The issue of the naming dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is currently in the news, so this is a good time to address some facts pertaining to it.
The dispute centers around the issue of the use of the adjective "Macedonian". This adjective has a geographical sense, describing someone who is from the geographical region of Macedonia. However, for the inhabitants of FYROM, it also has an ethnic sense, since many (or most) Slavic-speaking inhabitants of FYROM consider themselves to be Macedonian in an ethnic sense. I will distinguish between these two uses as Geo-Macedonians and Slavo-Macedonians henceforth.
Three types of criteria are used with regard to ethnic identification: language, self-definition, descent.
Descent is the easier one to address: according to most reputable genetic studies, Geo-Macedonians tend to be more of indigenous Balkan origins. In short, Geo-Macedonians, whether they speak Greek, Vlach, Albanian, or Slavic, and whether they live in Greece or the FYROM are characterized by genetic characteristics attesting to a substantial amount of distinctive southern Balkan ancestry, having, in particular substantial frequencies of Y-haplogroups E and J.
Genetically-speaking Geo-Macedonians are Balkan Europeans, and are differentiated both from Northern-Balkan/Central/Eastern Europeans as well as from West Asians.
Language is also easy to address. Within Geo-Macedonia, several languages and dialects are spoken, including Greek, Slavic, Vlach, and Albanian. These languages were established at different times, with the oldest attested one being the Greek. A Slavic language spoken in the FYROM is named "Macedonian" by the Slavo-Macedonians.
Sometimes, it is asserted by scholars from FYROM that Ancient Macedonian was not a Greek dialect, but a separate Indo-European language. While these claims are not very serious, they are actually irrelevant to the modern issues at hand, since the "Macedonian" of the Slavo-Macedonians has no relationship to the ancient language: it is a Slavic idiom dating at most from the 6th c. AD.
Self-Identity is more complex. It is true that Slavic speakers from FYROM have a Macedonian ethnic identity, but Geo-Macedonians in Greece have a Greek ethnic identity. Thus, Greek Macedonians assert the name "Macedonian" in a geographical sense, i.e., "Greeks from the region of Macedonia", whereas Slavo-Macedonians assert it in an ethnic sense, i.e., "Members of the Macedonian ethnic group".
To summarize, we must make these points:
- Slavo-Macedonians from FYROM assert a Macedonian ethnicity, as well as (in some cases) continuity with ancient Macedonia
- Such continuity with ancient Macedonia can be based either on language, or on descent.
- Linguistic continuity between Slavic Macedonian and the ancient Macedonian dialect/language does not exist.
- Continuity of descent from the ancient Macedonians to the modern ones is not limited to the Slavic-speaking Slavo-Macedonians. Slav Macedonians have no monopoly on Macedonian "blood".
- It does not encompass the entirety of Macedonia (as a geographical region).
- The Macedonian dialect/language of Slavic is not related to the ancient Macedonian language/dialect.
- The people of FYROM have a Macedonian ethnic self-identity, but the Greeks of Macedonia have a Greek ethnic self-identity. One's "right" to the name of Macedonian infringes on the other's right to use it in a different sense; the name "Macedonian" is thus ambiguous.
Republic of Upper Macedonia describes the state geographically, since FYROM includes the northern part of historical Macedonia, as well as other historically non-Macedonian regions.
Republic of Slav Macedonia describes the state linguistically, since FYROM includes the mainly Slav-speaking portion of historical Macedonia.
The name New Macedonia might also be considered, but does not really describe the identity of FYROM as clearly as the above two.
My personal preference would be for Upper Macedonia, a clear, unambiguous geographical description that has certain advantages over Slav Macedonia:
- There are Slav speakers also in Bulgarian and Greek Macedonia.
- FYROM includes also Albanian, Vlach, and Greek speakers who might not be as open to the name "Slav Macedonia".
- The people of Greece are justified in wanting to deny exclusive rights to the Macedonian name to FYROM, because FYROM encompasses only part of Macedonia: geographically, the northern part; genetically, a subset of the Macedonian blood; linguistically, a Slavic dialect of the Macedonian region.
- The people of FYROM are justified in wanting to have some rights to the name Macedonian: they inhabit parts of Macedonia, they speak a Macedonian dialect of the Slavic group, and they have come to think of themselves as a separate nation from other Balkan Slavs.