The Greek Responds

The Greeks inevitably respond

This act was met with indignant disbelief by Greece and heightened tension between the two states. The animosity felt by Greece toward its new Balkan neighbour attained levels difficult for non Greeks to comprehend. In a real sense the Slavs of Macedonia were seen by Greeks to be laying a direct challenge to Greek cultural heritage; and this, much more than any fears of territorial aggression, was difficult to tolerate.

For the Greeks, who witnessed the evolution occurring beyond their northern frontier with emotions that ranged from indifference and bemusement to violent indignation, the Slavs of Macedonia remained "Bulgarians". However, an acceptance of this people's growing sense of separateness from the Bulgarians led also to the common Greek usage of the term "Slovomakedones" (ie Slav Macedonians), a term which at once served to differentiate this new group from the Bulgarians; the ancient Macedonians (a Greek people); and indeed from the Greeks of modern Greek Macedonia who likewise refer to themselves as Mokedones (Macedonians).

Greeks see the use of the term "Macedonia" and "Macedonian" by the Slavomacedonians as a twofold attack. On the one hand it is viewed as a continuation of historic Slavic aggression towards Greece (whether Bulgarian or Yugoslav), in that talk of a "Macedonian" state invariably implies that regions of Greece, namely Greek Macedonia, would also be attached to it. Secondly, Greeks view talk of a separate "Macedonian" state and people as offensive cultural thievery as historical Macedonia and the Macedonians are regarded by them as an inseparable part of their own cultural heritage.

Recently the Greeks have adopted the term "Skopiani", that is, "Skopjeans" for the Slavomacedonians. Initially this was intended to be a neutral and temporary term but now shows signs of wider and more permanent usage. For the Greeks it had the benefit of not containing the word "Macedonian" - a term which, in the face of growing Slavomacedonian claims and propaganda, the Greeks were unwilling to share. Essentially the term "Skopiani" means: "those people identifying with the Slavic ethnic group centred on Skop)e (the capital of the FYROM)" and can therefore include people not originally from the FYROM. The term "Skopia" (the Greek word for the capital city of the FYROM) is likewise often used by Greeks as the name for the FYROM itself.


In February 1994 Greece placed a damaging trade embargo on its northern neighbour allowing only food and medical supplies to cross its borders. This embargo, largely seen as illegal by other countries despite Greece twice successfully defending it in the European Court, had a crippling effect on the FYROM's economy which to a very large extent is dependent on the port of Salonika for its trade. Greece's insistence on maintaining the blockade in the face of increasing hostility towards it from many quarters of the media and political world (not least its partners in the European Union) was an indication of the intensity of Greek feeling on this issue.

The minimum that Greece demanded in order to lift the blockade was that the FYROM abandon its use of Greek historical symbols. This related mainly, but not exclusively, to the appearance of the Sunburst on the flag of the fledgling Slavic nation. Greeks saw this use of the Sunburst by the FYROM as both an overt cultural attack and an implied territorial threat on Greek Macedonia... the centre of the ancient kingdom and the place where the tomb of Philip (with its Sunburst-laden golden chests) was unearthed.

Given that it was fully aware of the reaction it would cause amongst the Greeks, there appears to be much in the argument that the FYROM deliberately opted for the Sunburst in order to raise it to the level of a bargaining piece for an eventual bartering over its desired national name; a name which Greece refused to accept for the new republic. Stefo Cervenkovski's (the FYROM's then foreign minister) pronouncement: "we refuse to move on the flag until we are recognised by our constitutional nume (8/2/95)" can be seen as evidence of such a strategy.