The Macedonian Issue: Solid arguments, not ‘blackmail’

(“Kathimerini”, English edition, 2 February, 2005)

by Evangelos Kofos

The president of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Branko Crvenkovksi (center) holds a little girl during a rally in Skopje celebrating the country’s recognition by the USA last November.

The extensive interview with President Branko Crvenkovski (published in Kathimerini on January 23, 2005) confirms the fact that the 12-year-long dialogue to find an official name for his country has gained fresh momentum. Apart from reiterating well-known ‘intransigent’ positions, the leader of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) appears to be concerned about the possibility that Greece’s Parliament may not approve an agreement for his country’s accession to NATO and the European Union. And so he jumps the gun, accusing Greece of ‘blackmail’ instead of ‘substantiated arguments’ in negotiations.

However, quite the contrary is true. Crvenkovski, who was prime minister at the time of the Interim Accord of New York in 1995, has endorsed Article 11 which accords Greece the right to oppose FYROM’s participation in any organization or international event if it tries to do so under any name other than the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.’ Since when has the implementation of a contractual commitment been blackmail?

Now, the FYROM side is exploiting the inopportune and ‘unfair’ US recognition of its constitutional name to continue its foot-dragging, and has restricted itself to offering the formula of the ‘double name’—one for Greece and one for the rest of the world—in the knowledge that no Greek politician will accept a solution that puts his country in a position of international ‘apartheid.’

Crvenkovski argues, clumsily, that his proposal ‘takes into account Greece’s sensitivities.’

He argues that his camp has made a series of concessions—changing constitutional provisions, replacing its ‘national flag’ with the ‘Sun of Vergina’ symbol, etc. However, he fails to mention that these ‘concessions’ were made because the young republic of 1991—in the grip of intense nationalistic sentiment—had resorted to activities that were neither acceptable to the international community nor to neighboring states.

Indeed, even as recently as 2001—following the Ochrid agreement with the ethnic Albanians—FYROM was obliged to adopt even more constitutional changes.

Meanwhile, Greece—holding a genuine belief in the consolidation of peace and good neighborly relations—unilaterally adopted a series of favorable measures, such as lifting economic sanctions, offering economic support with investments that made Greece FYROM’s chief economic partner, the abolition of restrictive measures on citizens entering its territory and, most importantly, political and economic support in 1999 during the mass influx into FYROM of thousands of Albanian refugees from Kosovo and in 2001 when interethnic violence flared up.

Even on the name issue, Athens appears to have conceded 90 percent, whereas Skopje has refused to concede the remaining 10 percent.

In order to justify this stance, Crvenkovski states: ‘Under no circumstances do we see our constitutional name as the basis for any exclusive right to the name Macedonia, whether in the geographical or historic sense.’

Leniently judged, this phrase in insincere because, once again, it is argued that black is white.

Geographically speaking, the national dogma of FYROM proclaims on all levels—political, scientific, educational, media—that the entire geographical area of Macedonia, up to Mount Olympus, constitutes ‘ethnic Macedonian territory’—a region that is the homeland of the ‘Macedonian nation’ which was unfairly partitioned with the Treaty of Bucharest of 1913.

For this reason, the Macedonian regions of neighboring countries are referred to as areas ‘under’—that is, under the rule of—Greece, Bulgaria and Albania.

This situation has created dangerous nationalistic, even irredentist, perceptions in new generations who have passed through the education system established following FYROM’s independence in 1991.

On an historical level, a quasi ‘cultural imperialism’ which began in the 1940s–50s, and which was aimed at the expropriation of Bulgaria’s historical presence in the broader Macedonian region, was aggressively turned toward the usurpation of the Greek-Macedonian cultural heritage in the 1990s, with the ‘naturalization’ of the Ancient Macedonians as ‘predecessors’of those bearing their name today.

At the risk of provoking ridicule on the international stage, there were calls for erecting a statue of Alexander the Great in Skopje to follow that of the Tzar Samuel.

So, it is now becoming clear why Skopje insists on maintaining the simple name of ‘Macedonia,’ despite the fact that it occupies less than 40 percent of the broader Macedonian region.

FYROM is monopolistically claiming titles, both geographical and historical.

If in the future this trend spreads into the economic sector and FYROM seeks exclusive use of derivatives of the Macedonian name in copyright, commercial titles and product names, the name problem could create severe problems—and not just in international relations.

Consequently, during negotiations for FYROM’s name, Greek diplomats cannot fail to decisively demand:

It is time for our region to shift its energies and outlook toward the future within a common European family. And family life always demands compromises.

Evangelos Kofos is adviser on Balkan affairs at ELIAMEP. He was a visiting fellow at Brasenose College, Oxford, and adviser to the Greek Foreign Ministry. [Top]

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