Macedonia dispute has an Asian flavor

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It is one of Europe's most bizarre - and stubborn - international disputes, and certainly the only one that invokes an argument about Asian tribes stretching back to Alexander the Great.

Greece insists that its northern neighbor, which calls itself the Republic of Macedonia, change its name. Ever since the tiny former Yugoslav republic became independent in 1991, the Greeks have argued that the name implies territorial ambitions on Greece, whose northernmost province is Macedonia, and an attempt to usurp the heritage of Alexander, the most famous Macedonian of all time, who is claimed by both countries.

Recently, in its 17-year fight to call Alexander its own, the Republic of Macedonia has reached out as far as the Himalayas, to the residents of the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, who claim descent from Alexander's soldiers who stayed in the region 23 centuries ago.

What may appear an arcane argument is in fact a real conflict with serious consequences for this country of two million. Macedonia is among Europe's poorest and most unstable states, facing deeply rooted political disputes with most neighbors and an insurrection in 2001 that originated in its large ethnic Albanian minority.

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