Sunday, 7 December 2008


Apart from teaching English, part of my job entails proofreading Masters' theses written by non-Greek mainly Mediterranean and European students studying at the research institute where I work.


This one had a lot of corrections to make on her work, not just in the English grammar...

In Greece, it is not acceptable to use the term "Macedonia" when meaning the country to the north of Greece, the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, F.Y.R.O.M.; the name is a contentious issue on both sides of the border. In Greece, the word 'Skopia' is used, as this is the name under which the area was known (to be precise, Uskup) from at least the past century, according to a map of the world which was produced in 1896 in New York; there is also an 1861 map on Wikipedia that uses the word 'Uskup'. If you can read Greek, here's a story about what happened when a Greek and an Albanian of Skopian descent came together (use the google translator if you can't).

The correct way to refer to this country causes great embarrassment to me at the institute where I work, because we have a few students from there. How does one maintain an appropriate level of respect? Fyrom is not the name of a country, it is simply an acronym. There is no such thing a Fyromese - person or product. They don't call themselves Skopians, which the Greeks have been doing for years. Have you ever heard someone say: "Oh, you're from U-kay" (more likely, they'll say 'England', or 'Britain', or 'THE' UK), or "You're from Yousa" (they would probably say 'You're American'). When I asked them what I should call their country, one of them simply said 'Fyrom', but I think they've been prepped to say this from their home country, in deference to the fact that they have come to study in our territory, so they must respect our beliefs.

In any case, I fully sympathised with them when they became irate about their country being introduced as FYROM during an international sports event that took place in Thesaloniki, the capital of Macedonia as the Greeks know it. The Skopian participants refused to take part unless their country was named the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, and not Fyrom. The Greek hosts did not oblige, so the sports group packed up and left home. Well, my compatriots wouldn't like it either, if someone called them Enzeders, either (instead of "New Zealanders").

Why hasn't Greece ever asked to change its name from Greece to Hellas? Not a single Hellene in the country calls themselves 'Greek' - they all say 'Ellinas' (for a man) or 'Ellinida' (for a woman). Is there a special reason why the Greeks haven't made an attempt to be recognised under a different name: 'Hellas' instead of 'Greece', in the same way that Siam became Thailand and Persia became Iran. Even cities have managed to pull this one off: Peking officially became Beijing, and Bombay officially became Mumbai. The name of this former Eastern bloc country has received so much attention by politicians that Greece cannot concentrate on solving its own real problems.

This cannot be a fair discussion if the other side's views are not taken into account. But the way I see the issue evolving in Greece is that "Macedonia is Greek, end of discussion."

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Answer to yesterday's quiz: the vegetable in question was kohlrabi.


  1. For those who know well the history of the region, Mecedonia is Greek. But, as we live in a crazy world, some guys have other interests and targets... Anyway FYROM is the correct name.

  2. that was a very interesting and educative post. thank you.

  3. Proofreading a thesis is a kind of prepackaged nightmare unless it is extremely limited to something you really know or understand. I read your whole piece and found it absolutely stunning. I knew none of this so it is quite the revelation. I agree that Hellas seems a fair way to say what you mean without saying something that upsets those on either side of the fence. But to know all of this is to be a super smart person, period.

    Far from being that "loopey mother" you claim in the sidebar, you must border on genius and therefore, different.

  4. Since I for a number of years taught and worked with a lady from Macedonia ("The real- one"), I have heard quite a lot about that questions - and as you say, no easy solution seemed imminent. But your solution seem simple - we and several other countries have practised it for years: The country's name is Hellas.

    BTW: kohlrabi (we write it kålrabi) is also known as Swedish turnips. We use it a lot.

  5. I had no idea about all this! I always just continued to say Macedonia and have never heard of Skopia! A wonderful post!

  6. I don't know what to say about the country name problem. Even the Swiss can't agree on a name for their country (but that is a different matter). :) But I'm very interested to learn of your proofreading skills. Back when I had a real job, it was doing editing, proofreading, and translating. It's challenging work, eh?
    Good luck.

  7. You are making some really good observations with this article...

    Giving a name to this region is going to be very difficult. As with every "difficult conversation" this one is driven by fear. And this kind of fear is maintained by maps showing Thessaloniki as part of FYROM and news over to the other side about harassment of Skopian or Former Yuogoslavian families by the Greek army or police officers or what ever else with an authority tag. The fear will not go away with "middlemen" trying to come up with a name full of "beeds and mirrors" for both sides to accept.
    The fear will not go away with other ethnic minorities within the North of Greece feeling like having a go at being "independent".

    If anything we are probably failing to work all together. To collaborate and all stay on the see-saw and have fun, than trying to push each other of it and try to have all the fun attributed to one side only.

    A past primeminister was talking about "the coming of the multicultural society" (because of the European Union and immigration he wanted to make the point that Greeks should start accepting other people and see the benefits in working WITH them than looking at them as Ξένοι....unfortunately the whole thing was implemented badly....or rather, not implemented at all)

    What "coming" of a multicultural society????? Greece has been a multicultural society for AGES!
    If you look at the bigger picture we are composed of:
    Κύπριους, Πόντιους (και κάποιους Αρμένιους), Μικρασιάτες, Πομάκους, Βορειοηπειρώτες and even Mulsim Greeks and communities at the North of Greece.....We don't come out as a coherent bunch though. So, somehow it is natural for everyone to think...."I better work for my own good and my own good only!"

    If it was up to the simple folk, everything would be in order because society self-regulates...

    As far as the Hellenic term is concerned, Greece is referred to as Hellas in all official documents since some time now. We are referred to as Hellenic Republic and acronymed as EL. As a brief example, you can have a look at the current Eurostat yearbook

    Nothing stops us from being introduced as Hellenes and use the term. But Έλληνας has been known as The Greek for so long now that it is going to be slightly difficult to change

  8. i still see GR most of the time, instead of EL -
    not that it worries me, but i don't think we should be so tolerant of being known by a name that was used derogatorily towards us by non-friends. i also think we should make a greater effort to be known as HELLENES for the same reason that other countries (and cities) in the world have done the same thing (changed their name) and succeeded (the world knows them by the new name)
    I think it shows there is something wrong in the way we advertise ourselves, our PR image, our organisation, our collaborative efforts, which is why we aren't taken seriously.

  9. Contentious ++ ! It is Hellas in Greek script, is it not.

    Put your sepia on MM - it is allowed.

  10. I feel strange for this FYROM-GREECE matter. I thought at first that it wouldn't be bad for the Skopians to call their country "Macedonia". In fact that would be something that it would connect the two countries and make them extreemly frinds! soon as I heard their prime minister say that their real capital is Thessaloniki and that Alexander the Great was a Macedonian-Skopian,I realised that everything was a political isue and play! I could agree that he had several palaces (there and here) and that he's a common personality of both histories, but I can't understand this fanaticism at the issue. I sometimes can't understand Greeks either who refuse to talk about a common solution that will satisfy both sides....Anyway, I hope we'll find the right way to solve that matter because until now the only part that gains is USA, which is playing the interceder for its benefit ofcourse!