Another fine Mac-edonia

The flag of FYROM (in use 1992-1995) featuring the “Vergina Sun”

Some republics behave no better than divas. But, unlike most celebs we can think of, republics come with armies and politicians and that’s a potent mix, especially when you chuck in nationalist sentiment as well.

The dispute over the naming of Macedonia is millennia old, but burst back into flame after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Each of Greece and FYROM has claimed a monopoly over the name ‘Macedonia’ and the legacy of Alexander the Great and neither has historically been prepared to compromise, with Greece fearing that its fledging neighbour is harbouring territorial claims over its own northern province of, er, Macedonia. Such claims may seem unlikely, but recent FYROM governments have not shied away from appropriating cultural symbols of ancient Macedon (such as the Vergina Sun device) in order to boost their populist credentials.

Consequently, Greece has consistently opposed FYROM’s use of ‘Macedonia’ without some suitable qualifier such as ‘Northern’, ‘Upper’ or ‘New’, and has vetoed FYROM’s membership of both NATO and the EU under its current name.

As with many brand disputes, serious matters can quickly turn to farce: at one meeting of the UN General Assembly, Greece refused to let FYROM sit with the M’s (as in ‘Macedonia [former Yugoslav Republic of]’), while FYROM for its part resisted being filed under F (for fear that the ‘Former Yugoslav’ bit might become permanent). In the end an uneasy truce was reached at T (for ‘The former Yugoslav...’ - note the small F, most important!). That’s quite something for two countries neither of which uses the Latin alphabet!

High-level international mediation has been ongoing since 1990 but it’s taken a change of government to bring about the best chance for resolution in a generation. The current Social Democrat regime led by Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev recently declared an end to the Athens-baiting which has characterised FYROM’s attitude to date: “The era of monuments, renaming of highways, airports, sports halls and stadiums with historical names [is over].” This outbreak of common sense is probably more down to FYROM’s desire to finally join the mainstream of European countries than anything else, but anything which helps patch the economic, ethnic and political woes of the Balkans region has got to be a good thing.

Ahead of an EU meeting in June 2018 and a NATO summit in July, Mr Zaev has now proposed adding a geographical qualifier to his country’s toponym. His suggestions are:

  • Republic of North Macedonia
  • Republic of Upper Macedonia
  • Republic of Vardar Macedonia (after the River Vardar which flows through the area)
  • Republic of Macedonia (Skopje) – perhaps a nod to how the various Congos and Guineas have approached similar problems?

Hopes are high that at least one of these is on Greece's preferred list.

While it’s nice to have a unique signifier, BrandSoup can attest that it’s not the be-all and end-all –we’re not even the only ‘Brandsoup’ on Twitter (but we are the best and that’s what counts!) We look forward to the day we can holiday in the Balkans and travel from Thessalonica, Macedonia  to Skopje, Macedonia  in a spirit of international peace and friendship.  And then tuck into a big bowl of diced vegetables - macedonia!


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