This article analyzes the
intense political and cultural conflict between modern Macedonian
Slavs and Greeks over the ethnic origin of the Macedonian
people, especially whether or not they descend from ancient
Macedon and Alexander the Great. The inter-cultural debate
over their history is so intense that Macedonia was actually
de facto embargoed by Greece for more than
a decade because of its choice to use the name "Macedonia"
(which Greeks demand may only refer to Alexander's ancient
Greek Macedon). Debates on Youtube videos are used to illustrate
the puissance of this inter-cultural conflict. It is interesting
to any reader because it shows how cultures use nationalism
and history to create (falsely or not) an identity for their
Map courtesy CIA World Factbook
Brief history and culture
of the ancient Macedonians, Greeks or Slavs?
the "Macedonians" have a complicated history. Originally,
Macedonia (or Macedon) referred to an ancient despotate in
the period of a plethora of ancient Greek tribes and city-states
in the 5th century BCE. As the Greek cities of Athens, Sparta,
and Thebes collapsed into obsolescence and instability, the
great military champion Philip and his son Alexander the Great
exploited the equestrian prowess and military efficiency of
the Macedonian Greek kingdom to conquer a realm that included
all of the Greek tribes, Asia Minor, Egypt, Iran, western
Central Asian, and Pakistan, forever reforming the cultural
and political framework of Eurasia for the next several centuries.
After Alexander's death,
his ephemeral empire collapsed almost immediately, divided
among Greek tribes and warlords like the Seleucids and Ptolemaic
dynasty. What is now Greece was divided between a number of
petty ethnic Greek states prior to the transcendence of Rome,
including Macedonia, Sparta, Aetolia, Achaea, Rhodes, Pergamon,
and Epirus (see the map below). The largest of these Greek
states in the 3rd century BCE was Macedonia, then firmly an
ethnically, culturally, and linguistically Greek nation that
was in great contrast to the Slavic Macedonia of today. Historical
evidence indisputably dictates that the ancient Macedonians
expressed a Greek language and culture. However, Macedonian
society had a number of minute distinctions from the rest
of the peninsula, including a great emphasis on horses and
a great proximity to encroaching barbarians, that has led
many to postulate that the Macedonians were of non-Greek racial
origin that adopted a uniformly Greek culture. This is a basis
of many modern Macedonians' argument that they and the ancient
Macedonians were non-Greek.
During the late 3rd century,
as the insignificant Roman Republic progressed into a massive
imperial presence that briefly crushed the Carthaginians during
the Punic Wars, the Greek tribes and states of modern Greece
became a target. Philip V of Macedonia (named after Alexander's
father), an ally of Carthage, became an opponent of Rome.
Four subsequent Macedonian Wars between Greek Macedonia and
Rome resulted in the complete annexation of the peninsula
and all of the Greek tribes by the Romans by the middle 2nd
The complete historical,
cultural, ethno-racial, and linguistic roots of the region
are entirely Greek from the foundation of Macedon as a signficant
power in the 5th century until its collapse in the 2nd century
before Christ. The Greeks extoll the world-conquering and
culture-creating achievements of Alexander the Great, Philip,
and Philip V as proof of the glory of a Greek Macedonia.
Macedonian nationalists who claim an Alexandrian inheritance
insist that Alexander and the ancient Macedonians were of
a distinct genetic stock to the Greeks, despite having a Greek
From the 6th century onward,
migrating Slavs populated and settled in the Balkans, becoming
the main ethnic, cultural, racial, and genetic stock in Macedonia,
Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, etc. The Macedonians have since
inherited a Slavic culture, language, heritage, religion (Orthodoxy),
and identity. This 1,400-year Slavic history is the basis
for the claim to a Slavic Macedonia that rivals the
Greeks' claim to an ancient Greek Macedon.
