- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

ATHENS — The Greeks have a word for everything, but they have stumbled over the name of a country that no one here wants to pronounce.

And now the United States is the latest culprit in the war of words because, to any red-blooded Greek, it committed an unpardonable sin by recognizing the unspeakable country as the Republic of Macedonia.

It was an attack on everything sacred, according to the Greeks, the gesture of an arrogant and insensitive world power. Athens editorialists had a field day for more than a week.

The problem is relatively simple: To the Greeks, the only Macedonia is their northern province, the birthplace of Alexander the Great, son of Philip II of Macedon, and conqueror of much of the civilized world three centuries before Jesus Christ.

Any other “Macedonia” is a fraud, a usurper, an irredentist and a host of other adjectives in the rich Hellenic language.

When independent countries began emerging from the shambles of Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia, one of its republics, unfortunately, kept its name: Macedonia.

The Hellenes rushed with a compromise formula: the new (although historically very old) country should be called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Allowing this new country the name Macedonia would not only trample on Greek sensitivities, they argued, but might also inspire territorial ambitions among restive and unreliable Slavs from FYROM.

Somewhat clumsy in English, the acronym is even more unwieldy in Greek: PGDM. (It is one letter shorter than FYROM because “of Macedonia” in Greek is one word.) A number of countries and international organizations, including the United Nations, accepted FYROM in their English-language texts since it wasn’t really worth fighting about. The press continued with the more simple Macedonia.

And now, shortly after the re-election of President Bush, the United States has stepped in with the recognition of the “Republic of Macedonia.”

Writing in the Athens daily Kathimerini, commentator Stamos Zoulas described the American act as “unacceptable” and stated that it will merely punish the citizens of FYROM because Greece will be angry, and Greece is the pillar of FYROM’s economy and its bridge to the European Union.

Without waiting for the government’s official reaction, Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos announced a freeze on temporary work permits for migrant citizens of the unspeakable country, obviously suspecting it of collusion with Washington.

Wrote Nikos Konstandaras, another Athenian pundit: “If there was any hope that a second term would lead Bush to act in a less unilateral way than before, Washington’s surprise recognition of the ‘Republic of Macedonia’ trampled on Greek sensitivities, showing clearly that the United States is not going to waste time with diplomatic niceties.”

Meanwhile the government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced it would warn officials in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, not to be tempted to call their country the “Republic of Macedonia” because that “could imply territorial claims.”

The American decision, Mr. Karamanlis said, “was erroneous and off-target.”

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