Thursday, 28 June 2018

What's in a Name?...

This is not Sparta!

So Nova Scotia gets its independence and decides to call itself The Republic of East Maine. The Walloons of Belgium break away and chose to be the Former Belgian Republic of Champagne, The Scots Upper Cumberland, China Greater Nepal, Pakistan North India. For that matter Canada would have every right to call itself America, It is on the North American continent, has shared heredity and by omitting the ‘United States of’ part could not be accused of inciting confusion. You get the picture and you’re probably laughing at my ridiculous notions but that is exactly what has been happening in the Balkans for the past 20-odd years. Since Yugoslavia fragmented, the southernmost state has been claiming right to call itself Macedonia.

Twitshot
Macedonia (Macedon) was the birth place of Alexander the Great and a key part of Greek heritage. In fact, the claim over Alexander has as much to do with the dispute as the name and territories. He was born in Pella, which is still a small town in Greece. He was Hellenic, the group of ancient civilisations that shared language and culture, though at that time not a unified nation. He was tutored by Aristotle until manhood. He was what we now consider to be Greek.
The area of Macedonia has been shaved by wars and politics over the centuries and while the majority remains in modern day Greece, some is in Albania, Bulgaria and the area that claims a right to the Macedonian name, an area that the Greeks insist on calling by the name of its capital city Skopje or FYROM.
So what’s the big deal? So many years have passed since then and it could be argued that modern Greeks have little to do with the Greeks of antiquity. But it is a big deal, to both the Greeks and the former Yugoslavians. So much so that the former Yugoslavian state named their international airport ‘Alexander the Great’, named major highways after him and in 2011 a huge statue of Alexander on a horse was erected in the centre of the capital, named Macedonia square. It is a big deal to them.
The Macedonian identity and heritage means a lot to the Greeks, as the Parthenon does, as heritage means a lot to many nations it is often confused with nationalism but common heritage is imperative to all peoples, it is what bonds the residents of an area into a tribe of common goals.
Families are the smallest building blocks of community, they have a name and members are easily recognisable by this name. A chance meeting of individuals with the same surname will often spark the question of shared heritage, my name is quite rare outside Ireland and when I do meet someone who shares it, I will ask about their family history. This has on occasion sparked a feeling of kinship. Names matter. People who have grown up in the same area will have connections of memories or friends or schools or places they played. We need to have bonds. We live in an age where Europeans are encouraged to identify as one people but it will not happen and if it does, it will come at great cost. The larger the geographical reach of ethnicity becomes, the more abstract it becomes. The USA has managed this well but it began with a melting pot of Europeans who were looking for a new life far from home. That said, it has taken a lot of flag waving jingoism to maintain. The American dream, Superman, The Super bowl, a common language.
Greece has had a hard time adjusting to the Eurozone architect’s dreams of a unified republic, more than most, it just wasn’t ready. Protests at the imposed austerity were regular but since the capital controls of 2015 the fight seems have left the Greeks. Now they are reemerging with zeal, the prime minister, Alex Tsipra’s capitulation to external pressures have made him a traitor to his people and the Greeks are angry again. Tsipra has sold his address to secure his mortgage with implied promises that putting this matter to bed will be favourable to a restructuring of the bailout loans from the TROIKA of creditors. The Greeks are back on the streets but I fear now as before, no one is listening.
Macedonia is Greece, its culture, its history and its antecedents. It is as Greek as The Parthenon and as that it is a piece of world Heritage. It will not be long before whatever prefixes to the name Macedonia that are agreed by the each party are dropped in favour of the simpler Macedonia. Eventually, in the name of unification, the Greek and Slavic versions of the Story of Alexander may become homogenised.
We are trained to consider the greater good, the big picture, international relations, the smooth running of trade but identity is the base on which all these must grow. Denying where we come from will only confuse where we are going. The former Yugoslavian republic realised that early on and their leaders recognised the need for history, they found a powerful if tenuous narrative for their people and have stuck doggedly to it. To reverse this now could be catastrophic for them to continue would be a lie.
What’s in a name? Just think of when a colleague or acquaintance got yours wrong or ask a Canadian where in America he is from or a Scot if he is English, an Austrian if he is German. What’s in a name? The first thing they do in prison is take your name away, they know why and so do you.

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