Norman Stone

Centre of Tension

Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews


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A STRANGE FUSS was made when Macedonia became independent. Greece did not want it to have that name – an affront, she said, to her national pride, Alexander the Great, etc. Since Greece could block European proceedings with her veto, she had her way, and the new country was generally called ‘FYROM’ – ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. Are we to start using ‘FEPNEZ’ to refer to ‘Former English Possession of New Zealand’, on the grounds that the Dutch might be offended? It was, to an outsider, a mysterious business, and not a few Greeks also said it was childish: Greece should simply have declared a mission to lead the Balkans out of Communism. But the whole affair had nothing much to do with Alexander the Great’s Hellenism. It had much more to do with the Greek Civil War in the later 1940s, when Salonica, with its Macedonian hinterland, might easily have turned into a sort of North Vietnam: that was really prevented by British and then American intervention, and it greatly helped in the early phase that Stalin and Churchill had made a bargain – the British were to have Greece, the Soviets Bulgaria and Romania. An independent, formerly Communist Macedonia represented a double threat as far as Greece was concerned: it might encourage some sort of irredentism among Greece’s own Slavonic-speaking minority, and it might become a point of infiltration for Communists who meant modern Greece only ill. The Greek campaign was mishandled, and became ridiculous (and, for official Europe, tiresome); but at bottom the concerns were not senseless.

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