At least 300,000 people attended the rally in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki to protest the deal that would resolve a 26-year-old conflict between Athens and Skopje: does Macedonia have the right to use the name of a Greek province in its official country name? Greek and Macedonian officials are in intense negotiations, mediated by the United Nations, and the possible breakthrough comes at a time of geopolitical storm in the Balkan region.
Both sides base their arguments on history, but their interpretations are as fickle as daily politics. The Greeks consider Macedonia to be inherently Hellenic. The region’s greatest generation, which made it to modern-day India and was one of the most militarily successful empires in the Old World, was of Greek descent, including its most important ruler, Alexander the Great.
However, Macedonia claims that, although they were Hellenic, the ancient Macedonians were a separate nation from the Greeks and their successors mixed with the Slavic people that came to these lands in the 8th and 9th centuries, although sources from this era don’t seem to confirm this assertion.
The modern dispute began after the violent breakup of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, and it became increasingly heated as the years went on. Greece impeded Macedonia’s admission to international organizations (it became a UN member in 1993), but Skopje did not back down from its insistence that “Macedonia” had to be in its name. The international community seems to have sided with Greece on this controversial issue.