While the speeches of many other countries’ leaders before the UN General Assembly focused on important global issues like the financial crisis, terrorism, and poverty, the main topic for the President of Macedonia the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was…the name of his own country.

The reason that President Branko Crvenkoski’s small Balkan state must officially go by such a cumbersome name is that Greece, its neighbor to the south, objects to using the name of its northernmost province, “Macedonia,” for an independent country. Athens senses an implication of irredentism in Macedonia’s use of the name, a worry that is particularly acute for the Greeks given the substantial “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonian” population in the province of Macedonia.

macedonia map.jpg

The dispute may seem silly, but it is serious — earlier this year, Greece torpedoed Macedonia’s EU and NATO bids because an acceptable compromise over the latter’s name had not yet been reached. President Crvenkoski, in his speech to the GA, acknowledged the “obvious absurdity of the issue,” but pledged gamely to work “actively and constructively” in negotiations with Greece, which have been moderated since 1999 by UN Special Envoy (and American) Matthew Nimetz. Tensions over the name, however, date back to Macedonian independence in 1992, as well as even to the time of Alexander the Great, who was…well, from one of the Macedonias, anyway.

Let’s hope the issue is resolved at least by the next Olympics, so that the Macedonian delegation no longer has to march between those of fellow “f” countries Finland and France.

(Image from flickr user Thomas Roche using a Creative Commons license)

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