27 August 2003

Names and identities again

This issue has come up over the years in international relations, as states claim a certain identity that their neighbours cannot accept. During the cold war era, a number of countries were divided by ideology, each side making a certain claim to speak for the whole. For example, Germany was divided into the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, or what we generally referred to as West and East Germany respectively. East Germany was a communist country, and its relationship with the noncommunist west was strained at best.

The People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (better known as Taiwan) both make a claim to being the legitimate government of the whole of China. War has been narrowly averted several times between the two claimants over the rather basic issue of which is the real China.

In the Balkans after 1991 Greece objected to the southernmost republic of the shattered Yugoslav federation calling itself Macedonia, because this would seem to constitute a claim to Greece's own province bearing the same name. Greece preferred to call it by its capital city of Skopje, but eventually was persuaded to accept a compromise by which its northern neighbour would go by the name, "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," or FYROM.

It would be nice if we could settle the issue by calling countries what they wish to be called, but it's rather more complicated than that in the real world. This is not likely to change any time soon.

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