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Macedonia Eyes Its Future In Antiquity – Analysis

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It is strategically incorrect for Macedonian leaders to elect the past and not the future as the foundation of the new state and its people.

By Plamen Pantev

At the end of June 2011, a 12-meter high monument of a warrior on horseback resembling Alexander the Great was erected in the center of the Macedonian capital, Skopje. Domestically, this was another of the government’s efforts to purposefully mould the spirit of a nation, looking for sources and roots of national identity deep in ancient history. Regionally, this was one more stumbling block in the bilateral negotiation process between Greece and the Republic over the use of the name, ‘Macedonia’ – one with potentially negative repercussions on regional stability in the Balkans.

Macedonia
Macedonia

The reaction of the EU was immediate: the Enlargement Commissioner, Štefan Füle, said that if the Republic of Macedonia continues to act in a way that Greece views as provocative, and fails to make faster progress and get the country ‘back to work’, it could lose its status as a candidate for EU membership. Essential criteria such as public administrative and judicial reform, more efficient anti-corruption measures and freedom of the media are currently not being fulfilled.

Furthermore, at the last NATO summit meeting in Lisbon in November 2010, the Republic once again did not receive an invitation to formally join the Alliance. The reason was familiar: as in previous years, Greece continued to use its long-standing NATO membership to veto the possibility of Macedonia joining until the naming dispute has been resolved. The issue had been broached at the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest – but after Greece’s negative reaction to the Republic’s proposal, the question of Macedonian membership has not since been featured on the agenda.

Macedonian identity – reality mixed with social engineering?

Linking Macedonians’ belief that Alexander the Great has something to do with their national history with the search for identity of their new state illustrates the modus operandi of the present political leadership in the area of regional security. A whole range of marble and bronze monuments commemorating significant figures of an invented ‘national history’ have been sprouting up to disclose the government’s concerns that the Macedonian state does not yet possess a clear identity.

The philosophical background to this strategy is known as “Makedonism”, a projection of foreign policy that regularly creates problems with each of the Republic’s neighbors. With Greece and Bulgaria, tensions surround historic and cultural issues; with Serbia and Bulgaria, contentions abound over churches and religion; with Albania, problems are of an ethnic and nationalistic character.

Until recently, the ideological focus honed in on the Macedonians’ authentic Slavonic origin, which brought them closer to their neighboring Serb cousins. But as this approach was not working any longer, a stronger argument was needed to also differentiate them from Bulgarians. Therefore the government then decided it was the specific and ‘unique ancient origin’ of the Republic that would provide the necessary identity for the ‘new’ state and its people. The government’s shift of focus from more recent ‘Slavonic’ history back to the realms of antiquity is arguably indicative of the ideological inconsistency of the ruling government.

More tellingly, it also demonstrates the government’s lack of objectivity when assessing the past century-and-a-half. This new focus on ancient non-Slavic roots is opportunistically needed to balance – or indeed challenge – the Greek claim that Alexander the Great was of ancient Hellenic origin.

The Republic’s focus on antiquity intensifies Greek threat perceptions that the ‘re-appropriation’ of history is just the first step: within this framework, a next logical step could be to make territorial claims. The name issue between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece has for years been interpreted as a ‘silly’ and unexplainable Balkan stubbornness. However, it already bears the signs of a security problem – likely to be exacerbated by the domestic economic, social and political difficulties Greece is facing. A country with serious internal tension, Greece is becoming even more sensitive to external provocation.

The way forward

It is not yet too late for the Republic to change course and use different tactics to improve national self-confidence and encourage patriotic impulses. For this to happen, however, the government must find the courage to rid itself of the obsession that national pride and ‘greatness’ must necessarily be based on the events of antiquity. Political vision is also required if the Republic wishes to create a positive and peaceful future for its people: it needs to modernize, fully integrating Macedonian society, economy and polity into the Euro-Atlantic region.

EU and NATO members in the Balkans will always be supportive of the Macedonian state and people in their drive for EU and NATO membership – but reminders not to pilfer their neighbors’ history, culture and spirituality in the name of engineering their own identity may appear.

The common future is no less pressing a political factor than unsure ancient roots in the shaping of a new state’s identity. The last 20 years have shown how attentive state leaders should be in the Balkans and on Balkan issues, keeping in mind the recurrent conflicts in the region. It is strategically incorrect for Macedonian leaders to elect the past and not the future as the foundation of the new state and its people.

Dr Plamen Pantev is Professor in International Relations and International Law at Sofia University, and Founder and Director of the Institute for Security and International Studies (ISIS), Sofia. Published by International Relations and Security Network (ISN)

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7 thoughts on “Macedonia Eyes Its Future In Antiquity – Analysis

  • Avatar
    August 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm
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    The question of Macedonian ethnicity and geography is so fraught and emotive a topic that it cannot be dealt with in a comment on an article and is probably beyond definition. Suffice it to say, that “FYROM” citizens need to forge an identity to differntiate them from Bulgaria (which believes that its territory belongs to them). If they choose to identify with Alexander, that is their business, not that of the Greeks, whose claims to exclusive rights on Macedonian heritage are tenuous to say the least.

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    • Avatar
      October 31, 2011 at 8:06 am
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      Of course it is the business of the Greeks Ben, as these FYROMians are publishing text books as we speak, that completely rewrite Greek and Bulgarian history. To say the Greek ‘claims’ are tenuous shows your lack of knowledge. Read an encyclopaedia. The fact you claim it is beyond definition is so ridiculous. You obviously have very limited background on the matter.

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  • Avatar
    August 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm
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    Sorry, one error in my comment: For ‘definition’ read ‘resolution’.

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  • Avatar
    August 17, 2011 at 1:39 am
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    If I want to call myself for example Egyptian surely does not make me one.As the author pointed out FYROM is strugling to make up an identity for its people.And that’s a result of the mixed ethnicities the country has.They are not Bulgarians,they are not Albanians and with no doubt are not either macedonians.And as for the ”exclusive rights” part,heritage and origins are not products as many want to treat them like this and are prooven through history.

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  • Avatar
    November 4, 2011 at 11:33 am
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    The author points the Macedonian Government struggles to make up an identity but he forget to tell you is that his grandparents have partitioned Macedonia together with the Greeks and the Serbs and Albanians. To this very day Bulgaria, Greece and Albania hold on to Macedonian land and negate the Macedonian minority- at one point in time majority. This is the issue with those neighbors of Macedonia. They still dreaming of more Macedonian territories. Let me tell you it will not happen. The nintheen century will come back.

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  • Avatar
    November 6, 2011 at 6:28 am
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    Every historian in this world agrees that Alexander was a Greek..there is tons of evidence and a hard concrete science called archaeology that proves it and FYROMIANS cant prove anything on that matter..the only thing they have to ”show off” is their propaganda being turned down by genetists and archaeologists…The fyromians not only steal history but they cause tension in the balkan area.They surpress the large Bulgarian and Albanian minorities who dont want the country to be named Macedonia and they provoke their Greek neighboors by shamelessly stealing their heritage..Nothing but glory hunters made up by Tito who didnt exist before 1991..

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  • Avatar
    November 8, 2011 at 1:26 am
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    it is amazing to see smart people act so stupid.Please read all your history, not the part that backs up your view .This discorse is about $$$$$$$$ the greeks & bulgarians don’t give a hoot about macedonia. They can not claim artifacts from macedonia if there is country called macedonia. Remember $$$$$$$$

    Reply

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