All in a Name

by Dora Bakoyiannis*

(‘The Wall Street Journal’, 1 April, 2008)
[link to original article]

The NATO summit comes to Southeastern Europe this week, and Greece is looking forward to it. The choice of Bucharest as the summit's host holds stark symbolism. Romania, having joined, alongside Bulgaria, the trans-Atlantic alliance in 2004 and the European Union last year, is a clear success story for our neighborhood.

As the region's oldest NATO and EU member, Greece feels a profound obligation to be constructive, supportive and practical regarding our neighbors. We wholeheartedly espouse the policy of enlargement, and I am happy to say that two members of the so-called "Adriatic Three," Croatia and Albania, are today in a position to further the principles of the North Atlantic Treaty and earn their invitation to NATO in Bucharest. However, it saddens me that we cannot so far say the same about our neighbor, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom).

For over 15 years, our two countries have been involved in United Nations-sponsored negotiations regarding Fyrom's name. Greece has real and concrete concerns over the issue. What's in a name, you may ask? A great deal, I can assure you. The term "Macedonia" has always been used to delineate a wider geographical region, approximately 51% of which is part of Greece, 38% of which is in Fyrom, and 9% of which is in Bulgaria.

Not only does the government in Skopje insist on being the sole claimant to the name of an entire area -- the largest part of which lies outside its borders -- but authorities in Fyrom insist on portraying Greek Macedonia as "occupied" territory. While government leaders declare they have no designs on Greek territory, they refuse to remove such claims from textbooks, state maps and national documents. Only a few weeks ago, the country's prime minister was photographed laying a wreath on a monument to which a map of the so-called "Greater Macedonia" was attached; the map incorporated a considerable part of Northern Greece, including Greece's second-largest city, Thessaloniki.

Winston Churchill is said to have observed once that "The Balkans produce much more history than they can consume." Make no mistake: Given this sensitive region's historical baggage, the monopolization of the term Macedonia by a single state is in no way conducive to good neighborly relations or regional stability. Perpetuating problems is always a recipe for trouble. We need a real solution to a real problem.

And we are not alone in our quest. In the U.S. Congress, 115 members, both Republicans and Democrats, recently co-sponsored House Resolution 356, which expressed the "sense of the House of Representatives that Fyrom should stop hostile activities and propaganda against Greece, and should work with the United Nations and Greece to find a mutually acceptable official name." Senators Robert Menendez, Olympia Snowe and Barack Obama introduced a similar resolution in the Senate.

Greece has spared no effort in responding to Fyrom's quest for economic growth and political stability. Greece is the country's largest foreign investor, with over $1 billion invested and more than 20,000 jobs created in the last decade, and is one of its biggest trade partners.

We have come to the table with a clear objective: A long-overdue, mutually acceptable, composite name that includes the designation of Macedonia, but attaches an adjective to it to distinguish it from the broader geographical area of Macedonia. Greece has engaged in this process constructively and with an open mind. In an unprecedented policy shift, our government has unilaterally gone two-thirds of the way, accepting a number of proposals from U.N. mediator Matthew Nimetz as a basis for discussion. We have proven to be considerably flexible in our quest for a win-win solution.

Unfortunately, our friends in Skopje have so far failed to cover any ground. They will not even agree to the basis of our talks, although it is clearly defined in two U.N. Security Council resolutions and one General Assembly resolution.

Their counterproductive policy violates the basic principle of good neighborly relations -- a fundamental condition for any candidate country's Euro-Atlantic aspirations. As far as NATO is concerned, the Alliance has been unwavering in its demand that aspirant countries fulfill this criterion. NATO has consistently encouraged full normalization of relations not only with aspirants themselves but with neighboring third countries not belonging to the Alliance.

Greece will spare no effort in reaching a real and viable solution for the sake of peace and stability in the region. Alliances and partnerships, however, can only be fostered among countries if there is mutual trust and goodwill.

*Ms. Bakoyannis is Greece's foreign minister.

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