Ugly racial tensions flare in Melbourne over Macedonia

A BUILDING in inner-city Melbourne has bullet holes in the walls from the last time racial tensions between two warring parties boiled over.

That was the mid-90s and they’ve been simmering away ever since.

“Disgusting, racist” signs erected around Melbourne this week are threatening to blow the lid off the conflict once again.

The issue: “Macedonia”. That one word. Greece claims rights to the name but so too does a tiny nation of two million people in the Balkan Peninsula. It calls itself Macedonia but is also referred to as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

When Macedonia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece immediately claimed rights to the name because Macedonia is already a region in the country’s central north.

But the Macedonian community claims the rights to the name, too, because before Yugoslavia disintegrated it had a republic called Macedonia.

It may sound absurd but to both countries the name is a source of massive historical significance and identity. And to some it’s used as an excuse for ultranationalism.

Greek Australians say Macedonian groups have gone way too far. They’re worried Melbourne could experience a repeat of violent clashes that haven’t been seen in years.

In the last two weeks, signs have been plastered on church walls and hung over some of the city’s busiest freeways.