A map showing the ancient nations and peoples of "Greece"
in the Roman era, including the Macedonians and Spartans,
two indisputably Greek peoples. A screenshot from the very
accurate PC game Europa Universalis: Rome (CLICK TO
The re-emergence of Macedonia
as a Slavic identity in Yugoslavia and as an independent nation
embargoed by Greece
The identity of the modern
nation of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia emerged
in the early 20th century as the yoke of Ottoman Muslim conquest
began to atrophy into total collapse. In the vacuum of independence
movements that followed, the Slavs of the territory of Macedonia
struggled to build a free nation. Macedonia, an abstract geographic
term referring to the whole multi-ethnic region straddling
Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia, was the last territory to be
liberated from foreign Muslim occupation. Undeveloped nationalist
movements emerged that promoted an eclectic array of ethnic
affiliations, some Slavic like the Bulgarians and Serbs, some
independently Macedonian, and some Greek irridentists who
sought to merge with the new nation of Greece. All were closely
aligned with the Orthodox Christian faith. This independence-aspiring
movement, greatly supported by the Orthodox Slavic nations
surrounding it, focused more on their desire to be liberated
from Muslim occupation than on any Greek, Slavic, or other
racial affiliations. The genesis of a Macedonian national
identity was a national uprising against the Turks in 1903
that established the so-called Krushevo Republic that was
This complicated history
is important in order to understand the many ethnic groups'
claims to Macedonian heritage. In 1913 in the Balkan Wars,
an alliance of all of the Balkan Slavic states and Greece
decimated the Ottoman Empire and liberated Macedonia, which
was annexed to Slavic Serbia much to the disappointment of
ultra-nationalist Slavic Bulgaria. The subsequent Second Balkan
War of Serbia against Bulgaria over Macedonia led to the crushing
defeat of Bulgaria, and placed Macedonia firmly in the hands
of Serbia. As Serbia expanded after World War I to incorporate
what became Yugoslavia, Macedonia became an integral territory
of Yugoslavia for nearly a century to follow. During World
War II, when Axis Bulgaria was allied with Adolf Hitler, Macedonia
was annexed by Bulgaria. An intense effort by the Bulgarian
government to purge Macedonia of Serbian, Jewish, Gypsy, and
other non-Bulgarian traits illuminates the still-surviving
Bulgarian claim to Macedonian identity. After Bulgaria's defeat
by the Soviets, Macedonia returned to now-Communist Yugoslavia
from 1945 until 1992. In 1992, as the Yugoslav Wars tore the
nation apart, the Macedonians declared independence peacefully.
Macedonia is today one of the poorest and most obsolescent
nations of Europe, and has been frequently troubled by an
ethnic Albanian Muslim minority (33%), especially during the
2001 civil war that they caused.
The exclusive EHL map of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Macedonia
broke in 1992.
The modern debate of an
ancient Greek-Macedonian origin of the Macedonian Slavs, with
Youtube video debates
As seen in the above historical
walkthrough, the ethnic and cultural identity of "Macedonia"
has long been blurred and disputed between different neighboring
identities. Bulgarians insist that today's Slavic Macedonians
are merely Bulgarians who effectively renamed their language
to "Macedonian" during Yugoslav rule. Serbs insist,
due to their inclusion in Yugoslavia on and off from 1918
until 1992, that the Macedonians are Slavs closer to the Serbs.
Albanians insist that the region of modern Macedonia belongs
to the Albanian minority and once belonged to (falsely) ancient
Illyria, which Albanians claim to be their ancestral homeland.
Each of these cultures bitterly hates each other.
Greeks insist that today's
"Macedonians" are merely Slavs who have no right
to trace their ancestry to their resplendent Greek despot
Alexander the Great, a lion of Greek cultural heritage. The
Macedonians, however, having separated from their hated previous
Serbian rulers of Yugoslavia, fail to agree on their interpretation
of their ethnic heritage. Many Macedonian nationalists claim
to be the direct descendents of the ancient Greek Macedonians,
including Philip and Alexander the Great. Others claim that
the Macedonians are a mixed population. Others say that they
are a firmly Slavic people like the rest of their neighbors.
Others acknowledge that their language (a cornerstone of their
nationality) is virtually identical to Bulgarian, and thus
they are more Bulgarian Slavic than they are ancient Macedonian,
Greek or otherwise.
