Monday 18 June 2018

Balkan punctilio

You may call me Bob, or Bobby Big-nose, don't make me no difference. I'm used to meeting people who are also called Bob, Bobby Two-Socks, Roberto, Rabbie, Roibeárd . . . I don't bridle at the idea of sharing a name with someone else. I don't feel diminished in their presence. I am also a piss-poor patriot: flag-waving is utterly alien to me; as is supporting a soccer team because I happened to be born in a place over which I had no choice or control. I left that country, anyway, almost as soon as I was able to vote and have spent 8/10ths of the subsequent years living and working 'abroad'. I share an office at The Institute with a woman who similarly was born in one place (a small town in Δυτική Μακεδονία Northern Greece); she left home to go to college in one country; then to find a job in another and raise two kids at the other end of Europe. We are good pals and support each other but we have agreed to differ on the matter of patriotism. I'm pretty sure she stands straighter when she sees the Γαλανόλευκη Galanoleuki run up the flag-pole and knows all the words to the Hymn to Liberty. I assume that, being born in Macedonia, she feels even more proprietal about the name of her province that do the people in distant Athens.

In 1991, when Jugoslavia broke up into its constituent parts, more or less on ethnic[-cleansing] lines, the Southernmost part of the country, wedged between Albania and Bulgaria, achieved its autonomy and independence quickly and cleanly, despite having about 25% of its citizens ethnic Albanians. They called themselves Република Македонија = Republic of Macedonia. This caused a shit-storm south of the border in Greece because three of their 13 provinces use the same official demonym - Δυτική Μακεδονία; Κεντρική Μακεδονία; Ανατολική Μακεδονία και Θράκη [W-M Central-M and E-M & Thrace]. An independent Republic of Macedonia north of the border implied that those South Slavs had imperial designs to dismember the Greek State by actual, cultural, or  metaphorical imperialist invasion of their Macedonia[s].
The 'error' was compounded by the Republic designing a flag that incorporated the 16-pointed Sun of Vergina [L above]. But that was the symbol was adopted from a yet more antient Greek usage by Philip II of Macedonia the father of Alexander the Great! Alexander [356-323 BC] was by some accounts the last throw of the dice of the Glory That Was Greece. From Greeks conquering and ruling the World for a few short years, they slipped back to a rustic economy with a landscape liberally peppered with extraordinary ruins that nobody had the money to maintain. Heck, those guys up North didn't even speak Greek! The Greek government imposed an economic blockade on the land-locked Republic, lodged an exclusive-use trademark request with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), prevented the new flag from being flown at the United Nations and generally made it difficult for the new state to take her place among the nations of the Earth [Robert Emmet]. The Republic caved in to this bullying and changed their flag to something less offensive to the neighbours [R above] even if the design looked a bit like the battle-flag of Imperial Japan.  Whatever they called themselves at home, the outside world - UN, EU, NATO - could/would only deal with "FYROM" = the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Last week, a 20 year sojourn by UN Special Envoy Matthew Nemetz and others [reports:NPR and BBC] bore fruit by conjuring a name which would a) satisfy the current Prime Minister of Greece Αλέξης Τσίπρας = Alexis Tsipras and b) be acceptable to the current government in the Republic led by Зоран Заев = Zoran Zaev. This is
Република Северна Македонија
= the Republic of Northern Macedonia.  I emphasise the 'current' on both sides of the border because you can bet your sweet bippy that when either or both of these polities slides to the Right, someone will be delighted to stir up the shit again. RoNM is one of the smallest nations in Europe with a population just scraping above 2 million - a bit like a Baltic State in the Balkans. The economy is not going to get any better if there is a similar haemorrhage of youth and talent to The West. A tanked economy is fertile ground to sow the seeds of discord. Discord becomes riot, riot becomes revolution, revolution becomes war, and war becomes tanks across the border. What price The Sun of Vergina now?

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