Tuesday, July 01, 2008

US Senators block the nomination of the ambassador Philip Reeker designate to FYROM

Two U.S. Senators block the nomination of the ambassador designate to Skopje.

A move is seen as a warning from Greek Lobby, while FYROMʼs leadership speaks about a “Macedonian minority” in Greece

Washington, D.C. By Apostolos Zoupaniotis

The nomination process of the ambassador designate to Skopje Philip Reeker was put on hold on Wednesday by two members of the Senate who decided to stay anonymous. The move is seen as a strong message from the Greek Lobby to Bush administration, to change position in the dispute of Greece and FYROM over the name issue, but also be positive in other issues of major concern for the community.

Greek News had pointed out last week that Philip Reekerʼs testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee didnʼt satisfy many of its members.

Reeker had said “We do not consider that the dispute between Athens and Skopje over Macedoniaʼs name should have prevented Macedonia from receiving an invitation”.

He has also refused to offer his comments on some of the provocations of the leadership of Skopje, such as the renaming of their airport “Alexander the Great”.

The hold placed by the two senators will delay his confirmation for after the 9th of July and possibly after the end of August.

Greek American leaders such as Andy Manatos of the Coordinating Effort of Hellenes, and Tasos Zambas, Alternate president of PSEKA, were working last week informing members of Congress on the issue.

Greek News was unable to receive any official statement on the issue.

“We do not know who has a hold, it is each Senatorʼs purview to decide whether they want to publicize holds” , a senior aide to a U.S. Senator told us.

In the months followed the Greek veto in Bucharest, both the U.S. – Greek relations and the relations between the two foreign ministers remain strained.

“We do want to send a clear message to Bush administration, to change its policy vis-à-vis Greece an Cyprus. We hope the same for the McCain campaign”, a Greek American involved with lobby told Greek News.

Greek American community felt betrayed when President Bush decided to recognize Skopje as the “Republic of Macedonia” four days after the 2004 presidential election.


  1. Barack and the Balkans

    Barack Obama is in the news in the Balkans. Not because of his wonderful speeches on race and fatherhood, or because he confounded the pundits to win the presidential nomination against an overriding favorite, but because of a brief statement inserted in a Greek language Voice of America (VOA) interview on June 16. In the interview, the Greek narrator-interviewer, George Bistis, quoted a Senate resolution that Obama had co-signed:

    The Resolution expresses the sense of the senate that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should stop propaganda that violates the interim accord between Athens and Skopje with hostile action and collaborate with Greece to achieve the common goal of finding a mutually acceptable name for the Republic. (my translation)

    The video at the VOA website leaves it unclear whether Obama was even in the room when this sentence was spoken. Obama shows no sign that he heard it and makes no comment, and, the English transcript not only omits the resolution but passes over the entire topic of the Republic of Macedonia: an intriguing omission.

    English transcript:

    Greek transcript:


    Obama certainly co-signed the Senate resolution -- nearly a year ago, in August 2007 (http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=sr110-300). A glance at the Congressional Record reminds us that politicians sign many such resolutions, often to please constituents. Speaking in public is far different matter, and it is noteworthy that Obama apparently did not mention the resolution this May, even though it was dominating the news in Greece, and that George Bistis did not raise the matter.

    Undeterred by these mysteries, one Greek newspaper attributed the words in the resolution to Obama himself, intimating that he’d uttered them in May, 2008. This news spread quickly through the Balkans, where relations between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia remain tense. In both states, people quickly concluded that Obama will favor Greece if he is elected.
    That is an unfortunate inference. The Senate resolution is inflammatory, tilting the balance in favor of Greece and placing blame in a way that will appeal to some parties without bringing progress or benefiting Greece in the long run. The resolution is also factually problematic. I will review the problems and then suggest strategic reasons for Greece to de-emphasize the name issue.
    Let’s start with the “Interim Accord” the Republic of Macedonia is accused of “violating”:


    The two countries signed the Accord in 1995. It contains few specifics, but commits both parties to “refrain … from the threat or use of force,” to respect “existing frontiers,” “to prohibit hostile activities or propaganda” and “not to intervene in the internal affairs of the other.” Both parties agreed to “continue negotiations” on the name of the new state, to “carry out normal trade and commerce,” to work on “visas, work permits, ‘green-card’ insurance, air space transit and economic cooperation,” and to cooperate on environmental issues, border formalities and to improve “business and tourist travel.”

