Sunday, May 11, 2008

Decoding policy choices and motives in the Greece-FYROM name dispute

Dr. George Voskopoulos in American Chronicle
May 11, 2008

The Balkans have been an immature subordinate system ever since the demise of the Ottoman empire. The "Macedonian Issue", the time-proof dispute in the Balkans, first emerged as a side-effect of the evolutionary stages of the "Eastern Question" and the liberation of the Ottoman conquests, namely the Balkan peoples, who gradually rose against their conqueror and attempted to set up their territorial bases with a view to forming nation-states.

The "Macedonian Question" emerged as a result of antagonism among Balkan nation-states that wished to get the lion´s share from the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. Yet, the course to liberation had hardly finished when Balkan peoples turned against each other, in order to secure a greater territorial chunk out of the Balkan Peninsula, a policy that led contending Balkan nationalisms to clash.

In the post Second World War era, the dispute was rooted in the rivalry over control of geographical Macedonia and annexation of Greece´s northern province Macedonia. Greek Macedonia has been the diachronic target of irredentist activities on the part not only of Bulgaria but also Yugoslavia. In the summer of 1945 Marshal Tito articulated a verbal assault on Greece and eventually verified its policy of annexing Greek Macedonia [1]. C. L. Sulzberger reporting for The New York Times on November 17, 1946 is more than clear: "Yugoslav foreign policy has two major revisionist objec-tives--Trieste and Salonika--and one minor one-- Klagenfurt, in Austria. At the mo-ment the emphasis is still on Trieste…". [2]

This very policy alarmed Greece, which, assisted by the US, internationalized the issue. In March 1947 "Mark Ethridge, American representative on the United Nations Balkans Commission of Inquiry, has moved to extract from representatives of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria a clear answer to Greek charges that their countries are waging an undeclared war to detach the Greek Province of Macedonia" [3].

A month later the US confirms these irredentist activities, presenting hard evidence in favour of Greek positions. I quote W.H. Lawrence reporting from Geneva for The New York Times: "The United States circulated among the ten other members of the United Nations Balkan investigating commission today a proposed summary of the evidence on the Macedonian issue. This summary tends to prove that Yugoslavia and Bulgaria interfered in Greek internal affairs so as to win Greek Macedonia for Yugo-slavia and western Thrace for Bulgaria". [4]

During the Greek Civil War Slav inhabitants of the wider geographical area of Macedonia joined Greek left forces in the struggle against government units. According to the report, "about 600 purported representatives of communities in Greek, Yugoslav and Bulgarian Macedonia met this week in a small village in the Vitsi mountain area of north-western Greece near the Albanian border, according to a rebel radio broad-cast heard today in Salonika". [5] The promise repeatedly made to them was that should left wing forces in Greece prevail Slav Macedonians would be allowed to annex Greek Macedonia and establish a Macedonian state.

The above constitute indicative only historical evidence of how the Macedonian issue had been formulated under the then political and social conditions. A sensible question would probably concern the relation between today´s situation and the then con-ditions. First, the events described set clearly the long-established historical frame-work of irredentist activities against Greek Macedonia. Second, they eliminate the conceptual basis of Greece being part of an instability chain that tars the image of the Balkans and the Greek people of being victims of a certain national paranoia and obsession with history. Foreign policies are driven by national interests and the need for survival, particularly in zones of turmoil, characterized by territorial fluidity and Great Idea syndromes.

Greece operates on the same motives despite incoherent policies adopted during the last decades. It is a pro-status quo country as indicated by its will to endorse the 1995 Interim Agreement with FYROM. The evident advantage of the Agreement was that it allowed both countries to provide a very general framework of coexistence. Actually it was an act of support of FYROM since it allowed it to use the name "Macedonia" although irredentist activities continued to tar bilateral relations. This very fact constitutes a breach of the Agreement itself. Yet, this temporary arrangement created further problems to the Greek side as it allowed FYROM to build its strategy on the state-stemming ideology of "Macedonianism".

