Border disputes are sometimes calm, sometimes bloody. They can also lead to terrorism.
VEJCE, MACEDONIA – Nationalism is a funny thing at times. There is no question that it can lead to pride in one’s country and acts of greatness among citizens. It can also lead to petty discrimination over perceived slights and, in a worst case scenario, violence.
One of the silliest disagreements over borders and even a country’s right to name itself has brewed over the former Yugoslav territory of Macedonia which sought to call itself… well, Macedonia of course. This piqued the ire of neighbouring Greece, a poor member of the European Union (EU), which claimed that the new land was trying to usurp its history – especially the person of Alexander the Great, which Greece insists was Greek, NOT Macedonia (although they also shout that Macedonia itself was part of the glory that was the Hellenic empire) – and may even contain an element of territorial ambition.
As a result, Greece used its veto power within the EU to nix any support for Macedonian accession to the Union and get much needed financial aid. Macedonia finally agreed, in 2019, to call itself ‘North Macedonia’ to placate angry Greek nationalists. All’s well that ends well, right?
Maybe, but it was not always so.
In the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies there was an explosion of independence – and conflict between ethnic groups that had been quashed by Communist regimes for decades. You are probably most aware of the cataclysm that was the former Yugoslavia, with Serbs, Croats and Bosnians killing each other in the early 1990s.
What may be less known to you is another clash between forces in Albania (another former East Bloc nation) and Macedonia in 2001. Forces of the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA aka the UCK after its Albanian language name) attacked Macedonian security forces throughout much of that year, seeking the secession of ethnic Albanian parts of that country into mother Albania.
On this day in 2001 NLA massacred eight Macedonian soldiers (some sources say 15 were killed) in Vejce, an attack that was particularly brutal.
The killing shocked public opinion because the reportedly bearded assailants used knives to dig out the eyes and cut off the ears and genitals of the Macedonian soldiers while the soldiers were still alive.
Many animals mark their ‘territory’ and guard it carefully. We humans are no different. So, why can’t we agree on where my land ends and yours starts and not descend to acts of violence to defend our ‘honour’?