The recent dispute between Greece and its northern Slavic neighbour over the emblem used by the ancient Macedonian royal house has itself come to symbolize the latest phase of the century-old "Macedonian Question.
Originally a struggle for supremacy and potential territorial spoils which was played out largely between Greece and Bulgaria (with bit parts by Serbia) at the expense of an ailing Ottoman Empire, the issue took on an added dimension with the advent of the Second World War. The emergence of a new Slavic ethnic entity, which adopted the name "Macedonian", introduced highly charged elements of identity and heritage into a dispute which never really lost its fundamental territorial undertones.
As the new Balkan ethnic group became more conscious of its new-found 'Macedonianism", it sought to define it in clearer terms. It strove to give itself respectable and suitably glorious foundations by claiming as its own the historic achievements and personages of the area, Slavic and non-Slavic alike. In doing so, it sought to gain a pre-eminent and sole legitimate connection to the land whose name it now bore. It thus attempted to effectively circumvent the other ethnic groups in the region, in particular the Greeks, who had a long and unambiguous link to the region since antiquity, and who passionately challenged the nation-forming process of the Slavs to their north.
The magnificent archaeological finds at Vergina (Greece) in 1977, especially the sixteen-ray symbol emblazoned on the golden chest that housed the remains of the buried king, presented themselves opportunely to the new Slavic nation. In little time it claimed that symbol as its national emblem in an attempt to link itself to its imagined past and to further bolster and cultivate the separateness of its national identity.
It is the history, fate and impact of this emblem that constitutes the major subject of this book. It will be shown that this symbol was used throughout the ancient Greek world, and therefore also by ancient Macedonia, and seems very probably to have been connected to the ancient Greek sun god Helios.
Throughout the book, the term "Sunburst" (with a capital 'S') has been used to refer to this very ancient symbol which has come to feature so prominently in a perplexing modern Balkan dispute. The Sunburst is also known by many other names: Sun or Star of Vergina, Asteroessa (starry one) and Sun ofAegae are a few examples.
The term "Slovomacedonian" (ie Slav Macedoni an) is used in this book to describe the Slavic inhabitants of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and those who identify with them "ethnically". Doubtless this term will not please the Slavomacedonians themselves. Many Greeks too will be unhappy with the term. It is, however, a suitable compromise as it avoids both the rather presumptuous desire of the Slavomacedonians to identify exclusively with the term "Macedonians" and the Greeks' - particularly those of Macedonia- insistence on denying their Slavic neighbours any mention of the term "Macedonian" in their national label.
There is, at any rate, some tradition of this originally Bulgarian group as "Slavomacedonians". It was with this label that the Slavs of Macedonia first made an impact as a distinct people on the Greek psyche in any appreciable way. This was in the early 1940's with the first rumblings of the Greek Civil War.