Sunday 8 June 2008
The Agreement was signed in New York on 13 September 1995 and was the fruit of an internationally guided mediation to establish tangible confidence-building measures (CBMs), in order to facilitate the process towards a final agreement to be reached at a later stage. It consisted of 23 articles, aiming at setting the groundwork and political framework for a definite settlement of the name issue. The most important articles of the Agreement aimed at:
- Having both parties declare that they did not have any territorial claims whatsoever and that the existing borders between the signatories were recognised as permanent and undisputed (Article 2) .
- Committing both signatories to respect the territorial integrity of one another (Article 3).
Ensuring that both signatories would refrain from using violence or the threat of using violence in resolving their differences, thus respecting the dictates of the United Nations Charter (Article 3).
- Having both signatories proceed with their talks, under the auspices of the United Nations General Secretary, towards a final agreement, concerning the name of the newly-established state.
- Having the first signatory (FYROM) declare officially that its Constitution (particularly Article 3) can in no way be interpreted in such a way that could raise any territorial claims against the second signatory (Greece) .
- Having the first signatory (FYROM) declare officially that its Constitution as a whole, and Article 49 in particular (as it has been modified), sets no basis for any irredentist claims whatsoever (Article 6).
- Having FYROM remove all symbols (i.e. the Vergina star, the White Tower in Thessaloniki) from its flag and declare that it would not interfere in Greek domestic affairs.
Article 2 aimed at safeguarding the territorial status, too, but this remained mainly a rhetoric wish, as the vision for a united Slav-Macedonia was only indirectly dealt with. The long and continuous dream of uniting geographical Macedonia still remains the fundamental national cause of the neighboring country, an aim supported by the Diaspora in Canada and Australia.
Article 3 set the institutional and conflict resolution framework within which both states had to operate to resolve the dispute. Use of violence of threat of use of violence was eradicated, at least verbally, as a means of conflict resolution, although neither signatories had in the past expressed any violent trends.
The fourth aim of the Interim Accord may be interpreted as an effort to set the conflict resolution process within commonly acceptable, official channels, under the mediation of the UN Secretary General. However, what the Interim Accord failed to set a time ceiling in the conflict resolution process, a fact that allowed both parties to procrastinate. Skopje adopted an uncompromising policy and supported Macedonianism in order to support irredentism. The political elite in FYROM had no reasons to compromise, even on a compound name bearing a clear geographical definition, which could accommodate both sides. This hardened FYROM’s positions, as there was practically no obligation whatsoever to put an end to interminable talks.
Eventually the Greek side overlaid the political commitment of its original decision not to accept the use of the term “Macedonia” and made a critical step towards conflict resolution. In the process the Greek side adopted a drastically revised policy and today appears willing to adopt a name that does not exclude the term “Macedonia”. However, the proposed name should have a clear geographical definition to distinguish it from Greek Macedonia, the diachronic target of nationalists in FYROM.
The link between the term “Macedonia” and Greek Macedonia is important to nationalistic propaganda in Skopje and this explains the rejection of any ethnic link with the clearly Slavic element of FYROM. Purging national identity from its Slavic past became the second line of propaganda in the hands of nationalists in FYROM. Under this spectrum, the use of the term Slav was evaluated as a “derogatory” term, an “insult” or a sign of “racism”. The view was publicly advertised with a letter to the editor of The Economist , which eventually constituted an affront to Slavs. There is logic behind this conscious choice of de-linking national identity from its Slavic origins. A distinguished, “pure” Macedonian identity along with historical claims facilitates irredentist propaganda against Greek Macedonia.
Despite the resolution framework set by the Interim Agreement, the name issue was not regulated in a way that provided ways of finding a mutually acceptable solution within sensible time limits. The Agreement lacked “carrots”, a fact that allowed signatories to procrastinate to reach a definite solution of the issue.
