The Washington Times

LITTLE MACEDONIA'S BIG IDENTITY CRISIS

by B.J. Cutler

A tiny part of former Yugoslavia has declared itself an independent nation in a desperate (and possibly futile) move to prevent its seizure by covetous neighbors.

The United States and the 12-member European Community want to recognize the new country, hoping to give it international protection and to foster stability in the uneasy Balkans.

But they cannot exchange diplomats with it because of its name: Macedonia. Greece, a member of the EC and a U.S. ally refuses to allow the name to be used by a non Greek territory.

Athens, heatedly backed by a majority of its citizens, insists that Macedonia has been part of Greek history for 3.500 years and the home of some of its greatest sons: Alexander the Great; his father, Philip of Macedon; and Alexander's teacher, Aristotle.

Greece also suspects that by calling itself Macedonia, the bit of ex-Yugoslavia is making an implied claim to Greece's northernmost province, also named Macedonia.

At first glance, it seems ridiculous for Greece, with 10 million people, a modern army and the safety of membership in NATO, to fear dirt-poor Macedonia, which has a population 2.3 million and no armed forces.

But that southernmost piece of collapsed Yugoslavia has a remarkable record of touching off warfare. In recent history it has been ruled by Serbian overlords, Ottoman Turks, Bulgarian allies of Nazi Germany and expansionist communists.

The territory has been claimed by Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia, which fought two nasty Balkan wars over it early in this century. Some of those claims still lurk beneath the surface.

Greeks painfully recall that Marshall Tito, Yugoslavia's communist dictator, created the «Republic of Macedonia» in 1945 as part of a greater ambition: To reconstitute Alexander's Macedonia, under Tito's rule by annexing parts of Greece and Bulgaria.

Tito especially had his eye on Salonika. Greece's second largest city, which would have given his dream Yugoslav empire a port on the Aegean Sea.

In pursuit of a «Greater Macedonia», Tito gave Greek communists bases in his country from which they directed the vicious Greek civil war of 1946-49. The Greek government won, with help from President Truman but at a terrible price: more than 100.000 dead, 685.000 homeless, vast devastation.

American and European diplomats are irritated with Greece's obstruction of their desire to recognize Macedonia. They did not, however, live through the horrors of the civil war and should be more sensitive to the concerns of those who did.

Fortunately, Greece has no claims to the territory of Macedonia and is willing to have trade ties and neighborly relations - if the entity will just change its name. So far, the authorities in Scopje, the capital, reject Greece's demand. They are short-sighted, for Serbia and not Athens should be their main worry.

Between the two world wars, Belgrade ruled Macedonia as <<Southern Serbia>>. Today's Serbia, under hardliner communist Slobodan Milocevic, has emerged as the bully of the Balkans. After it finishes, dismembering the old Yugoslav Republics of Croatia and Bosnia, it may move on Macedonia, whose independence it opposed.

When and if that happens, the ethnic Albanians, Gypsies, Slavs and Turks who called themselves Macedonians will need all the friends they can get. It would be tragic if, because of a name, they found themselves isolated and helpless.


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