Sunday, May 04, 2008

American faulty policy in the Greek-FYROM name dispute

Dr. George Voskopoulos in American Chronicle
May 02, 2008

Alexis de Toqueville wrote one of the most comprehensive works on American Democracy titled Democracy in America. His critique was based among other things on the American political establishment and its operating mode. I do not mean to en-dorse his critique as a whole but I will agree that Americans do not really appreciate criticism. In essence my views here reflect certain aspects of its evaluation judgments based on the State Department´s policy and mediating strategy in the Greek-FYROM dispute.

American active and rather biased involvement in the negotiations between FYROM and Greece was evident in the late phases of negotiations under the auspices of the UN. The dead-end was not a surprise and this may be attributed not only to the clash of non-negotiable national interests of Athens and Skopje but also Washington´s policy. A number of issues may be pinpointed as non-facilitating factors in resolving the issue. They directly and indirectly relate to the formulation of Greek and Slav-Macedonian positions and the lack of understanding or ignorance on the part of the State Department.

First, President Bush has obviously underestimated the importance of the issue for Greece and consistently used the term "Macedonia" when referring to FYROM. In terms of semantics this is a direct support to Skopje a fact not appreciated by Greek public opinion and political elite. When in 2004 US government decided to recognize FYROM under its constitutional name "Republic of Macedonia" it was done as a means to avoid further destabilization of the country. At least this was the explanation provided by the State Department. Greek worries were not just overlaid but rather treated as a symptom of national paranoia, a technicality and not an issue of direct or indirect threat to territorial status and a non-military threat to a NATO ally.

Second, the overt support of the State Department to FYROM hardened the positions of the nationalists in the Slav-Macedonian government. Eventually they gave them false signs since the State Department treated FYROM as a protégé. For the Greek side it was obvious that the real interlocutors during the bargaining process were the US and its NATO ally Greece. Athens was treated as a de facto minor ally whose le-gitimate security interests had to be sacrificed in order to cement south-eastern Europe from Russian policy built on establishing oil and natural gas pipelines.

This clearly illustrates a stark change of mood on the part of Washington. During the Cold War, Greece was the only NATO ally and EC/EU member whose interests had to be taken into consideration. The lack of alternatives made Washington more care-ful in the articulation of ideas and evaluations towards the so called Macedonian is-sue. After the end of the Cold War American foreign policy established a network of allies in the region that eliminated in part Greece´s advantage of being the sole NATO member in the region.

When the name issue emerged de jure in the early 1990s American officials dealt with it as if it were a technicality, although Greece had kept silent ever since the es-tablishment of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia by Tito in mid-1940s. In fact today Greece is "punished" for not upsetting American policy and western strategy of sup-port to a non-aligned Yugoslavia. This is an affront to Greek public opinion and his-tory and a fact that enhances dramatically anti-American feelings in the country.

Third, the reaction of the State Department to the insults to the Greek Prime Minister K. Karamanlis (see his portrayal dressed as a Nazi as presented by a magazine pub-lished in Skopje) and the Greek flag decorated with Nazi symbols was unsatisfactory. The same applies to the use of maps of Greater and united Macedonia circulated in recent demonstrations in Skopje and the aim of uniting geographical Macedonia. They constituted hard evidence of what the Greek side had always rejected, that is Slav-Macedonian irredentist or pseudo-irredentist claims. Playing deaf is not always a sound policy particularly vis-à-vis an ally that has offered so much in the struggle for democracy and freedom in the region.

The same people who today support "liberation" of Greek Macedonia (to Slav-Macedonians nationalists "Aegean Macedonia") propagated in favor of a world com-munist order a few decades ago. The State Department seems to have forgotten a number of facts associated with history, diplomacy and loyalty to allies. Of course power, especially structural power, allows arrogance to overlay ethical issues not as-sociated with the conduct of foreign policy. Political realists reject ethical motives when materializing foreign policy goals. Yet, this ethical foundation has been Amer-ica´s most powerful weapon in leading what American presidents used to call the "free world".

On January 21, 1994 a New York Times columnist made the obvious mistake of eliminating the security aspects of the issue and failed to recognize the epitome of the problem. He wrote that "ever since the breakup of Yugoslavia, Greece has been fighting and gradually losing the battle to prevent the world from recognizing the for-mer Communist wedge of land on its northern border by the name it has chosen for itself -- Macedonia. It is an issue that boils with nationalist passion. Yet, as some Greeks slowly seem to be acknowledging, it is an issue that cannot be won…".

Evidently he himself made a number of blatant oversimplifications. The first refers to the right of a state to use a name of its own choice. Actually this is not happening even in the world of modern trade since brand names are protected trademarks and copyright protected. As I have previously suggested history is a powerful tool in the hands of nationalists. FYROM has propagated the existence of a "Macedonian na-tion" although its existence cannot be established throughout history. Actually it was Tito who "provided the occasion to develop a specifically Macedonian history which was clearly differentiated from its neighbours" [1].

