U conference caught in Macedonian dispute

By By Michael McFall

By Michael McFall

The U stuck its foot into an international dispute about a country’s name.

When the U’s department of languages and literature chose to host the globe-trotting seventh Macedonian-North American Conference on Macedonian Studies, beginning Thursday, it stepped on a land mine between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia. Greeks from around the United States inundated the U administration with angry e-mails to cancel the conference, but U President Michael Young issued a statement Oct. 26, saying that this week’s conference, a beneficial academic pursuit, will go on as planned.

“We will have a uniformed security officer on hand,” said Jane Hacking, chairwoman of the languages and literature department. “They’re aware that there might be problems.”

The Republic of Macedonia wants its southern neighbor, Greece, to recognize its country as constitutionally Macedonia and its people as national Macedonians, even though its population is historically Slavic. But Greece doesn’t want another ethnic group usurping the name of its ethnically Macedonian population, which moved out of the region the Slavs now occupy and into modern-day Greece centuries ago. The Republic of Macedonia’s government claims its historically Slavic people deserve the Macedonia title after having lived in the region for a millennium.

The U entered the conflict when it chose to host the conference, infuriating those who don’t support the Republic of Macedonia’s claim to the name.

“You are basically supporting a group that just decided one day to claim the important, historical name of Macedonia for themselves,” said Helen Karipidis from New York in an e-mail to the President’s Office. “Perhaps, if Westminster College decided one day that they deserved to call their institution the University of Utah, that would not bother you at all?”

The U backed its choice to host the conference and released a statement last week saying it supports research and academic pursuits that enhance the school’s understanding of the world.

Hacking said she expects Friday, the second day of the conference, to be the most contentious. A panel scheduled for that day is specifically about Slavic refugees from northern Greece, an issue that has sparked threats against outspoken authors on the matter, Hacking said.

The United States is one of 126 countries in the United Nations that recognizes Greece’s northern neighbor as the Republic of Macedonia, even though Greece has its own state, Macedonia, for its ethnic group. Three American universities and three universities in the Republic of Macedonia have hosted the conference since it began in 1991 and subsequently repeated it every three years.

Hacking said the U is a single school in the middle of a country on the other side of the world from Greece and the Republic of Macedonia’s feud.

“As I said to President Young, this has been under (United Nations) mediation for a number of years,” Hacking said. “I really don’t think that anything we do one way or another is going to decide the issue.”

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