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Sun Trumps Politics As Macedonians Flock To Greece

Despite ongoing tensions between the two countries Macedonian tourists still travel in droves to Greece every year. (file photo)

Despite ongoing tensions between the two countries Macedonian tourists still travel in droves to Greece every year. (file photo)

Despite tensions between Skopje and Athens over a long-running country-name dispute, it seems that Macedonians have no problems with Greece when the holiday season comes around.

RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports that inhabitants of the former Yugoslav republic are the third-largest national group to visit Greece this year, with only Germans and Cypriots flocking to the popular Balkan tourist destination in greater numbers.

In some respects, given how close their country is to Greece, it is hardly surprising that, according to one travel agent, there are some 500,000 Macedonians enjoying Hellenic sunshine and beaches at the moment.

"The sea is close here," one holidaymaker told RFE/RL. "The road is short; prices are more or less acceptable; you can find accommodation for 15 [euros] per person and it's affordable. I think proximity is a factor."

Even though Macedonians are estimated to have spent 550 million euros ($729 million) in their cash-strapped neighboring country last year, they are not always being welcomed with open arms.

According to Balkan Insight, the Foreign Ministry in Skopje has expressed concern over "nationalist rhetoric" that it says is being directed toward Macedonians spending their summer vacations in Greece.

In particular, the ministry cited confrontations reportedly involving members of the ultranationalist Golden Dawn movement who have been handing out pamphlets to Macedonian tourists at border crossings while chanting chauvinistic slogans.

There have also been reports that dozens of cars with Macedonian license plates have been attacked and damaged.

Skopje has complained to Athens that such incidents are "not in the spirit of good neighborliness" and asked that efforts be made to curtail such activities, which it says are not conducive to helping both countries overcome their differences.

Macedonia and Greece have been locked in a name dispute since the former seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. Athens has blocked Macedonia's membership of NATO because of the row, arguing that the use of the word Macedonia implies a territorial claim over its northern region of the same name.

Skopje rejects Greece's claim. Although more than 130 states recognize the country as Macedonia, it is still listed at the UN under its provisional name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

However, despite the occasional hostility shown toward them in Greece and the continuing tensions between the two countries, it is unlikely that this will stop Macedonians from flocking to their southern neighbor's Aegean shores anytime soon.

"The first [attraction] is the familiarity," says Macedonian travel owner Angel Ivanov "Low prices are second. The third thing is that they feel really comfortable in Greece. The inconvenience [of hostile behavior] is only felt by a small number of people, not even 1 percent."

-- Coilin O'Connor

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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