The two Macedonias

Here’s a geolinguistic dispute I didn’t know existed:

Matthew Nimetz wants to make something clear – he has not spent every waking moment of the past 23 years thinking about one word: “Macedonia”.

“I have probably thought about it more than anyone else – including in the country,” says the 78-year-old US diplomat. “But I have to disappoint anyone that thinks it’s my full-time job.”

Since 1994, Nimetz has been trying to negotiate an end to arguably the world’s strangest international dispute, in which Greece is objecting to Macedonia’s name and refusing to let it join either Nato or the EU until it’s changed.

Greece says the name “Macedonia” suggests that the country has territorial ambitions over Greece’s own Macedonia – a province in the north of the country – and is a blatant attempt to lay claim to Greece’s national heritage.

When you look at it on a map, you can appreciate the potential confusion:

Even when a nation has a fixed, agreed name, people call it different things. See this Quora answer to the question “Why is the word Germany different in different languages?”:

Basically, because there were Germans before there was a Germany. Each of the Germans’ neighbors came up with their own name for them, long before there was a German state that people might want to refer to uniformly.

And spare a thought for Guinea. Which one though?

Guinea. Equatorial Guinea. Guinea-Bissau. Papua New Guinea. The Gulf of Guinea. Guinea, Virginia. Guinea, Nova Scotia. The world has more Guineas than a pirate’s treasure chest. What explains the prevalence of the name?

Terror and territory

The relationship between terror and territory is a crucial one in other ways, too. Think of the recent mass killings that have been carried out by young men — and they are nearly all men — in places like Brussels, Paris, Orlando and Berlin. Even before the blood has dried, there will be speculation about the perpetrator’s nationality. If he holds a passport from a predominantly Muslim nation or was born in such a nation, then the act is usually declared a terrorist act, no matter how weak his religiosity or his links to terrorist networks. The man may drink and have girlfriends, but he will be branded a terrorist. His motives will be assumed to be public and thus political. If, however, he is from Western Europe — like the Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who killed 150 in 2015 by downing his plane in the French Alps — then the motive is usually assumed to be private and we will hear about his psychology rather than his politics. If it is terror, then we can see all kinds of exceptional measures brought into force, from detention without trial to the bombing of Islamic State in Syria, as carried out by France after the Paris attacks. If it is “simply” a mass killing, then nothing much happens at all. One of the key differences is the passport. 

—Why Territory? by Ian Kinke, Weapons of Reason issue 4