For the European Union, which was founded in part to overcome tribal identity politics and unbridled nationalism, a solution could present a bit of good news as it faces a host of other difficult challenges in the region.
“And then to try and find a way to bring it back to life and give meaning to what came before.”In the Balkans, however, giving meaning to the past can be a fraught business. Slamkov, 52, has found his skills in demand as the government has poured money into excavating ancient sites with a single goal: finding connections to ancient Macedonia to add legitimacy to its claim on the name. For more than two decades, this country of just two million people has been fighting with its southern neighbor Greece over the right to have Macedonia in its name.A solution may be closer that it has been in decades, with the Greek foreign minister scheduled to visit the Macedonian capital, Skopje, later this week to continue negotiations.Last week, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs told journalists in Skopje that conditions for reaching a compromise were “better than they have ever been.”Still, it is a delicate moment.To appease Greece, the Macedonians have altered their Constitution, changed their flag — getting rid of the Vergina Sun that Greece claims as its own — and changed their name once to its current United Nations designation: the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Slamkov, fiercely proud of his heritage, is willing to find further compromise. He does not care what name politicians come up with for use outside the country — as long as it includes the word Macedonia.Standing amid the ruins of one of the country’s most important dig sites, a few miles from the Greek border, where his team found a trove of coins stamped with the visage of Alexander the Great, he said that, like the artifacts in the ground, some things are just what they are.“No one,” he said, “can tell you what to call yourself in your own home.”The roots of the name dispute are as tangled as the finely woven silver jewelry for which this region is famous. C., when Philip II and his son Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world, establishing a kingdom that stretched from the Mediterranean to India. For the Greeks, it is obvious: Philip and Alexander were born and based in what is now Greece.