    The Senate Resolution charges Macedonia with only three specific “hostile activities”:

    - “a television report … that parts of Greece, including Greek Macedonia, are rightfully part of FYROM”;

    - “some textbooks [with] maps showing that a `Greater Macedonia' extends many miles south into Greece…”;

    - the renaming of the Skopje international airport “Alexander the Great Airport”;

    The resolution calls these “acts” “a breach of FYROM's international obligations” and “a rationale for irredentism.” (“Irredentism,” the drive to recapture lost territories, is the “third rail” of any system resting on state sovereignty – if it can be proven.)

    We can put the “airport name” issue aside at once. The two countries have sparred regularly over their relation to ancient Macedonia and its major leaders, Phillip and Alexander the Great, and the scholarly evidence remains unclear about ancient Macedonians’ ethnicity and language. Skopje’s airport is just another skirmish in a “naming war” over the past fifteen years that has been mildly irritating, sometimes tedious, and essentially harmless. The Senate resolution ignores Greek forays in this confrontation:
    - Thessaloniki, Greece, changed its own airport name from “Mikra” to “Macedonia” in the early 1990s (as reported by political scientist Nikolaos Zahariades);
    - Greece christened a navy frigate “Macedonia"
    - Greece created the “state-run Macedonian News Agency.”
    - Signs throughout Greece proclaim, “Macedonia is Greece,” and travelers entering Greece from the Republic reportedly encounter a large billboard proclaiming, “Welcome to the Real Macedonia.”
    Which is to say that “What is Macedonia?” is being contested in both states on a verbal and visual level. On a slightly higher level, Greek state actions this spring have also caused concern:
    - a Greek officer disrupted a recent NATO exercise by ordering soldiers from the Republic to strip national identification from their uniforms;
    - Athens airport refused to allow the president of Macedonia to land to attend an international conference because his airplane bore the insignia of Macedonian Airlines;
    - before allowing truckers to return to the Republic, Greek border guards forced truckers to clean garbage on the highway.
    So there are plenty of provocations (though no violence) on both sides, and they’ll doubtless continue until progress is made on NATO and European Union membership.

    The Interim Accord’s stipulations on visas and travel in the Interim Accord are standing jokes: few people from the Republic are permitted to enter Greece each year, and there are no direct flights at all between Athens and Skopje.

    Finally, the term “rationale for irredentism” though it raises ancient and recent fears of invasion and conflict, is nonsense.

    First, border issues are more blurred than official Greek policy admits. While “the Greek narrative … considers the existence of a Macedonian minority within Greece to be a manifestation of Macedonian irredentism” (as one scholar phrased it in the Journal of Modern Greek Studies), anthropologists regularly report meeting bilingual villagers who acknowledge being “Albanian” or “Slavic.”

    Second, there are numerous refugees from the Greek Civil War in the Republic, but they are far likelier to make claims at the European Court of Human Rights than to engage in irredentist violence. The Greek government policy of denying return to families that left Greece during the Civil War and were “deprived of their citizenship” heightens this likelihood. As Peter Mackridge and Eleni Yannakakis report, Greek law since the 1980s permitted them to return “only if they can prove that they are ‘Greek by origin’ (i.e. ethnically Greek).”

    Third, Macedonia is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with one-quarter of the population of Greece, serious internal challenges (an influx of refugees from Kosovo), and a per capita GDP of $8,000 versus Greece’s $29,000. It would be foolhardy to attempt any “irredentist” activity against a large and powerful neighbor, and noone I met in the Republic of Macedonia this spring expressed any desire for armed conflict.

    Why United States senators should get involved on one side of this, is a question best answered by the senators. (The “hold” placed on the appointment of an ambassador to the Republic by two senators in June, 2008 is a step in the wrong direction.)

