Cultural clash

By Evelyn Leckie –

TENSIONS between Greek and Macedonian residents at council meetings have continued into 2020, with a group of Macedonian residents angry with City of Whittlesea staff for not letting them fly a Vergina Sun flag before last week’s council meeting.

It follows the controversial Facebook post mayor Emilia Sterjova made in December last year, which showed the newly-elected mayor dancing with a Star of Vergina flag at a Macedonian language graduation ceremony.

The Vergina Sun symbol was a controversial icon in the 1990s when it was used on the national flag of the newly-independent Republic of Macedonia, now North Macedonia.

The Greek Government heavily opposed the Republic of Macedonia using the Vergina Sun on their flag, saying it was appropriating a symbol viewed to be part of Greek culture.

The flag was changed in mid-2018 after the two countries signed the Prespa Agreement to settle the dispute – the flag is now banned from being publicly displayed in North Macedonia.

But at December’s Whittlesea council meeting, a protest was planned to speak out against the mayor’s post and extra security was enlisted to settle tensions between the groups.

The Age reported an alleged attack on a man after the council meeting was linked to cultural tensions. The incident took place at a nearby restaurant and it was reported the alleged attackers attended the City of Whittlesea council meeting before the violent confrontation.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Macedonian residents attached the Vergina Sun flag to an entrance pole leading into the council meeting.

Six police officers observed the event while a City of Whittlesea officer asked the group to take it down.

Acting chief executive Kevin Spiller said council would normally request any non-council item to be removed from its property.

A spokesperson of the group told the Review they came to the meeting to support the mayor.

“We’re here because of the politics against the mayor – she’s Macedonian, we will be here every meeting,” the spokesperson said.

Cr Lawrie Cox said he would like the mayor to show leadership by condemning the violence that took place after last December’s meeting.

“We respect all sides of community. We have wound up in a situation that should have nothing to do with council,” he said.

“We have so many community groups in Whittlesea, we need to be careful and show leadership.”

Ms Sterjova was contacted for comment but did not respond.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The (so-called) agreement regarding the flag/symbol is between the two relevant governments only and does not apply to any other government, group or any individual. Hence, in democratic countries, people are free to display and use any flag of their choice and this includes the Macedonian Sun. Bullies can continue to bully, threaten and intimidate, but ethnic Macedonians (who are not Greek) can proudly carry and display their original flag – and it’s 100% legal.

  2. The flag was only adopted officially by North Macedonia from 1992 till 1995, before it was removed from official use by UN treaty signed by Greece and North Macedonia (for their use of a Greeek national symbol on their flag). It has continued to be used by ultra-nationalist groups of North Macedonia.

  3. A couple of corrections – the flag was adopted by North Macedonia in 1992 and lasted till 1995, when a UN resolution was adopted by Greece and North Macedonia. The Greek government and many Greek people, especially Greek Macedonians, saw it as the misappropriation of a Hellenic symbol and a direct claim on the legacy of Philip II. The dispute was exacerbated by clauses in the Republic of Macedonia’s constitution that Greeks saw as a territorial claim on the Greek region of Macedonia. A Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman said in January 1995 that “the symbol is Greek and has been stolen.” The Vergina Sun is a protected national symbol of Greece, protected by the UN’s WIPO treaty, of which North Macedonia is a signatory. GR1, GR2 and GR3 is the the 6ter Treaty shows this: https://www.wipo.int/cgi-6te/bool_srch5?ENG+15

  4. I believe you need to get your facts straight before writing articles on this topic. Macedonia was forced to change its flag in 1995 in order for Greece to lift an economic embargo it places on Macedonia draining its entire economy. The flag is not banned from being publicly displayed. Greece does not have a trademark on the flag.

    Time and again individuals identifying as Greek have been going after the young Mayor and threatening her life, yet you do not report about this. Here is a statement we issued deploring these death threats http://umdiaspora.org/2019/12/14/umd-deplores-death-threats-on-australian-mayor-of-macedonian-heritage/.

    Australia is a democracy and Greece’s 19th century policies don’t apply there.

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