Naming and Shaming Airports


Flying from the recently opened Dr. Franjo Tudjman Airport in Zagreb, a building with considerable grace, so different from the dour narrow-mindedness of its name giver, to Alexander the Great airport in Skopje, I am reminded of the deliberate provocative nature airport-naming in the post-Yugoslav space.

Rather than innocent names of places, like Surčin or Petrovec, the name givers over the past decade have opted for a more confrontational style. First, there is the “heroes at home, war criminals-terrorists abroad” category of name givers, like Franjo Tudjman or Adem Jashari in Prishtina. Then there are the “provoke thy neighbor” names, like the Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje, which got its name from the previous government in 2008–conveniently located on the Alexander the Great highway. Finally, there are the more subtle nationalist names, like the airport in Belgrade named after Nikola Tesla and Mother Teresa in Tirana. Both might be accused of much, in particular the latter, but not nationalism. The names are instead rather examples of “banal nationalism.” Nikola Tesla spent a total of 31 hours (1892) of his life in Belgrade. It is only his Serb ethnic background that made him eligible. Mother Teresa visited Tirana twice and both times a bit longer than Tesla, but both visits in 1989 and 1991 are hardly enough to get an airport named after yourself. Being born in Skopje and having lived most of her life in India, here connections to Albania were rather marginal . Again, it is her national background that made her the name giver.

The only  capital city airports in the region that avoided a similar fate are Sarajevo and Podgorica. An attempt to call the airport in Sarajevo after Alija Izetbegović was only stopped by Paddy Ashdown, the High Representative at the time. And Podgorica might have to wait a while before it can carry the name of the father of the nation.

The tragedy of name giving is that these new, nationalist names were given not in the 1990s, but over the last decade, including the naming of the new Zagreb airport by the previous Social-democratic government. Instead of emphasizing national “heroes”, provoking neighbors and promoting the idea of an ethnic nations, airports would be much more aptly named after artists, scientists or just some small suburb of the regions capitals.





3 Responses to Naming and Shaming Airports

  1. Genc Pollo says:

    Slightly factually incorrect. I had the privilege to meet Mother Theresa several times in Albania in the 90s. She felt connected to the land her family. Subtle nationalism? Such an non controversial figure? Hardly!

    • Florian Bieber says:

      If she visited more than twice, I stand corrected. However, the point that she is not from Albania and that her connection is thus based on her ethnicity still stands.

      • Marsi says:

        You should know that her mother and sister both lived in Shkoder and Tirana. Had she stayed in the Balkans she would have lived in Albania but then, she wouldn’t have become the missionary she became. I believe in Albania’s case rather than subtle nationalism it was chosen to improve the image but also to establish the connection between her and Albania after she die so as people can always remember her roots. What about Charles’s De Gaulle… isn’t that a confrontational nationalism when Algerians come visit. Westerners always have this sense of patronizing toward the Balkans. Don’t forget, that the mess that happened in the 90s was the consequence of the how the maps were designed by the western powers in 1919, just like what has been happening in the middle east.

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