The inter-ethnic conflict
in Europe is so strong that it has caused Greece and Macedonia
to almost approach war. From its independence in 1992 and
its choice of the name "Republic of Macedonia,"
Greece initially refused to recognize the nation's existence
altogether. Greeks bitterly refused to allow what they viewed
as the non-Greek Slavs to lay claim to this ancient Greek
Alexandrian heritage. Bulgarians dismissed the Macedonian
claims of a different, non-Bulgarian identity. Even the geography
of Macedonia is a problem, given that only a tiny portion
of the modern nation of Macedonia corresponds with ancient
The Greeks actually imposed
a de facto trade embargo on Macedonia for nearly a decade
due to this inter-cultural traducing. Although Greek and Macedonian
politicians are more pragmatic and have set aside this conflict
in the name of auspicious economics, citizens from both cultures
actively oppose each other. Even today, ethnic Greeks and
Macedonians are bitterly racist against one another. Finally,
the official name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"
was selected to emphasize that modern Macedonia is not the
same as ancient Macedonia, but rather an offshoot of Slavic
Yugoslav history. This was a practical effort by the bankrupt
nation of Macedonia, almost the poorest in Europe, to attain
good standing with their neighboring and very wealthy trading
partner Greece. Whenever the prefix "FYRO" is not
included, intense arguments always follow that have even required
international diplomacy summits in Bucharest as recently as
2008. Many criticize that the Macedonian flag's sun is an
obvious replication of ancient Macedon's sun standard. After
1995, the original flag of FYRO Macedonia was changed from
the nearly exact same flag as Philip's to its modern format
Most Macedonians today are
split between the assertion that they are Slavs or ancient
Macedonian descendents of Alexander. Many argue whether Alexander
was Greek or "Macedonian," whilst Greeks refuse
to see any distinction between the two affiliations. The official
government position, seeking peace with wealthier Greece,
acknowledges that the Macedonians are not Greek, but Slavic.
The first president of Macedonia (Kiro Gligorov), under whose
authority the naming conflict arose, admitted "we are
Slavs who came to this area in the 6th century...we are not
descendants of the ancient Macedonians [Greeks]." 
Slavs have occupied Macedonia for 1,500 years along with the
rest of the Balkans, giving it their physiognomy, culture,
genetics, and language that are all firmly distinct from the
features of the Greek race. The Macedonian people, however,
are of varying opinions. Aside from its Alexandrian flag,
many expressions of Macedonian society intimate a perceived
connection to the ancient Macedonians or Greeks. Macedonia's
capital airport in Skopje is called Alexander the Great airport.
Statues of Alexander can be seen throughout Macedonia. Museums
in Skopje extoll the Alexandrian heritage of their nation.
Although Macedonians proudly
identified themselves as Slavs from 1914 until 1992, many
Macedonians were inclined to distance themselves from their
hated Serbian Slavic rivals, and as a result many readily
created a new myth of this semi-divine ancestry that made
them separate from all of their foreign claimants. At least
six Macedonians I interviewed in diaspora emphasized their
unique roots not as Slavs, not as Greeks, but as Macedonians.
Many repeated that soon archeology will "find evidence
any day now" proving that the modern Macedonians are
related to Alexander the Great and that the Greeks are not.
The flag of Macedonia is blatantly
based on the ancient standard of Greek Macedon. This makes
many Greeks consider Macedonia's attempts at describing themselves
as Slavs to be merely diplomatically propitiatory
Many websites, blogs, articles,
and online debates tackle this controversial issue. HistoryofMacedonia.org
is a salient example. Some emphasize that they are related
to the ancient Greeks, and others the Slavs. Many websites
and videos are entirely devoted to traducing the Macedonians
as lying, slanderous Slavs who stole the ancient heritage
of the Greeks to empower their poor and backward nation. Below
is a selection of Youtube videos showing these intense
arguments. Please view the violently aggressive comments
on Youtube to better understand this conflict.
James Mayfield is a historian
and the Chairman of the European Heritage Library. I have
a Cum Laude BA in History with a Minor in Germanic Studies
(language and history), am presently working for my Masters
in History, and plan to immediately progress to my PhD Doctorate.
I have a special academic interest in Europe's diverse ethnic
identities, languages, and cultures, and the political struggles
of native European and immigrant minority identities. See
my staff entry for more information.
The respective owners of
the displayed Youtube videos, who do not reflect our opinions
See links and courtesy throughout
CIA World Factbook
Paradox Interactive's PC
game Europa Universalis: Rome for a screenshot
 Foreign Information Service
Daily Report, Eastern Europe, 26 February 1992, p. 35
Copyright ongoing since 2008-,
European Heritage Library®. www.euroheritage.net.
All Rights Reserved. The European Heritage Library is a non-profit academic
organization owned by
Chairman James Mayfield.
No email addresses or personal information is redistributed. No articles
or content on this site may be redistributed without approval or a
full citation and credit to the EHL as the original source.