Comment: The business of Greece and Macedonia

A man flahes the V-sign for victory during a protest in downtown Skopje on May 17, 2015. Source: AFP

The small nation of 2 million people is struggling to modernise its multi-cultural population and create jobs - it's time for us to recognise this country as the Republic of Macedonia, writes Perth MP Alannah MacTiernan.

After a quarter of a century of surfing the fierce debate between Macedonian and Greek Australians, it’s a big surprise on arriving in Macedonia to see how interwoven the economies of the two feuding countries are.

Landlocked Macedonians love to holiday and shop in Greece. In fact, Macedonians are probably top of the charts for visitor numbers to Greece.

Likewise, Greek business has responded enthusiastically to the opportunities presented by a relatively undeveloped, low-cost neighbour, which prides itself on a prodigious work ethic.

The arguments rage but life must go on: business is business and leisure is pleasure.

But that does not mean that Greece’s trenchant opposition to the very existence of the Republic of Macedonia does not have real and troublesome consequences for the people of the region.

When the Yugoslav Federation imploded in 1991, the constituent Republic Macedonia declared its independence.

The Greek Government, having successfully waged a truly Byzantian campaign to impose on this fledgling nation the absurd name “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (they refer to the citizens of the Republic as FYROMians), wanted more.


They have invested enormously in maintaining a veto on Macedonia’s entry to the EU and NATO over the last 20 years.

The small nation of 2 million people is struggling to modernise its multi-cultural population and create jobs for the 28 per cent of people unemployed.

They accepted more than 300,000 refugees during the Kosovo crisis – including many Romany.

It is a country where mosques populate the countryside and followers of Islam make up a third of the population.

And despite some government-lead Christian chauvinism, it is doing better than average in this part of the world in the harmony business.

I met with President Gjorge Ivanov and a number of senior politicians – they were smart, well-educated and working hard to modernise their economy.

But when the opportunities and options are limited, ethnic and religious tensions can take new life.

There is evidence that there were negotiations between the then-Greek Government and Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic to suppress the opportunities for Macedonians to fuel division in the country.

The country would then collapse and the plotters could divide the spoil.

Now it is true that Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza Government is not fixated on this issue- they are firmly rooted in the 21st century, and they have bigger fish to fry.

One Greek Minister, who actually used the word Macedonia, rather than FYROM, was trolled unmercifully by right-wing forces.

But it is also true that the Tsipras Government is understandably not prepared to expend precious political capital by overtly removing the restriction.

The Greek case against the concept of a Macedonian identity is ludicrous – although the Greeks clearly have a claim on Alexander the Great.

Both nations obsess about their links with Alexander the Great – or Alexander the Accursed, as he was known by the peoples he raped and pillaged.

No doubt Alexander was a character of exceptional charisma – as most successful megalomaniacs are.

Greece has given so much to civilisation, through science, philosophy and art – it is disappointing they want to tie their nationhood to someone who made very little contribution to advancing humanity.

Likewise the Macedonians could point to many great patriots who have risen up over the centuries against oppressive overlords, including heroic men and women partisans during the Second World War who would be better role models for the community.

Australia should do its bit for some sanity here and recognise this country as the Republic of Macedonia – as the US, UK and EU have.

It is not a case of choosing between Greek and Macedonian Australians – they are both deeply woven into the fabric of Australia. But it is in no one’s interest to have this small nation fall apart. Have we learnt nothing from Bosnia and Kosovo?

Alannah MacTiernan is the Federal Member for Perth.

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