    In 1991, the Republic of Macedonia kept the name it had used under Tito, simply removing its affiliation with the federation that was Yugoslavia. This was a peaceful transition, achieved without a shot being fired (contrast Bosnia and Croatia). Greece immediately sought to destabilize the impoverished Republic and force a name change, ultimately imposing a crippling trade embargo that ran for 20 months in 1994-95 and cut off two-thirds of the new state’s oil: ironically, the state that claims to fear “irredentist” assault thus committed the only truly bellicose act in the past 17 years. The embargo backfired, cementing solidarity within the Republic and earning Greece the contempt of many European states, while achieving none of its goals. This led to the Interim Accords of 1995.
    Even though a Greek deputy Foreign Minister stated in 1993 that "the name issue has been lost. . . . There is no need to discuss it any further,” and a Greek diplomat was recalled in 2007 for saying “that “Greece has to face the new reality, as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been recognized under its constitutional name by more than half of the members of the United Nations,” the Greek foreign ministry remains adamant. In the Republic, there is less willingness now to change the name than when Greece rejected “New Macedonia” in the early 1990s. In short, Greece may have miscalculated. Hundreds of years of occupation by Ottoman Turks, Serbs, Bulgarians and Greeks who suppressed local customs and language have ended, and the Republic of Macedonia has established its identity. One friend reports:
    My grandfather in his life lived in 4 states: Kingdom of Yugoslavia, occupied Macedonia under Bulgarian rule, then [Tito’s] Yugoslavia and finally in the Republic of Macedonia. Four states, four different political systems in one man's life, who never resided outside of my hometown. Different occupying forces were changing his name in official documents [three times] then finally his true name. The Bulgarians were especially cruel to him. After his high school teacher told him to stop speaking in Macedonian, he slapped her and left school to join the partisans, then they caught him and tortured him in prison for several months... he was only seventeen ... so whatever Bulgarians, or any other neighbor, say on the Macedonian identity directly contradicts what our ancestors have told us. Therefore, no attempt to transform the identity of people living here can be successful- it can only strengthen it!
    Statehood is significant. Greece is understandably strict about its own borders and its sovereignty, but sovereignty is a two-way street. When did a European state last try to dictate the name of a neighbor? The area of the Republic of Macedonia has been on the maps as part of “Macedonia” for centuries, and the Republic has simply taken the step of declaring – and more importantly, maintaining – its independence. The name signals no “irredentist” goals, and a Greece truly concerned about peace will recognize that embargoes, blockades, threats and one-sided Senate resolutions bring a higher risk of hostility than does a claimed nomenclatural affront.
    Fears and Anxieties

    At a deeper level, however, “nomenclatural affront” ignores the depth of Greek concern. To say that “Republic of Macedonia” goes back to 1945, and that it is likely to be the only state in Europe to use the name “Macedonia,” is
    merely to underline irreconcilable differences that go back a century and that have engraved themselves in the consciousness of most residents of the Balkans.

    In the early 1900s, as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, conflicts broke out along religious, ethnic, linguistic, geographical and class lines. The Thessaloniki historians Basil Gounaris and Ioannis Michailides have chronicled these events, admirably capturing the pressures faced by all sides. National aspirations played a role in the bloody uprisings beginning in 1903, the two Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, World War I, the disastrous Greek occupation of western Turkey, the Greek dictatorship of 1936-1940, and then World War II and the Civil War. Parts of the Republic of Macedonia and of northern Greece were seized at different times by Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians, each imposing their own language and culture. Many Slavic speakers of northern Greece, oppressed in the 1930s, were attracted by Tito’s offer of separatism in the 1940s. This would have split the current Greek state: instead, many Slavic speakers were defeated and driven out, while others were “assimilated,” forcefully and otherwise, back into Greece.

    Cultural memory is powerful. It was only sixty years ago that the Communist side in the Civil War aimed to seize Thessaloniki. Absurd as it is today, the threat of invasion from the north continues to frighten Greeks – or, more accurately, some Greek groups continue to employ it to frighten and moilize Greeks. The Greek foreign ministry has fanned the flames with its own incessant talk of “irredentism.” But in reality, the threatened nation is the Republic of Macedonia, against which Milosevic threatened occupation and Greece imposed an embargo.

