Greek and Macedonian Name Dispute

Back to Article
Back to Article

Greek and Macedonian Name Dispute

Art by Zen Cacho

Art by Zen Cacho

Art by Zen Cacho

Alessandro Giacone, MS Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The Republic of Macedonia/Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has been in a name dispute with Greece for 27 years. The reason being, was that Macedonia was the name of Greece’s northern region for years, and the Greeks saw Macedonia/FYROM stealing their history by using the name Macedonia. There have been multiple possible solutions thrown around, such as a name change to the Republic of Northern Macedonia, or something similar. Gjorge Ivanov interviewed the Macedonian President at first refused to ratify the proposed name change agreement, saying “I will not support or sign such a damaging agreement”, even going as far as stating that exclusion from the European Union (EU) and North American Treaty Organization (NATO) is not an excuse for a bad deal, but after all of this drama, the two sides may have reached an agreement. In June of 2018, the two nations agreed for Macedonia/FYROM to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. Then on January 5th the Greek Parliament, had to vote to finalize the decision. . Later, on January 11, 2019, the Macedonian/FYROM Parliament finalized the decision. The proposal received some critique from right wing Greek parties, but in the end the Greek Parliament voted in favor of the agreement. Now the name North Macedonia is official, but how did this name arise?

The name Macedonia has several meanings. It has a historical meaning as the Greek Kingdom of Macedon (although calling it Greek is debated), it has two geopolitical names for Greece’s Northern region and North Macedonia, and finally it is a geographic region. The region of Macedonia covers all of North Macedonia, the Greek region of Macedonia, and parts of Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, and the self-declared Republic of Kosovo (which is recognized by 108 United Nations (UN) member states, including the United States.). So, if North Macedonia is completely in the geographic region of Macedonia, what is the issue with it taking the name of Macedonia? The as previously stated, a bit of the Macedonian region extends into Greece, which has used the name for its northern region. Macedonia is also a term used to describe the ancient Macedonians, who resided in the Kingdom of Macedon. Alexander the Great was a leader of Macedon and the later Macedonian Empire. Macedon was located in the Greek region of Macedonia, and because of this, Greeks claim Alexander the Great, Macedon, and the Macedonian Empire as Greek, but is there any legitimacy to these claims? Were the ancient Macedonians truly Greek?

Short answer – yes. Alexander the Great and the Kingdom of Macedon were Greek. In Ancient times, there were two main people groups in Europe, the Indo-Europeans, and Old Europeans (Both being umbrella terms to describe a vast number of ethnic groups.). Before the Indo-Europeans came to Europe, there were other ethnic European groups. Not much is known about them, and for simplicity the term Old European was coined, referring to any ethnic European group preluding the Indo-Europeans. Some noteworthy Indo-European groups were the Celts, Gauls, Slavs, and Balts. These Indo-European groups also all share a similar linguistic back round, with every Indo-European language being similar to each other (including Sanskrit), there is even a linguistic theory that Indo-Europeans at one point all spoke the same language, that being Proto Indo-European. One of these Indo-European groups were the Illyrians, who, according to Britannica.com, “inhabited the West Balkans, going from modern day Slovenia, to modern day Albania.” They also inhabited a bit of the East Italian coast. The Illyrians spoke a unique language lost to time. It is not clear whether it is a Centum or Satem language (With Centum essentially being Western Indo-European, and Satem being Eastern Indo-European.), either way their language was not related to Greek or Slavic languages. The people of North Macedonia claim that Alexander the Great and Macedon were Illyrian and did not speak Greek. Then, they claim that when the Slavs came to the Balkans, the Illyrians were assimilated into their Slavic ethnic groups, therefore, the North Macedonians believe they are historically and linguistically entitled to the name Macedonia. However, the Greeks have a very different case to make.
The Greeks claim that the Macedonian were not Illyrian, and instead Greek. Therefore, they spoke Greek and were ethnically Greek. This is why the Greeks believe they are entitled to the name Macedonia. According to the Los Angeles Times, and a significant amount of historical, geographic, and archeologic evidence, Alexander the Great, and the Macedonians were most likely Greek. They were most likely not Illyrian, and they definitely were not Slavic. However, they technically did not speak Greek. They spoke a unique Greek dialect, and this has helped Northern Macedonians say that the Macedonians were not Greek, however, in reality the Macedonians did speak Greek, just not Attic Greek. In ancient Greece, all of the Greek city-states spoke different dialects of Greek, including the Kingdom of Macedon. Attic Greek was spoken in Athens and became the Greek that is recognized as Greek today. However, the Spartans spoke Laconian Greek, a dialect which is still spoken today (although on the decline), and it would be incorrect to say that the Spartans did not speak Greek, therefore they weren’t Greeks. In reality the Macedonians did speak Greek, just not Attic Greek. So, ethnically (most likely) and linguistically the Macedonians were Greek, despite any political beliefs, this is a fact.

When we bring linguistics into the picture that just brings more questions. North Macedonia speaks their own language, named Macedonian (which also angers the Greeks), but if the North Macedonians were Slavic then where did the name Macedonian come from for their language. With a name like Macedonian, you would expect their language to be a Greek-based or Romance language. After all, Romania is in the Balkans surrounded by Slavic nations, but its culture has remained more Western/South European, and their language is a romance language. The language of Macedonian did not follow Romanian; it is a Slavic language that wasn’t even from North Macedonia, in fact, it wasn’t even from a Republic within Yugoslavia. According to Britannica.com, Macedonian is a Slavic language written using the Cyrillic alphabet. The language it is most closely related to is Bulgarian, because it was a former Bulgarian dialect. What makes Macedonian even stranger is that North Macedonia was a Republic under the former state of Yugoslavia. Bulgaria was never a republic in Yugoslavia, so the Macedonian language wasn’t even a product of North Macedonia’s history. Their language has also gotten them into a bit of controversy with Bulgaria, because some Bulgarians feel that North Macedonia stole its language, such as how many Greeks believe North Macedonia stole their history. However, this controversy is very minor, with Bulgarians knowing that there is nothing that can be done about it, and not that many Bulgarians are really upset about it.