Originally (1920s) the issue was formulated on a Marxist basis and the aim of establishing a Balkan Communist Federation. Yet, in the post-Cold War era the issue cen-tered around the need of the neophyte state FYROM to support its national identity and distance itself politically, culturally and institutionally from dissolving Yugoslavia and Belgrade operating as the eminence grise of former Yugoslav Republics.

The dispute that emerged over the name of the newly-founded state, was considered by Greek administrations and the Greek people to be a substantial actual not potential non-military threat, in a fluid security environment, diachronically dominated by un-predictability, irredentist claims (covertly or overtly expressed), lack of internal cohesion and warring conflicts among Balkan states over the control of the geographical region of "Macedonia", which appears to be one of the most disputed areas of Europe.

The ethnically-orientated use of the name "Macedonia", along with the use of historic symbols, associated with Greek territorial sovereignty over Greek Macedonia, provoked Greek national sentiment, since it was regarded as the cornerstone of a long-standing irredentist policy against Greece. The inference of the name "Macedonia", a name of tantamount importance for those familiar with Balkan politics and history brought back to memory Tito´s plans for the creation of a communist federation in the Balkans and the eventual annexation of Greek Macedonia, that was meant to become part of a united Macedonia, under a Communist leadership.

Greek officials estimated that the emergence of the neophyte state would be followed by an attempt, on the part of Slav-Macedonians, to enhance independence and cultural autonomy, by means of legitimisation through "historical proof", which was eventu-ally used as an unfortunate means of applying the undeniable right of a small nation for self-determination and self-rule.

To the Greek policy-makers eyes, the "Macedonian issue" emerged as a double threat.
First, it was the revival of Balkan antagonism for domination over geographical Ma-cedonia and more particularly Greek Macedonia, which is the oldest and biggest part of the geographical region Macedonia and the part with the most strategic importance, since it provides an outlet to the Aegean Sea.
Second, it was a threat to Greek national identity and cultural heritage, a notion that triggered the massive demonstrations in Thessaloniki in February 1994, the biggest ever in Greece.

The signifier of these mas-sive activation of Greek public opinion is that, although Greece was and still is a Bal-kan state not nurturing irredentist aims against FYROM, it was the local actor that most heatedly objected to its recognition under the name Macedonia, since, the con-notation "Macedonia" has been solely associated with the Greek northern province and "denotes an exclusive and integral part" history and culture of the Greek people.

For FYROM, it was a matter of survival in an unstable Balkan security environment, as the country was facing direct military threats from Yugoslavia, the ultra-nationalists in Albania and the danger of self-dissolution, stemming from the exis-tence of contending ethnic minorities, the most substantial of which was the ethnic Albanians, who, after long years of suppression, wished to have their cultural identity acknowledged. At the same time, there was a need to silence elements of Bulgaro-philia domestically, a fact that led to suppressive policies against those in FYROM who identified themselves as Bulgarian-Macedonians.

Within the wider context of the Communist establishment and ideology, national identities had to be overlaid. Emphasis was given to class associations and class struggle since ethnicity was a "bourgeois feature". As a consequence, the enhance-ment of a different ethnic identity, different from the artificial "Yugoslav identity", was of a sine quo non prerequisite for the political and cultural autonomy of the neo-phyte state, as well as for the social cohesion and domestic balance of the emerging political entity. Yet, this very need gave birth to the falsification of Greek history, which was used as a means of emancipating the Slav-Macedonian identity and FY-ROM´s independence from Belgrade´s suppressive ethnic policy.

In their quest for international support and political emancipation from Belgrade, the post-Cold War administrations of the country became trapped in the dictates of popu-lism and nationalism, as expressed by the diaspora, something I personally witnessed as a young student in Canada in the early 1980s.

