Dr Anastasios Panagiotelis and Dr Vasilis Sarafidis, the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies.

In her recent SBS opinion piece, “The Business of Greece and Macedonia” Perth MP Alannah MacTiernan grossly misrepresents the official stance of Greek governments, both past and present.  By propagating a number of falsehoods she unfairly depicts Greece as a recalcitrant aggressor. By responding to her article we provide a more accurate account of this complex issue.

Ms MacTiernan characterises Greece’s diplomatic stance towards its northern neighbour as “trenchant opposition to the very existence of the Republic of Macedonia”.  This is patently false since Greece is the largest investor in FYROM, as Ms MacTiernan herself recognises. For instance in 2007, 17 of the 20 most sizeable investments in FYROM were financed with Greek capital, while roughly 20,000 (about 6% of the workforce) were employed in Greek-owned enterprises. Furthermore, according to statistics published by authorities in FYROM, in 2013 almost 28% of the total foreign direct investment in FYROM came from Greece.  Despite unprecedented economic hardship, Greece continues to invest in FYROM, hardly the act of a nation that opposes the very existence of its neighbour.

Ms MacTiernan’s misrepresentation of Greece’s motives moves into truly absurd territory when she raises an old canard “that there were negotiations between the then-Greek Government and Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic to suppress the opportunities for Macedonians to fuel division in the country”.  Although former Greek PM Konstantinos Mitsotakis did claim that Slobodan Milosevic made such overtures towards Greece, the purpose of Mitsotakis’ statement was to declare that his government unequivocally rejected any actions that would destabilise FYROM.

The recent history of the naming issue is and remains controversial, however, Ms MacTiernan once again is guilty of a number of falsehoods here.  Greece did not “impose the absurd name The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, nor do Greeks refer to citizens of the country as “FYROMians”. Rather, the name “FYROM” arose from Resolution 817/1993 of the UN Security Council as a mutually agreed but temporary solution to distinguish the former member of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from three major administrative regions in northern Greece, namely “Western Macedonia”, “Central Macedonia”, and “Eastern Macedonia”. The latter three regions are part of the geocode standard developed by European Union and by far constitute the largest part of the geographical area of “Macedonia”. There are 2.5 million people living in the Greek region of Macedonia nowadays, and they proudly identify themselves as both Greeks and Macedonians (Macedonian Hellenes).

The intent of the UN resolution was for both parties to negotiate and compromise on a name which respected both sides’ claims to a Macedonian identity.  The ascension of FYROM into NATO and the EU, both organisations of which Greece is a current member, would be contingent upon resolving this naming issue.  In contrast to Ms MacTiernan’s claim, the EU does not recognise FYROM as the “Republic of Macedonia”.

Greece has a proven track record of a sincere desire to reach a viable and realistic solution on the naming issue with its neighboring country.  Greece proposes that the name FYROM be replaced by a compound name with a geographical qualifier before the word “Macedonia” to be recognized by all countries and for all purposes, whether internal or international.  In contrast, the government of FYROM has not budged from a position that it has held since the early 1990s, one that monopolises the use of the name Macedonia.

Ms MacTiernan concludes by asking “have we learnt nothing from Bosnia and Kosovo?”  The lesson that people in the Balkans have learnt from these conflicts, is that trouble arises when state actors attempt to monopolise identities in a nationalistic and irredentist fashion.  It is only in this context that one can understand the risks inherent in FYROM’s official attempts to claim the name and identity “Macedonia”, exclusively for themselves.  For example, during the past few decades, extremists, including the long-serving Prime Minister of FYROM Mr Nikola Gruevski, have promoted educational policies that attempt to link FYROM and its people to Alexander the Great.  However, the major and important sites during Alexander’s lifetime are part of Greek territory.  These include Alexander’s birthplace and site of his father’s tomb Aigai, the city of Mieza where Alexander was tutored by Aristotle, and Dion where Alexander worshipped the Twelve Gods of the Olympian canon with all other Ancient Greeks.  If the modern identity of the citizens of FYROM is so heavily intertwined with Alexander the Great, how long until a demagogue from FYROM makes irredentist claims on these sites within sovereign Greek territory?

Greeks are proud of all of their notable historical figures, including Alexander the Great, who historians and scholars recognise as having made a tremendous contribution towards advancing humanity, regardless of what Ms MacTiernan may think.

The name Macedonia is and will always be rooted within Greek history. The entire population of 550,000 Australian Hellenes are committed devotees of the Macedonian Hellenic legacies. They object to the unilateral usage of a name which is well-related to their national identity and attested with their history.