The Canadian Press

"In The Name of MACEDONIA" (The Toronto sun, Thursday, February 27. 1992)


Macedonia II: A Balkan farce By: ERIC MARGOLIS 

If they could, the furious Greeks would sue. It would be history's first case of national trademark infringement. This latest Balkan fracas concerns Macedonia, a strategic mountainous region that borders Albania, Greece and Bulgaria. The former Yugoslav republic (let's call it Macedonia II) has proclaimed its independence and, like Croatia and Slovenia, wants European Community recognition. "No way!" thunder the Greeks. "The real Macedonia is in northern Greece. We own the name. The ex-Yugo Macedonians have no right to it. Everyone knows Macedonia dates back to Alexander the Great and is as Greek as souvlaki."

The Greeks have a point. Back in 1945, Yugoslavia's ruler, Marshall Tito, detached a chunk of Serbia and named it Macedonia. Athens protested but was ignored. Macedonians II claims they are a distinct nation with a right to independence. What's more, some of them want to annex other parts of historical Macedonia that lie in neighboring Albania, Bulgaria and Greece. Last month, Macedonians II demanded Greece hand over its major northern port of Salonika, which they call Solun. The Greeks went ballistic.

All of this sounds like a Balkan farce. If Yugos can usurp the name Macedonia, why can't Slovenia change its name to Switzerland? Think what "made in :Switzerland" would do for Slovenian exports. Why doesn't North Korea call itself Japan? Iraq could also badly do with a name change. If the Sacred Cow Cola Company in New Deli changed its name to Coca-Cola, it would be sued to its last rupee by Coke. But what happens when a nation infringes on the name of another? There doesn't seem to be any international law to deal with such an embarrassing event.

Funny and curious, to be sure. But in the hot headed Balkans, looking at your neighbor the wrong way can lead to war. So Macedonia is no laughing matter. During 1912 -1913, the new Balkan nations fought like wolves for control of Macedonia. Today, the geographical region of Macedonia II is claimed by Greece, Bulgaria and Albania - not to mention the belligerent Serbs. Macedonia II's neighbors insist there are no such people as Macedonians. Its two million people are a hodgepodge of Albanians, Slavs, Turks, gypsies and those mysterious Balkan people, the Vlachs, originally a Romanian pastoral tribe. The Slavs who now rule Macedonia II pretend it's a purely Slavic nation, though non-Slav Albanians make up 40% of the population. Albanians in FYROM recently voted over­whelmingly for independence from their unloved Slav neighbors. Bulgaria, which recently recog­nized Macedonia II's independence, clearly aims to absorb the little nation. Albania wants Mace­donia's ethnic Albanians to join Greater Albania. The angry Serbs say they won't let Macedonia II go.

Most worried are the Greeks. They fear an independent Macedonia will try to annex Greek Macedonia or at least stir up trouble in the region. It might also make a grab for chunks of Bulgaria and Albania. In other words, a really nasty Balkan imbroglio.  Adding to this mess, the Turks, who are showing signs of friskiness these days, just recognized Macedonia II. The once terrible Turks obviously are planning to expand their influence into frac­tured Yugoslavia as defender of its four million Muslims. This, of course, is making their blood enemies, the Greeks, see red. Athens, so far, has managed to block European Community recognition of Macedonia II. The confused Europeans are scratching their heads, trying to figure out if the Macedonians are really a people at all. Historically, there has never been a Macedonian state since the days of Alexander. Linguistically, Macedonia's Slavs speak either pure, ancient Macedonian or a dialect of Bulgarian, depending on whom you listen to. Nasty Athenians claim Macedonians II are merely Greeks without a restaurant. No one is even sure if Macedonians, whoever they may be, really want their own state.

The simplest solution: Carve up Macedonia II and parcel out the pieces to its neighbors. But doing so would be a nightmare. The last time this solution was tried, the result was the Balkan Wars. Maybe the Macedonians II should just change their name to Newfoundland and live happily ever after on handouts from Ottawa.

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