It is truly telling of the toxic behavior that still festers in the shadow of the Prespa Agreement, especially when university students are caught in the crossfire. Greek nationalists, misguided and fervent, seem to be under the impression that the Prespa Agreement is a blanket guarantee against any grievance that Greek groups concoct over their continued denial of the Macedonian people.
Recently, a Greek-Australian advocacy group, the ‘Macedonian’ League, put forth a severe, concentrated attempt to paint a group of university students in Melbourne posing with the Macedonian flag, joined by Turkish students with a Turkish flag, as perpetrators of “racial hatred and political advertising.” The student group, Melbourne University Macedonian Student Society (MUMSS), is accused of inappropriate use of the Macedonian flag.
The Greek group attempts to portray these university students as “racist” without presenting any supporting evidence outside of their own subjective nationalistic fears. This forced attempt by the Greek group to apply Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act (1975) to the situation is indisputably unsubstantiated–furthermore depicting yet another distortion of domestic legislation. Even more disturbing is that the ‘Macedonian’ League clearly attempts to ride the coattails of the rising trend of inciting ethnic tensions on university campuses to paint itself as a victimized group and garner sympathy. It is not difficult to see the apparent attempts at drawing parallels to other instances of ethnic violence when the ‘Macedonian’ League puts forth claims of a “serious incident” of “racial hatred” occurring on campus with the intention to “insult and humiliate” students of Greek descent.
The facts, while clear, should nonetheless be reiterated:
- Claims of “racial hatred” against Greeks in this instance are baseless. Not only do Macedonians and Greeks share a common Balkan/European heritage, but nothing in MUMSS’ foundation, constitution, operations, or outreach efforts, reinforces any ill-will or malice against the Greek people at all. The only references to Greece would be the Macedonian students who have origins in modern-day Greece.
- No objective claim to provocations against the Greek students can be made. Racial slurs, flag burnings, or harassment of Greek students is simply not what occurred here. The Macedonians participated in a joined, peaceful event with the Turkish Society to promote and appreciate their cultural heritages. While Greek students have repeatedly shouted the slur “Skopians” at the Macedonian students, there are no instances of MUMSS students openly insulting Greek students.
- The Melbourne University Macedonian Student Society is a non-political, cultural organization that receives no funding or support from the Macedonian government. As such, it is not bound to any stipulations outlined in the Prespa Agreement or any outstanding World International Property Organization (WIPO) copyright. Extrapolating such a fanciful claim reveals either willful deceit or a severe lack of understanding of the mechanics of international agreements.
- By the author’s own claim, private citizens would be subject to the speech codes of the Prespa Agreement. As such, he/she would be violating an international treaty by referencing the students as “Skopje” students instead of “Macedonian” students, per Article 1 (a) and (b) of the Prespa Agreement. Clearly, the Prespa Agreement does not work this way, therefore invalidating their claim.
- The sun of Kutlesh/Vergina is a symbol found throughout the lands of Macedonia, including the modern-day Republic of Macedonia. The reason Greek groups simply view it as an “expansionist symbol” is precisely because it is found throughout all of the territories of a divided Macedonia—a point Greeks have tried to bury with decades of ethnic cleansing campaigns and political intimidation.
- Over time, Macedonia has established relationships and alliances with numerous countries which have progressed from their hostile and/or unfavorable pasts. Turkey is no different. As citizens of the 21st century, we aim to create amicable relations, not only with people who share centuries of common history, but also with people who respect our existence. The reality that Greece has troubled relations with most, if not all, of its neighbors bears no interest on the Macedonians’ decisions to form friendships. Further, their right to do so does not, in any way, indicate an attack on Greeks. In fact, we would encourage Greek groups to pursue similar policies of relationship-building at all levels, particularly on university campuses.
However, given the hyper-nationalistic and paranoia-fueled environment that the Greek state and its diaspora groups continue to instill, these misguided responses come as no surprise. To these groups, any deviation from their national mythology regarding Macedonia is a direct attack on Greek history, Greek pride, and by extension, the Greek people. Some examples include a Macedonian-Greek dictionary, a Greek historian writing on Aegean Macedonia, and finally, a non-political Macedonian cultural club on a university campus. The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) does not need to expand upon the obvious and dangerous flaws in such an ideology.
Finally, UMD would like to remind the ‘Macedonian’ League that while UMD harbors no animosity towards the Greek people (or any people), accusing university students of hatred and racism, claims that would undoubtedly damage one’s future, is unacceptable. We seek common ground and understanding with the Greek people, but this has become increasingly more challenging to accomplish when groups such as the ‘Macedonian’ League intentionally inflame and polarize the spectrum.