Macedonians Vote On A Name Change
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
For years, Greece has refused to recognize the name of its neighbor Macedonia. Greece even blocked Macedonia's entry into NATO and the European Union over it. It's a dispute that has deep historical roots. Greece lays claim to the heritage of ancient Macedonia, where Alexander the Great was born. After months of negotiations, the two governments have settled on a compromise - North Macedonia. Joanna Kakissis reports that voters must now approve or reject that name.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Singing in foreign language).
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Macedonia is a young country - just 27 years old. But its capital, Skopje, was remodeled in a fit of nationalism a few years ago to look ancient, with fake classical columns and lots of statues. A boy sings a folk song near the biggest statue - Alexander the Great on a horse. There are also sculptures of Alexander in all stages of his life. He's in his mother's uterus. He's breastfeeding. He's a little kid. The statues make architect Filip Kochevski want to throw up.
FILIP KOCHEVSKI: Oh, please don't - don't let me go there (laughter).
KAKISSIS: You don't like all those statues.
KOCHEVSKI: No, I don't like it a bit. Like, we are not ancient Macedonians. Like, I'm not grandchildren of Alexander the Great, you know?
KAKISSIS: The Greeks can have Alexander, for all he cares.
KOCHEVSKI: We don't need to dwell on the past. We need to, like, experience the future together. Like, we are neighbors. We are not enemies.
KAKISSIS: But why, he says, make us change our name?
KOCHEVSKI: Yeah, I think it's pretty unfair.
KAKISSIS: He's not sure he will vote at all. And if less than half of voters turn out, the result might not be valid. At a wine bar in a leafy suburb, philosophy professor Biljana Yankalovksa (ph) explains that is why she's leading a boycott of the name-change vote.
BILJANA YANKALOVSKA: It is not dignified. It is humiliating that I must not call myself a Macedonian, the only name I have for myself and for my ancestors and for my children only because of a political deal and diplomatic deal.
KAKISSIS: But Blagoja Georgievski, who runs the Golden Fork Diner, says NATO and EU membership will attract investment and transform his country of about 2 million people.
BLAGOJA GEORGIEVSKI: (Foreign language spoken).
KAKISSIS: "Modifying our name a bit doesn't mean we are no longer Macedonians," he says, "because you can't truly vote on identity." For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Skopje, Macedonia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.