Evidently, the early Marxist and ideological platform of the Macedonian issue had turned into a matter of survival for a small and weak country that struggled for inde-pendence. These are noble aims supported by all of us who envisage a free democratic world. Yet, the early euphoria triggered by the demise of the Communist establish-ment led to a major mistake at least in terms of priorities. That is overlaying the secu-rity implications of independence and the unconditional support for self-determination. The tendency to overlay the security aspects of the adopted policy by Skopje took place under the pressure of the emerging warring conflict in dissolving Yugoslavia

Greece´s primary aim in the "Macedonian Question" has been the containment of irredentist activities against Greek Macedonia, as well as the ethnic implications of the name "Macedonia" used by FYROM, since the Post-Second World War name "Re-public of Macedonia", devised by Tito coincided with the Greek province Macedonia.

The name issue would be of minor importance to Greece if it did not imply that FYROM claimed for itself a wider geographical area, consisting of the historic Mace-donia and kingdom of ancient Makedon, 90% of which lies within Greek territory. This served practical purposes as well as claims on historical continuity. In its turn this very claim aimed at "legitimizing" irredentist claims on the basis of alleged his-torical ties with Greek Macedonia. Yet, the very name itself set a clear and evident irredentist claim, as the geographical interpretation of it, gives it an ethnic character. It wrongly implies that there used to be a single, united Macedonian state partitioned by means of military force.

Of course the main issue here is that young people in FYROM and across the world grow up with the dream of "liberating" Greek Macedonia, a task "imposed" to them by history. Na-tional identity is not an issue to be dissolved with a political decision not even an honourable compromise. Beliefs are far stronger than political decisions.

The major and catalytic drawback of Greek foreign policy ever since the early post-Cold War emergence of the Macedonian issue was its inability to underline the secu-rity dimensions of the issue [6]. History, despite inconsistent, contending narratives and explanation of motives of the parts involved, has been a tool in the hands of na-tionalists not a goal in itself. It has been used simultaneously as a means of question-ing (FYROM) and supporting the territorial status quo (GREECE). Under this spec-trum any policy and solution that leaves space for future misunderstanding is totally unacceptable. Actually it happened in the past and led to an impasse. The current Greek administration has been more than explicit on that and I certainly hope that it will support its views with stern zeal.

In the case of our neighbours it is now clear that partnerships can only be built on common goals supported by common institutions and values (EU) or alliance mem-bership (NATO) that provides a casus foederis to the participants. Greek policy is an act of defense of the status quo, not a hostile act against FYROM. I am afraid there is an inherent inability, related to populism, that prevents political leadership in Skopje to realize who the real danger is to the country´s survival. Under this spectrum the name issue is not related to the political survival of the country but to the megaloma-nia of a certain political milieu. The issue is not a question of race purity but of acknowledging that the mistakes and impasses of the past can teach us a lot about our common future.


[1] "Tito´s New Issue", The New York Times, July 10, 1945
[2] "Yugoslavs Eye Salonica, Macedonia and Klagenfurt. Also Objectives--Soviet Helps to Build Up Tito's Army", The New York Times, November 17, 1946.
[3] "Sofia, Belgrade asked for Policy; American on U.N. Commission Wants Reply to Charges of Interference With Greece", The New York Times, March 16, 1947.
[4] "U.S. Report for Balkan Mission Indicts Yugoslavia and Bulgaria; Summary of U.N. Inquiry Evidence Points to Intervention in Greece -- Set-Up of Permanent Bor-der Board Likely", The New York Times, April 22, 1947.
[5] "Slav Macedonians Join Greek Rebels; Balkan Communist Radio Says Bulgarian, Albanian Reds Will Take Active Role", The New York Times, March 31, 1949.
[6] See George Voskopoulos, Greece, Common Foreign and Security Policy and the European Union: Interaction Within and Between a Zone of Peace and a Zone of Turmoil as an Explanatory Factor, PhD Thesis, Exeter University (UK), Centre for European Studies, 2001.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Commentators have the exclusive responsibility of their writings, the material that they mention, as well as and the opinions that they express.