GEVGELIJA, Macedonia — From the time he was a high school student and made his first discovery — graves dating to the Iron Age and coins 3,000 years old — Emil Slamkov said he wanted to be an archaeologist.“For me, it is a chance to discover what the earth is hiding,” he said.
“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.
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.
It was declared an independent and sovereign state in 1991.Mere word of possible compromise set off protests by thousands in Greece in recent months.If not handled properly, the issue has the potential to tear apart the fragile governing coalitions in both nations.In 1995, a compromise was reached when the country agreed to temporarily call itself the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.It also changed the Constitution to make it clear it had no territorial ambitions.
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In this mountainous country the summers are hot and dry, while the winters are moderately cold.