Fourth, American mediating effort was built on putting pressure on the Greek side and bullying the Greek government allowing Skopje to operate under the impact of protégé euphoria since Washington has become a shield against Greek policies. This relationship between great powers and protégés has formulated the conceptual an-ticipations of the hardliners in FYROM. In mid-1940s B, Newman pinpointed that "many Balkan states were little more than puppets in the finger of protecting powers".

Fifth, the State Department has dramatically undermined the catalytic role of Slav-Macedonian irredentist claims to Greek Macedonia. Ignorance of geopolitical expedi-ence is not an excuse in ignoring the obvious that is the long battle over control of Greek Macedonia, 90% of which matches the borders of the kingdom of ancient Ma-cedonia. Evidently younger generations of American diplomats have not learned their history lessons. Tito was the man who created the Macedonian issue by constructing the "Macedonian" ethnicity and language with a view to dealing with Bulgarophilia and annexing Greek Macedonia. He was the one who openly set territorial claims on what he called "Aegean Macedonia" [2] and at times he turned the issue into a key dispute of the Cold War.

However, his dream was not a means of advancing the Soviet and Cominform-supported aim of establishing a Balkan Communist Federation but rather a policy of setting the foundations for the annexation of Greek Macedonia [3]. Despite internal divisions, the pro-Soviet Greek Communist Party endorsed this policy under the threat of being ex-communicated by Cominform. On March 4, 1949 A. C. Sedgwick reporting for The New York Times confirms the pressure on Greek Communists: «The Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) has ordered the Communist party of Greece to declare itself unequivocally in favor of an autonomous Macedonia and henceforth to work toward the creation and organization of such a state…» [4].

Actually this has been the basis of the critique against Greek Communists who were engaged in an ideologically-related struggle, built on a Marxist basis, against Ameri-can and British supported government forces [5]. Post-Second World War south-eastern history is well-known and I do not have the time to include thousands of bib-liographical references from American and British sources to make myself under-stood. I do not mean to give young American diplomats lessons of history although I am tempted to do so.

However, I have to remind them that it is this very policy that has alienated the US from its allies [6] and led them to support ephemeral alliances with those who sup-ported a communist world order. I need to remind them that bullying an ally is an op-tion provided by the multiple means of power disposed by the US, yet, it is not an honorable policy. I need to remind them that Slav-Mecedonians and Bulgarians need no interpreter when engaged in a conversation. Finally, I need to remind them that the issue is not a choice between an EU member - a NATO ally (Greece) and a weak country (FYROM) but a choice between a status quo country and a revisionist state. Greece is the most pro-status quo country in the region and has made substantial compromises in the issue. Obviously the will to compromise was taken as a sign of weakness. This clearly shows an inability to formulate sound evaluative judgments.

Evidently late American foreign policy has been built on supporting revisionist states, which again, exposes the advertised ethics of exporting democracy. It is also evident that the State Department would like to set hurdles to the current Greek administra-tion. In the eyes of a small number of State Department officials this is the overt or covert price Greece has to pay for its support to the Russian energy expansion in the region. The issue here is that Greece has not shifted its loyalty. On the contrary, the current Republican administration has shifted its loyalty and wishes to sacrifice the national interest of its allies, a policy that voids the security guarantees provided by NATO. It wishes to dictate strategic choices in the domain of foreign policy, and jeopardize the security of an ally, a policy that above all violates the very meaning and collective security character of the Atlantic Alliance.

Ex-President Clinton's view was that "American activism guarantees international stability", yet this seems to have been forgotten, although American foreign policy is characterised by a substantial degree of continuity. It is time the State Department rediscovered its long-supported values and honored its allies.

Our neighbours need to understand that stability can not be built on irredentism. This is very basic for the return of the whole region into development orbit. At the same time the State Department should stop taking advantage of disputes that destabilize the region. These are the fundamental components of a real stabilizing activism.

1] S. Lefebvre, "The FYROM: Where to?", European Security, vol.3, n.4, Winter 1994, p.711

2] "Tito held moving to win Macedonia"; Backing for Aegean Minority's Unity Re-garded as Notice to Greece of Yugoslav Claim", New York Times, October 14, 1945.

3] "Cominform Strikes at Tito And Athens Via Macedonia; Ancient Region of Battles in the Balkans A Key to 'Cold War' on the Greek Front", The New York Times, April 3, 1949.

4] «Greek Communist Shift to 'Free' Macedonia Points to Party Purge on Cominform Orders», The New York Times, March 4, 1949.

5] This aspect is scrutinized in George Voskopoulos, Greek Foreign Policy, from the 20TH to the 21st Century, Papazisis, Athens, 2005 (published in Greek)

6] This view is scrutinised in George Voskopoulos (ed.), Transatlantic Relations and European Integration, realities and dilemmas, ICFAI University Press, Hydera-bad, 2006.

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