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How the Balkans solved a Balkan problem

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The Macedonia name dispute dragged on for almost three decades, becoming the longest lasting one of its kind in recent history. To an uninformed observer, it may have looked like a curiosity: Greece being so insistent that the naming of the newly formed country constituted a threat and Macedonia (or FYROM as it had to be called) being equally adamant about retaining its name.

By all accounts, that Macedonia was both a name of a country and of a region in Greece did not sound like a serious threat to anyone's security or territorial integrity. The issue was easily being dismissed as the product of the intransigence of two typically nationalistic Balkan countries.

But the truth is the dispute remained unresolved for nearly 30 years also because the Western emissaries who were supposed to mediate it simply did not want to admit what it was all about.

For years, a statement on the website of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs (now taken down) made it very clear: the use of the name expresses claims on Greek cultural heritage, history, and, hence, identity and this in itself constitutes "irredentism". That is, the dispute was about history and identity, and not the territory.

This was also reflected and carried in United Nations Security Council resolution 817, which recognised what it called "former Yugoslav Republic of........

© Al Jazeera