The Big Picture Beyond a Name - By Darko Angelov



By Darko Angelov, Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia to the Hellenic Republic

In love it’s said, “differences attract, those too much alike, might fight.” I will use this analogy to bluntly describe the ‘love and hate affair’ between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece. Throughout the twenty six years of our independence and seventy three years of our modern statehood, the two nations` relationship can somewhat be perfectly defined by this premise. In the that period, however, most of the political attention focused on the few aspects, mostly to do with the past, that makes us different, over the many more, that makes us similar, if not identical in our culture, mentality and even geostrategic interests. Luckily, now we have gradually entered a promising period in which both countries finally strive to focus on complementarities rather than on differences. Similarities, ranging from the common Byzantine, Orthodox and Ottoman legacies, making for manifold cultural similarities, which for me, having lived in Athens for almost three years, makes us the two closest and most similar nations in Southeast Europe; to those of the political spectrum, as two nations that often strive more to be better understood and appreciated by countries thousands of miles afar, rather than by the imminent neighbors. And then there is the overexposed problem, the name. For us, it is a matter of defining not only our identity we were born with, but also the country’s future in every possible aspect, hence an issue of supreme importance. Here, no matter it’s an issue of a similar sentimental value, I would argue, it has much less of an impact on Greece’s political, security and economic future, if any in most cases.


The basic notion my country approaches the name issue, echoed by several recent statements of our foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov, is that in the 21st century, seeking exclusivity can only lead to conflicts, whereas northern Greeks having a Macedonian identity in a regional or historical context cannot be a threat to us, equally so, our Macedonian distinctiveness as our own culture and identity should not be a threat to anyone in Greece and beyond, as identity is something one is born with and has the right to cherish. Once we upheld this principle, it would be much easier to resolve the single issue that has divided the otherwise close two nations. This proximity of cultures and already existing mutual understanding can easily be witnessed in Thessaloniki and the beaches of northern Greece, where last year alone there have been one million visits from citizens of my country, freely interacting with their Greek neighbors. But the closeness of the two nations is not only a matter of sentiment, it can and will be a matter of strategic security interests, as the two countries share the same threats, so vividly exposed with the last migrant and refugee crisis, but also many more beyond that. I will argue, apart of the name issue, there are no two other states in Southeast Europe with more compatible strategic interests than Greece and the Republic of Macedonia. Each benefit from the stability and prosperity of the other and in that vein, we hope that Greece will finally deliver on its pledged support for our full Euro-Atlantic integration, while soon both sides make serious efforts in resolving the one issue that divides us for too long.

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