While the rest of Europe is going for cultural suicide by relativating themselves out of existence, no such thing it likely to happen soon to the Greeks. Last week, Hellenic Television reported that the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyiannis had sent a “stark message to Skopje” with regard to the new name of Skopje Airport, “Alexander the Great”. She added ominously that “moves bound to be misunderstood must be avoided.”

A small Slavonic tribe, inhabiting a patch of land in the Balkans, has been trying to carve out a national identity ever since early Byzantine times when they first arrived on the European scene with a number of other Slavonic peoples. At first, they cohabitated an area of Greece called Macedonia, which is known for their native sons, Philippos II and Alexander the Great. The people, as well as the patch they lived on, by curious twists of history moved to and fro between Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. It was once part of the Byzantine Empire, then of the Ottoman Empire after Constantinople was conquered by the Turks; later it became a constituting part of Yugoslavia.

Historians are writing about a concept long forgotten but which was of utmost importance not that long ago: the national identity. The descendents of the little Slavonic tribe still do not have one, which is a bit crass after almost two millennia (give or take a century). They didn’t want to become Bulgarians, and they certainly weren’t Serbs (being another tribe altogether), so they simply invented themselves an identity, trampling in the process on the Greek one. Hence Mrs Bakoyannis caveat: “Moves bound to be misunderstood must be avoided.” Having been lumbered with the official name FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) courtesy of the Greek government, Skopje must know Athens isn’t kidding either.

Those with empathy for historical figures that are known to have cried out in desperation “the Balkans, one damned thing after another” or “some damned thing in the Balkans” (the accounts vary), will be glad to know that Serbia is holding general elections on 21st January, after which the ultimate fate of Kosovo, what the Serbs consider their heartland, will be a hot topic again.

cs

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