Macedonians in Denial about the Name Issue Dispute with Greece
Sam Vaknin

Faced with an unprecedented choice between their identity and their future, Macedonians resort to a classic psychological defense mechanism: denial. Greece demands that the Republic of Macedonia change its name, or else forget about its Euro-Atlantic aspirations: NATO membership and EU accession. Macedonians react with horror and revulsion to such truly unprecedented bullying. Unable to face reality, they collectively retreat to fantasy.

FANTASY NUMBER 1: Macedonia will not be asked to change its Constitutional name

Macedonian intellectuals and politicians like to pretend (and usually succeed in convincing themselves) that Greece will demand only the change of Macedonia's name in international settings, bilateral relations, and multilateral organizations.

REALITY: Macedonia will be required to change its constitutional name.

FANTASY NUMBER 2: Macedonia is actually negotiating with Greece

REALITY: Greece is negotiating this issue with the United States and, to a lesser extent, with certain members of the European Union. Macedonia is not a party to the negotiations and is completely irrelevant in this context. It will be presented with a "take it or leave it" solution. If it doesn't take it, it will pay a heavy price, both internally (as its restive minorities rebel) and externally (as it is further excluded from the mainstream of the international community).

Thus, Macedonia was utterly shocked by the Greek veto that prevented its accession to the alliance in the NATO Bucharest Summit in April 2008. But this move was coordinated well in advance with both the USA and the EU (they were not happy about it, but they were fully informed and apprised of the Greek decision). They simply did not bother to keep Macedonia in the picture.

On March 30, 2008 (days before the NATO summit took place), I published this text in the Long Beach Chronicle:

"High-placed NATO officials informed the Chronicle a few weeks ago that, if the negotiations between Macedonia and Greece regarding what has come to be known as "the name issue" fail, NATO will invite Macedonia to join the alliance, effective June 30, 2009, and conditioned upon a resolution of its bilateral bone of contention with its much larger neighbor by said date."

FANTASY NUMBER 3: America and many European countries are friends of Macedonia and regard Greek behavior and demands as atrocious.

REALITY: While the United States and the majority of the member-countries of the European Union indeed regard Greek conduct as inexcusable and disruptive, they will all, without exception, side with Greece against Macedonia. This is because Greece is richer, a key member of NATO's ever-more-crucial southern plank, and an important trading partner of many countries. Macedonia, by comparison, is of very limited importance. Hence, it has no leverage.

Macedonia's only hope is to influence American decision-makers through international public opinion; to act against the Greek position in a variety of multilateral and judicial institutions; and to cooperate with core constituencies in the United States in order to change the minds of legislators and bring them to its side.

FANTASY NUMBER 4: Even if there is a referendum in Macedonia on a proposed solution, the West will make sure that it succeeds

REALITY: Nikola Gruevski and his government will not publicly support any solution that they (secretly) find unacceptable. At best, Gruevski will remain neutral and leave it to the people to decide. Gruevski will not collaborate with the International Community in perpetrating what he regards as the coerced abrogation of Macedonian's natural rights.

FANTASY NUMBER 5: The name issue is very important to the ruling coalition.

REALITY: The name issue is a distraction. Gruevski's main priorities are economic growth and prosperity and nation-building, based on history, both modern and ancient. The name issue is not as important to him as it is to many of his detractors. He is willing to wait out the storm, even if it means later NATO and EU accession. He does regard the name issue as a failure and does take it personally. But he will not let his emotions affect his policies.

FANTASY NUMBER 6: Gruevski is using the name issue to gain political points

REALITY: Gruevski feels very deeply and authentically about this issue. As a person, he reacts badly to injustice and pressure. He hates being blackmailed. He becomes very stubborn when subjected to arm-twisting. On the other hand, it is true that he is overly-sensitive to his rating and popularity and is, indeed, doing everything he can to evade the name issue and put it on the back-burner because he believes that the problem cannot be solved without utterly unacceptable Macedonian concessions. He is a pragmatist, so he concentrates on the here and now and on what can be achieved in the sphere of the economy.

Sam Vaknin ( ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Global Politician, Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and eBookWeb, a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101. Visit Sam's Web site at