Going back to what was mentioned early, Yugoslavia, where did it come from and where did it go? Yugoslavia was a group of Slavic nations in the Balkans. Only three modern day Balkan nations weren’t part of it, those being Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece. Before Yugoslavia existed, another country took its place, that being the Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs. According to Britannica.com, it was formed in 1918 and lasted until 1929. It was the replaced by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which was founded in 1929, and lasted until 1941. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia then became the Republic of Yugoslavia, before becoming the Socialist Federalist Republic of Yugoslavia, which was a communist state. Yugoslavia was very unstable nation consisting of six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, and the two autonomous regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina. All of these Republics and regions had nationalist regions that believed in separation from Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia at the time had a dictator named Josip Broz Tito, who was very anti-nationalist and would do everything he could to suppress nationalist movements in Yugoslavia, often by brute force. Other than the several deaths, everything went well, and Yugoslavia was able to function as a nation, until Josip Broz Tito’s death on May 4th, 1980, then things took a turn for the worse. Essentially, every Republic and autonomous region would elect a president, and then those presidents would elect a president out of those presidents. This system quickly failed when Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic basically took the vote of Serbia, Vojvodina, Kosovo, and Montenegro. Things were getting more out of control, especially in Croatia where Croatian Serbs, who remembered how brutal Croatia was in World War II, formed militias and took control of Serb dominated villages. Then, they began invading Croatian villages that were not Serb dominated. Similar things were going on in Slovenia, and tensions were getting higher, so Croatia and Slovenia declared independence in June of 1991, officially starting the Yugoslav wars. After some fighting Slovenia was allowed to succeed, but things wouldn’t be so easy for Croatia. The reason why Slovenia was allowed to succeed and not Croatia was because Slovenia didn’t have a very large Serb minority, while Croatia did. Although there was some fighting in Slovenia, the predominantly Serb Yugoslav army mainly focused on Croatia, allowing Macedonia to succeed peacefully. Eventually the UN called for a ceasefire, so Serbia and Croatia now focused on Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had a Muslim Bosniak majority. Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence, causing Bosnian Serbs to form a self-declared nation, remembering there are now two self-declared nations, one in Croatia, and the other in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Eventually a bunch of UN troops were captured and killed, Croatia while helping Bosnia-Herzegovina turned on them, to assist the Croat minority in their attempt to join Croatia. Then NATO even ended up running a bombing campaign, the whole situation was messy. Montenegro remained a part of Serbia until it voted to leave in 2006, and now Serbia’s autonomous region of Kosovo is fighting for international recognition.

This is a good portion of North Macedonia’s modern history as a Slavic nation, and how it got the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia by the UN, which sided with Greece during the dispute. The Greeks claim that this is North Macedonia’s history, because they are a Slavic nation. North Macedonia’s ancient and medieval history has seen the occupation of Illyrian groups (unlike the Kingdom of Macedon), Byzantines, and Ottomans. It then was occupied by the South Slavs. These ethnic groups consist of Bulgarians, Slovenes, Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats, but there is a group missing, where is the Macedonian ethnic group. Much like the Macedonian language, Macedonians didn’t come from Macedonia, they came from neighboring Slavic nations (along with some Greeks and Albanians). North Macedonia is really the melting pot of the Balkans with no Macedonian ethnicity. According to the CIA, in a 2018 census, North Macedonia has a population of 2,118,945. The main ethnic groups are “Macedonian” (being a mixture of Southern Slavs) at 64.2%, Turks at 3.9%, Romanians at 2.7%, Serbs at 1.8%, Albanians at 25.2% and various other ethnic groups at 2.2%. Out of these ethnic groups one is actually not an ethnicity, but rather a nationality, that being Macedonian. The actual Macedonians have been lost to time and the Macedonians today consist of mainly Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats, and Bulgarians, because they don’t have a clear ethnic background, Macedonians are often referred to as gypsies (typically as an insult, but sometimes because it more accurately depicts the group). Since Macedonians aren’t really “Macedonian” it just reduces their claims to the name Macedonia.

Essentially, Greeks believe Macedonians to be gypsies who steal their history, and languages from neighboring countries. They believe historically, linguistically, and ethnically they are entitled to the title of Macedonia and the name of Macedonia. At the end of the day, Macedonia does have some pretty valid arguments, but historically, linguistically, and ethnically, the Greeks seem to have more evidence to why they should have the title of Macedonia. This is not to say Macedonia is a country of history-stealing gypsies, quite on the contrary. They have only done two things that push it, those being designing their flag of the kingdom of Macedon (to the point where it looks like all they did was make a few design and color changes) and claiming Alexander the Great as an icon part of their history. They named an airport after Alexander the Great (which did not sit well with the Greeks). At the end of the day, it is a good thing that North Macedonia and Greece are setting aside their differences and working together to settle this long-running dispute. Historically and geographically, this agreement is accurate, because it shows that the Macedonians recognize the historical location of Macedon is in Greece, not North

Macedonia, and it also recognizes that a bit of the region of Macedonia extends into Greece. Many Macedonians say that they look towards the future where they will have a chance to build their own unique history, separate from Greece’s.