must be exposed for all the world to see. Nothing justifies a change of name for Macedonia. It is our duty to ensure that this does not happen!
About the Author
Dr. Chris Popov was born in Melbourne. His parents are from the villages of Kuchkoveni and Rula in Aegean Macedonia. In 1985 he became one of the first members of the Macedonian Human Rights Committee of Melbourne and Victoria and was President of that Committee from 1994 until 2000. He was one of the founding members of the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee and President of the AMHRC from the mid-nineties until 2000. He was recently a member of the Executive of the AMHRC. In 1989, 1990 and 1991 he was a member of the international Macedonian human rights delegations which visited the European Parliament and United Nations and attended the OSCE Human Rights Dimensions Conferences in order to lobby for recognition of the rights of Macedonians in Greece, Bulgaria and Albania. He is the author or several books and brochures on Macedonian history, politics and human rights and has written numerous articles on these same topics for several publications.