(Prepublication, To Vima, 24 December 2003)
In a few days the book Athens Skopje, Seven Years of Coexistence (19952002) will be published by Papazisi Press of Athens, edited by Professors Evangelos Kofos and Vlassis Vlassidis and with contributions by a team of scholars from northern Greece. To Vima today publishes a few pages taken from the Conclusions by Professor E. Kofos, former academic advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with appraisals and prospects for the problems in the relationship between Greece and FYROM.
THE FRUITLESS seven-year endeavours for settling the differences over the name of our northern neighbour raise concerns about the future course of deliberations and the potential adverse repercussions on bilateral relations. It is necessary, at this juncture, to assess the negotiation proceedings at the official level.
Undoubtedly, the Greek side entered the new phase of negotiations lacking several basic negotiating advantages. No time frame or outline of the contents of the negotiations over the name had been specified in the Interim Accord. Cultural issues that went beyond the name and which constituted long-term causes of friction had essentially not been included for discussion and resolution. Moreover, despite everything that had been stated on various occasions, even from official sources, it is a fact that the agreement did not foresee a specific obligation for a mutually acceptable solution with compromises on both sides. Although speed was a crucial factor in resolving the problem, both sides used a tactic of delaythe Greek side in order to dodge the political cost of a compromise, FYROM in order to reap the benefits offered by time, the healer of all wounds.
A close analysis of the various phases of the negotiations throughout the whole seven-year period leads to the conclusion that a settlement of the outstanding issue of the name was not one of the Greek sides strategic priorities. Athens appeared to believe that an improvement in bilateral relations, the good overall climate and the development of economic and political interdependence would clear the way for a resolution of the name issue. The question however remains: was this policy in fact a means to resolving the name issue, or was it perhaps part of a wider effort, laudable in itself, for increasing Greeces role in the wider Balkan region wherein the name, as a thorny issue from the past, would be a disposable item.
During the early years, the Greek side appeared to alternate tempting offers with verbal warnings. Nevertheless, neither the pressure was urgent enough nor the offers satisfactory to shift those in office in Skopje from their intransigent positions. As such, the change in tactics simply undermined the credibility of the Greek arguments and made this approach to a resolution of the problem even more intractable. Over the past few years Greece has built up a store of respect for its role in bringing peace and stability to the Balkans. Yet, this capital has not been used in the best way, so as to achieve a substantial and immediate denouement to the name issue. On the contrary, it has only helped to ease the pressures exerted by certain allies and partners for the termination of the conflict through a unilateral retreat by Athens. On the other hand, Greek diplomacy can be credited for managing over seven years to maintain the de jure name FYROM in international, mainly, organisations. Therefore, with the completion of seven years since the signing of the Interim Accord, we can conclude that the name issue is in free fall.
But what name are we talking about? ( ) With the impudence of someone who has been involved with the issue from an academic and professional perspective for over forty years now, I would simply say that Greece would be able to accept a name for this state as chosen by the other side, with the precondition that this name would refer exclusively to the geographical territory over which it is sovereign. This would remove the scourge of irredentist tendencies which, beyond the Greek borders, nurture ethnic complexes of persecution and national grievances, and which inside of the borders perpetuate hackneyed suspicions of expansionist designs. ( )
We now come to the realistic assertion that Greece, having made important steps towards a compromise solution in the seven years since the signing of the Interim Accord, has exhausted the limits of her concessions. It must be widely understood that beyond these limits lurks the danger of surrender, with a unified, international de jure acceptance of the name Macedonia or with the acceptance of a second name to be used only by Greece in her bilateral relations with FYROM. In both cases, any well-intentioned third-party observer would agree that such a development would severely undermine Greeces credibility and threaten her peoples cultural identity, with unforeseeable consequences.
It is vital for Athens to stake out and stick rigorously to her final positions. The statement by the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (6/3/2003) is indeed clear: Greece remains solid in her negotiating position, she will not accept a double name yet supports an international name for all purposes. It now remains for us to clarify how the goal will be achieved.
The moment has come for Greece to state her position in a clear and honest manner, that if within a certain time frame it does not transpire that there is a desire for the Interim Accord to become a Final one with a settlement of the name issue in a manner honourable for both sides, then it will not be possible to preserve the climate and framework of bilateral relations at todays levels. ( ) The Greek side is in a position today to outline clearly the consequences that will arise in various areas if the problem is perpetuated, emphasising that this time Greece will not be appeased with verbal fireworks which quickly evaporate. Only when and if the other side responds positively, will Athens proceed with a broad programme of economic co-operation and political support for the neighbouring country. ( ) In this context, Greek offers shall be a reward for the transformation of the Interim Accord to a Final Accord, since the name issue will have been resolved. ( ) Now is the time for the Greek side to directly examine and formulate some special preconditions that will appear in any future road map for FYROMs status as EU candidate member. These preconditions should include an obligation on the part of FYROM for the resolution of any differences with a member of the EU over the name of Macedonia. A precedent for such an action already exists, clearly formulated in U.N. Security Council resolution 818/1993.
For seven years, FYROM demonstrated a hardened intransigence over finding a compromise solution to the name issue. The Greek side over the same period took a particularly flexible position for an honourable compromise. However, after a fruitless seven years, it is quite legitimate for Greece to explore FYROMs membership negotiations with the EU so as to push for a settlement on the name issue. ( ) A precondition, of course, is for the will to exist on the Greek sideamong the government and political circlesto make the negotiations for the resolution of the name issue and the full normalisation of relations between the two states and their peoples a priority once again.