What’s in a name?

Yesterday a crowd gathered in the center of Athens, waving flags and chanting to protest a Greek compromise over the naming of a neighboring former Yugoslav republic. Macedonia, which is what the republic wants to call itself, is the ancient name of the region where Alexander the Great was born, and Greeks feel it belongs to them. Most call the republic by the name of its capital, Skopje.

The name dispute has been going on for years: it broke out after Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The country is recognized by international institutions as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, even though about 130 countries refer to it simply as Macedonia.


Flags make for a pretty sight. Syntagma Square. Source: Kathimerini


Greece argues use of the name implies territorial claims on its own province of Macedonia. Officials in Skopje counter that their country has been known as Macedonia for a long time.

The easiest solution would be to add a modifier such as “New” or “North” to the republic’s name, but this proposal has triggered protests in both countries.

It is debatable how many people attended yesterday’s rally: the organizers claim to over a million, whereas the police estimated around 140.000 – not a small difference. Politicians of all parties had their say, 92-year-old legendary musician and former minister Mikis Theodorakis put in a appearance and called for a referendum [oh no – not another one…] Everyone accused the everyone else of using the event for their own interest, and of faking attendance numbers. Left-wing and anarchist protesters, bearing banners calling for Balkan unity, took the opportunity to set up a counter-demonstration nearby, which suspected far-right supporters attempted to attack. The riot police had a field day.

About 100,000 people attended a similar protest last month in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, the capital of Greece’s province of Macedonia.

What do I think about it all? Hard to say. I do think the choice of the name was provocative in the first place – surely they knew it would not please Greece, so why not opt for something else and avoid opening that particular can of worms. However, as usual the issue is obscured and transformed by political interest on both sides, and used to funnel people’s frustration and despair away from the real problems that desperately need to be solved. The endless squabbling is inelegant, to say the least. As to the referendum, no thanks – I’m sick of being dragged out to vote, knowing nothing will change in the long run. Let’s not forget that in the last referendum, we voted NO to stay in Europe, or YES to not leave Europe. Ridiculous.

24 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. No to stay & Yes to not leave?
    No wonder I find international politics so confusing!

    I can see how the ongoing strife and upheaval would become tiresome after a bit. I thought I had it bad living next door to a country being run by a maniac.

    On another note: I like the side bar including your gorgeous feather pictures! Very nice touch. I need to jazz up my page a bit, and this is a nice idea. Now, to figure out how to pull it off.


    1. I know, crazy isn’t it?
      You have to put the Instagram app into the sidebars. If you google it, you get clear instructions. Then you have to post things in IG, and they automatically show up in your next post. Good luck !


      1. I did it! Thanks for the inspiration. I”‘d like to fix” one thing about my blog/website each day or two. You get credit for getting me rolling on this project.


  2. Maybe they should just call themselves “The Republic Frequently Known as Macedonia” ?
    I admit I don’t understand why one country should have a say in what another country names itself – or why a country should name themselves in accordance with what pleases other nations.
    Or why calling themselves Macedonia would give them a claim on the Greek province of Macedonia. Georgia doesn’t have a claim on the US state of Georgia, Papua New Guinea doesn’t have a claim on the Indonesian province of Papua/Western New Guinea (formerly Irian Djaya).

    But as you say, there are a lot more serious problems that people should be addressing. In Papua’s case, having been annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s, they want independence, but Indonesia won’t let them go and is moving lots of Indonesians into Papua (which is Melanesian) in order to make it look more like a natural part of Indonesia. Protesters and human rights activists are frequently imprisoned and otherwise mistreated.
    The world is a lot more unstable and rough around the edges than we often realize, particularly those of us among the relatively small number of people who live in politically and geographically stable countries.


  3. Since I have quite a few friends living around the world who call themselves simply Macedonian, I had little idea of the problems obviously felt by the different sides. Have just spent some time talking to the ever-friendly Mr Google and do not know what to say, as the borders to the possible ‘Macedonias’ do not seem fixed at all . . . Yet to omit that old name seems ludicrous . . . que faire? No intelligent suggestion in mind . . .


  4. This was reported here and I wondered why it happened now. Has something happened to change the situation?

    In my ignorance I assumed that the former part of Yugoslavia had simply taken back its name from before it was part of Yugoslavia. Now that I’ve had a look at Google I can see why it’s a problem.


  5. I notice a sense of exhaustion among my blogging friends. A disillusion and despondency with the way the world is headed. I feel it myself. I have decided to find a good news story each day to counter the doom and gloom pumped out by the media. One of my favourites this past week is seeing the joining of the two Koreas at the opening ceremony for the Winter Games. I know. I hear the cynical among you. But it’s a start – right?

    Liked by 1 person

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