With the Interim Accord, the Greek side managed to have FYROM’s Constitution interpreted in a way that does not, at least verbally, challenge the territorial status. Yet, the Agreement did not regulate nor controlled the irredentist activities of political parties in the country, individuals or NGOs conducted from Skopje or abroad.
Regarding the use of symbols, the Accord provided for the removal of those symbols associated with Greek history and Greek territorial sovereignty, such as the Vergina Star, that implied association of Slav-Macedonians with Greek territory, namely Greek Macedonia. For Slav Macedonians these were negotiable issues that could be given away in order to support the main cause of the dispute, that is the name.
On the practical level both nations need to accommodate the dispute through a win-win approach. There are no superior or blessed nations in the region. The sociologically-oriented approach to national identity issues as recently publicised by an America researcher is highly problematic since it is formulated in a vacuum of scrutinizing political expediency, political aims and above all security implications. These views mainly stem from clear ideological and idiosyncratic beliefs of those who try to balance Slav Macedonian irredentism with a process of questioning Greek national identity. At times the role of intellectuals or alleged intellectuals has been non-facilitating. According to Maria Todorova “the role and record of Southeast European intellectuals vis-a-vis intra-Balkan cooperation has been diverse, complex and contradictory”.
There are nations and political milieu haunted by outdated great idea, expansionist beliefs that destabilize the Balkans. These fall within the ontological and epistemological scope of an international relations scholar. Unfortunately they have been exploited by intruding actors in order to serve their geopolitical expedience and great power antagonism. The issue at hand is not history but stability. History is just a means to an end, that is revisionism.
In 2002 I asked professor Maria Todorova, one of the leading Bulgarian historians of the region and a great scholar of high calibre to make a comment on my long-established view that the Balkans and their peoples have been used as a political guinea pig by the great powers of the past. Her answer was “yes and yes. Southeastern Europe has been more often than not a subject of power plays completely extraneous to the interests of its inhabitants rather than an agent of its own fate, and there is overwhelming evidence to support that. The whole historiography dealing with Southeastern Europe from the Eastern Question until today illustrates this abundantly and unambiguously, no matter whether it is written by Balkan nationals or outsiders. The issue is not in doubting these propositions but in how to deal with this predicament in the most flexible way and how to articulate it so as to avoid at least two disastrous consequences.”
When the political establishment in Skopje manages to turn this view into the axis of the country’s international mode of behavior, the Balkans will be safer from foreign interference. Yet, this security premium presupposes the existence of a functioning democracy and an advanced political system as well as the application of the rule of law.
The recent elections in FYROM illustrated blatantly that Greece and its operating as a defender of the territorial status is not the only “hurdle” in FYROM’s course to EU and NATO membership. The most critical issue is the democratization of the political system in FYROM. The EU, the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent worrying signals on the recent electoral process. It is clear that emancipation from past practices is the first prerequisite for entering NATO and the EU.
Plato and his writings may provide a useful base of analysis of the current situation in the region. The social evils he described depicted the problems of the time, namely disunity, incompetence and violence. He wrote about society and the state looking for principles. Political elites in FYROM could learn a lot from Plato’s writings by focusing on their prescriptive basis. Yet, it seems that time and the healing process has had no effect on the views of a limited core of political vampires that jeopardize the very survival of their country and lead their people to isolation. These are the Balkan ghosts of the past we all need to ostracize in the same way ancient Greeks did. This is an act of valor, a process of immunizing local societies against self-destructing policies and incompetent leaders. It is a fundamental prerequisite for stability, peace, development and inter-Balkan cooperation.
 This was in line with the EU decisions taken ever since 1991
 This term satisfied one of the first Greek demands set in 1991 by the inter-party conference.
 See “Slav or not?”, The Economist, August 2001, p. 22. See also the analysis in George Voskopoulos, Greek Foreign Policy, from the 20th to the 21st Century, Papazisis publishers, Athens, 2005 (publication in Greek).