February 25, 2008

The Macedonian Issue

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.

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".
Thus, in what sense is the name Republic of Macedonia a reasonable choice for the FYROM?
  • 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.
There are only two reasonable choices for the name of the FYROM.

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".
This is the time for cool-headed reflection on the part of both Greeks and the Slavo-Macedonians:
  • 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.
Acceptance of a single name for all uses such as Republic of Upper Macedonia is the reasonable thing to do.


christavica said...


This argumentation is as eloquent as it is arrogant. Your historical pontifications and personal preferences on this matter are utterly besides the point. The central question here is a political one, and a matter of human rights: Does a nation have the right to identify itself? BTW, this is a yes/no question, and there is only one right answer.

(If you dare to say "no", I would like to inform you that I invoke my right to rename your country, and also, I hereby overrule your mother's decision to name you Dienekes. You are now going to be named "Bob". If you don't like that, Bob, I'm sorry, but its not your decision. You don't define yourself, I do. I hope you don't mind. Please go change your driver's license and passport, ok? Thanks, Bob.)

'Upper Macedonia' is totally unacceptable, because the Macedonian people do not identify as "Upper Macedonians", nor as "Slavs", and in fact, they are not. Ethnic Macedonians originate in all regions of Macedonia, including the portion which became Greece for the first time in history as a result of the Treaty of Bucharest, 1913.

Macedonian people know exactly who they are, which is more than I can say for some Greeks. Macedonians are not obliged to ask the opinion of Greeks on this matter. I am sure you think you are a very reasonable person, and this preference of yours is a very reasonable suggestion. But telling a nation to rename itself is one of the most arrogant acts imaginable.

Thank you,

Dienekes said...

The central question here is a political one, and a matter of human rights: Does a nation have the right to identify itself? BTW, this is a yes/no question, and there is only one right answer.

This is not a yes/no question, since countries' right to name themselves is limited by competing interests to their chosen names.

A country cannot call itself Coca-Cola land, because that would infringe on Coca-Cola's copyrights. Nor can a country call itself China, because we already have one of those.

Nor can a country occupying the territory of Paeonia, a small slice of ancient Macedonia, and inhabited by Slavs co-opt the Greek name and history of Macedonia.

'Upper Macedonia' is totally unacceptable, because the Macedonian people do not identify as "Upper Macedonians", nor as "Slavs", and in fact, they are not

Indeed, I have changed my thoughts on the use of Upper Macedonia. Apparently that did not refer in ancient times to the part of Macedonia currently intersecting FYROM. Also, FYROM largely occupies Paeonia, and the use of any sort of "Macedonia" for them would not be a very good choice. But, they can probably have "Slav Macedonia" if they choose to; that's the most accurate one, although it might enrage their Albanian minority. Perhaps Paeonia or Vardarska are better candidate names.

Also, the inhabitants of FYROM _are+ Slavs, and their dialect is closest to Bulgarian, with regional variation and Serbian influences. It is certainly not Macedonian.

Macedonian people know exactly who they are

Yes, Macedonians know who they are and they are Greeks. As for _some_ of the the current Slav inhabitants of FYROM, they are apparently in deep confusion if they say things like "we are not Slavs".

But telling a nation to rename itself is one of the most arrogant acts imaginable.

You are free to name yourselves however you want, and we are free not to recognize you under a name we don't like. If someone decides he is Napoleon the Great, he's free to do so, but I'm not obliged to accept his fantasy.