The New York Times

22.04.92

by Marlise Simons special to The New York Times

.......and as important here, the name evokes the painful history of northern Greece, a land that has been constantly fought over, the last time barely 40 years ago. The Greeks say they have no designs on the territory to the north, but they fear that Yugoslav Macedonia has designs on Greece.

«A True Balkan Puzzle»

The issue has come to a boil here in recent weeks because of growing signs that both the European Community and the United States are eager to find a way of recognizing the new state, whose capital is Skopje, to help stabilize the volatile situation in the republic.

"This is a true Balkan puzzle", a Western diplomat said. «Skopje says this part of Yugoslavia will destabilize if it's not recognized quickly. Athens says that recognizing a new Macedonia will destabilize all of the southern Balkans>.

Bowing to intense Greek pressure, the Community and Washington have postponed a decision until May, but they have urged Athens to find a compromise with the Skopje Government, though talks in January broke down. They have also proposed other names for the new republic like New Macedonia and Slavo-Macedonia.

But no name that includes the word «Macedonia» is acceptable to Greece, the Government and most of the opposition have solemnly reiterated in recent days. And if Western European governments decide to ignore Greece's protestations, many Greeks say in Athens should close the country's northern border in retaliation and paralyze an important international transit route (...)

In recent weeks, Greek officials have been busily reasserting their claims over the name, although they make no claims on the Yugoslav territory. They have rebaptized several warships and northern airports. Salonika's airport is now called Macedonia and Kavala's was renamed Alexander the Great. Fresh archeological finds have been unveiled to link the area's history to Greece. This month, two museums in Athens put on Macedonia exhibits.

Many citizens have joined what seems to be a wholesale reaffirmation of identity. The Macedonian star, the emblem of the ancient empire, appears in stickers on shop windows and streetlamps. Men wear the star in their lapels, and women have them on brooches and earrings. A few weeks ago, the Government issued new 100 -drachma coins that carry the Macedonian star and the image of Alexander.

«Greeks often are not good patriots; they emigrate; they send their money a-broad», said Andreas Ekonomides, a lawyer. «But they are very sensitive about their heritage and their history».

Thus, what to outsiders might appear to be merely a dispute over semantics has taken on the dimensions of a battle for Greek cultural heritage against the heirs to a Yugoslav Communist Government that long harbored territorial ambitions over Macedonia.

Government officials here said that ever since Tito created a Yugoslav Macedonia radical groups in the territory had spoken openly of the need to «liberate» the rest of their region to form a «Greater Macedonia». The officials say such talk goes on with ominous insistence. The Skopje Government says that it has no territorial designs but that it does not want to change the republic's name.

The six-month-old dispute has had the unusual effect of uniting this often quarrelsome and divided nation in an intense wave of nationalism. But this has also enormously complicated the Greek Government's efforts to find a solution. «We have reached a nationalistic delirium», a senior official said.

Foreign diplomats in Athens said that the Government itself had helped stir up the highly charged mood, and that it now had little room for maneuver. Apparently seeking to widen his freedom of movement, Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis dismissed his hard-line Foreign Minister, Antonis Samaras, on Monday. Mr. Samaras had insisted on closing the border.

When asked what they fear from their small and impoverished neighbor, Greeks recall that competing claims over «Macedonia» - both name and land - have often led to war.

In Athens and Salonika, the northern capital, Greeks say they believe that the Skopje Government is not looking to start offensive actions now. But they fear that militant groups might start trouble in the future under a Macedonian banner. Radicals reportedly include former Greek Communists who fled to Skopje and never got over their defeat in the civil war.


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