Greece and FYROM: Challenges and Opportunities

by Costas Iordanidis

(“Kathimerini”, English Edition, May 14, 2001)

The national unity government formed in the Former Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) under Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski after intense NATO and EU pressure comprises an ultimate, but potentially fruitless, attempt to resolve the conflict. Hostilities were triggered by ethnic Albanian extremism, which in turn was fueled by former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic’s policies and the championing of ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo by some figures in former US President Bill Clinton’s administration and by Washington’s European allies.

Albanian momentum is now the strongest in the Balkans, and ethnic Albanians will eventually manage to impose their demands in FYROM which appears heading—at best—toward partition.

In this light, the sooner Athens realizes this the better it will be for our country. Ever since the downfall of the Balkan communist regimes, Greece has played a peripheral role in developments, with only entrepreneurial activity partly offsetting the poor political efforts.

The Greek government believes constitutional reform will upgrade ethnic Albanians into a constitutive element of FYROM and open the way toward resolving the name issue.

Skopje tells Greece that any name change requires constitutional amendment, which needs a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Now constitutional reform seems unavoidable, in effect undoing Skopje’s argument. This is a creditable diplomatic maneuver by the Foreign Ministry, but there is little use for a settlement when the future status of the interlocutor is so uncertain.

NATO and the EU hope any constitutional changes will secure FYROM’s integrity. But the UN Security Council has already started discussions on Kosovo’s constitutional status, which creates the impression that FYROM Albanians will seek substantial autonomy—as do their brothers in Kosovo—which will inevitably curtail any central government’s power.

Furthermore, any solution will be provisional simply because ethnic Albanian nationalism in FYROM will be fueled by Kosovo until it finally achieves full independence.

The morale of Slav-Macedonians in FYROM is feeble and the country does not have enough troops to endure prolonged conflict.

Foreign Minister George Papandreou recently proposed that a special force consisting of UN or OSCE troops conduct a campaign to collect small weapons held by FYROM Albanians. Papandreou’s proposal, however, fell flat, as there were problems funding the operation.

NATO and EU countries, which spent enormous sums fighting Serbia and now in keeping troops in Kosovo, are unwilling to provide financial aid for the area’s reconstruction, while the much-hyped Stability Pact is basically a dead letter.

In effect, the southwestern Balkans have been left to their fate, meaning the ethnic Albanians will likely achieve their national goals. The only benefit for Greece of all this would be the establishment of a special status in southern Albania for ethnic Greeks living there.

 

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