Metternich is supposed to have once said that ‘Asia begins at the Landstrasse’ (or ‘the Balkans begin at the Rennweg’). The idea that the Balkan peninsula and its patchwork of nations are somehow not part of Europe lives on. Last month, Emmanuel Macron vetoed the opening of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. Angela Merkel said the EU should ‘keep its promises’ and begin the negotiations. Jean-Claude Juncker described the French president’s irresponsible decision as a ‘historic mistake’. For once, the phrase may be an understatement.
Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have been locked in dispute over the name Macedonia. A million people gathered in the streets of Thessaloniki on 14 February 1992 to protest against the former Yugoslav republic’s use of the name. ‘Macedonia is Greek,’ they chanted. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn was quick to capitalise on the issue. Earlier this month, the two countries at last signed a preliminary deal that would see Greece recognise its neighbour as Northern Macedonia, and thereby open the path towards its joining Nato and the EU. There have been almost daily protests in Greece against the deal, especially in the north, providing fertile ground for a new wave of nationalist and far-right sentiment.
On Monday, six days before the general election, the Greek Ministry of Culture published a preliminary report by the osteo-archaeological team studying the skeletal remains found in the mound of Amphipolis in northern Greece. The bones were found in November, since when there had been a lot of speculation about who they might have belonged to. Alexander the Great’s name came up a lot, as did his mother’s, Olympias.
As if the Greeks didn't have enough to be angry about, on Monday the International Court of Justice ruled against Greece in a case brought by the Republic that would like to be known as Macedonia. The feud has been raging for 20 years. According to Greece, the name ‘Macedonia’ refers to the northern Greek region of Macedonia, and residents of the landlocked territory to their north should call their country something else. But they say that they have nothing else to call themselves, and anyway don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to use whatever name they want.