A Tale with a Name

by Theodoros A. Couloumbis [*]

(“Kathimerini”, March 4, 2001)

In spite of persistent rumours about the increased likelihood of a solution to the issue of the name of the state of Skopje, the recent meeting of leaders of southeastern European countries which took place in the Slavo-Macedonian capital did not yield the expected results. In all probability, the problem will remain unsolved, the genuine victim of political cost-accounting on the part of both Athens and, to an even greater extent, Skopje.

In the early 1990s—while former Yugoslavia was falling apart—parties on both sides adopted maximalist stances in negotiations and did not display the slightest inclination to come up with a mutually acceptable (compromise) solution. The logical conclusion—which should have been reached in Athens and in Skopje—would have been that nobody in the region should have exclusive rights (a monopoly) to the use of the term Macedonia and its derivatives. Unfortunately, the leaders (Mitsotakis and Andreas Papandreou in Athens and Gligorov in Skopje) were oversensitive to domestic considerations, and rejected compromise solutions such as Slavo-Macedonia, Northern Macedonia, and New Macedonia, which were put forward by Pineiro, Vance and others.

Between 1991 and 1995, disregarding the grave danger posed by neighbouring Turkey, Athens had no hesitation in ‘Skopjeanizing’ its foreign policy, culminating in the huge (and well organized) demonstrations which took place in Thessaloniki and Athens in the name of the name. And after the fall of the Mitsotakis government late in 1993, the mobilized PASOK under Andreas Papandreou enforced a strict economic embargo against Skopje. It was a naive step to take. It was also frivolous and fruitless, serving no other purpose than to inspire the activities of embargo-busters in the area, while simultaneously pushing Greece towards a dangerous confrontation with its European partners.The ‘De-Skopjeanization’ of our policy began with the ‘interim agreement’ of September 1995. We dropped the role of litigant in the turbulent Balkans and gradually took on the role of intermediary. We recognized the Skopje state under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). We established diplomatic relations and opened doors wide to trade and significant Greek investment in our neighbouring country.

Since 1995 a lot of water has flowed under the historic Balkan bridge. Since the tragic operations in Kosovo (and the successive waves of ethnic cleansing which followed) and the fall from power of Serbia’s highly problematic Slobodan Milosevic, prospects for peace in the turbulent western Balkans have been gradually opening up. By joining the EMU and taking on the great challenge of hosting the Olympic Games in 2004, Greece has gone beyond the point of no return in the European realm of economic interdependence and democratic stability. Following in the vision of the late Constantine Karamanlis, this country has become a European ‘balcony’ in the region. The hope is that the whole of the Balkan peninsula will become a European ‘veranda’.

Today, responsibility for slow progress on the issue of the name of FYROM no longer lies with Athens, which has wisely adopted a generous policy of compromise. Unfortunately, Skopje is still under the influence of the maximalist negotiating stance. It is time for our otherwise amiable neighbours to realized that Athens offers significant economic and political support to Skopje. As FYROM faces the prospect of disturbances caused by extremist organizations of ethnic Albanian insurgents, it needs to realize that the only way it can free itself from the fate of regional litigant is through EU and NATO enlargement. And it is a well known fact that membership in these important institutions is bound up with peaceful solutions being found to differences which applicant countries have with their neighbours.

If Greece is now able to live with a hyphenated name (such as Upper or Northern or New Macedonia) why should FYROM not be able to do the same?

* Theodoros Couloumbis is Professor of International Relations at the University of Athens and Director General of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy

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