    From this point of view, efforts at compromise and conflict resolution are worth considering. What these might be, and whether they might include the name of the Republic, the parties concerned will have to decide.
    What Next?
    American politicians and the Greek foreign ministry seem intent on portraying the two states at daggers drawn. A far different vision arises from a review of recent economic history. As a Greek friend reports about the Republic of Macedonia: “Greece is its number one investor (over $1 billion) and also a significant trade
    partner. Thessaloniki is its port of convenience.” Greek businessmen don’t seem frightened in the least, and they fly into the country as I did, on packed airplanes via Sofia and Istanbul. As another Greek acquaintance worries, some of the investment – buying up marble quarries, banks, and possibly railroads – may have an exploitative side: assets are fairly in the Republic. But the figures remain significant.
    Commercial relations will doubtless continue to grow. Could the balance swing toward greater equality? That is hard to answer, but it is hard not to think about the growing importance of water. Increasingly, the southernmost parts of Europe are requiring water subsidies. “Swaths of southeast Spain are steadily turning into desert, a process spurred on by global warming and poorly planned development. Murcia [faces] new pressures on the land and its dwindling supply of water…., farmers are fighting developers over water rights. They are fighting one another over who gets to water their crops. And in a sign of their mounting desperation, they are buying and selling water like gold on a rapidly growing black market, mostly from illegal wells.” (Elisabeth Rosenthal, “In Spain, Water is a New Battleground,” New York Times, June 8, 2006)
    Looking eastward, we learn that “Greece is one of the driest countries in Europe. Water reserves have fallen by about 30 percent in Athens, where half of the country's population of 10 million lives, and are at their lowest level in five years,…” (Niki Kitsantonis, “Greece struggles with water shortage,” International Herald Tribune, August 3, 2007) And Greece has now taken on the added responsibility of selling water to drought-ridden Cyprus. (“Greece shipping water to Cyprus,” Cyprus Mail, June 15, 2008) Meantime, the BBC has reported on nitrates and other contaminants in the Greek water supply, and on the demands posed by the expansion of water-intensive cotton farming since 1980 (Tamsin Smith, BBC News, September 14, 2004).
    Greece will continue to require water not only for drinking but for irrigation and hydroelectric power, which in 2007 was down to half the level of 2006. (Electric power is undergoing strains throughout the southern Balkans.)

    Finally, there is the urgent need to clean up waterways. The Vardar – Axios River, which flows into the Aegean near Thessaloniki, is badly polluted with lead and other products of Tito-era industrialization. If Greece is to derive the full benefit of this river, two-state collaboration is badly needed.

    In short, there is a good argument that in years to come, Greece may become not the antagonist, but the partner and even the beneficiary of the state to the north. That is one more reason to recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of Macedonia under whatever name works best, to put aside misleading “resolutions” that resolve nothing, and to continue the entry of Balkan states into NATO and the European Union.
    Daniel Tompkins
    Gounaris, Basil G. “From Peasants into Urbanites, from Village into Nation: Ottoman Monastir in the Early Twentieth Century.” European History Quarterly 31.1 (2001) 43-63.

    Gounaris, Basil G. “Social Cleavages And National ‘Awakening’ In Ottoman Macedonia.” East European Quarterly 29 (1996) 409-26.

    Green, Sarah F. Notes from the Balkans: Locating Marginality and Ambiguity
    on the Greek-Albanian Border. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005

    Hart, Laurie Kain, with Kestrina Budina.. “Northern Epiros: The Greek Minority in Southern Albania.” Cultural Survival Quarterly 19.2 (1995) 54-63.

    Kalyvas, Stathis. The Logic of Violence in Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
    Karakasidou, Anastasia N. Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

    Peter Mackridge and Eleni Yannakakis, editors, Ourselves and Others. The Development of a Greek Macedonian Cultural Identity Since 1912. Oxford and New York: Berg, 1997.

    Michailides, Iakovos. “On the Other Side of the River: The Defeated Slavophones and Greek History,” in Jane K. Cowan, editor, Macedonia. The Politics of Identity and Difference. London: Pluto Press, 2000. Pp. 68-84.
    Roudometof, Victor. “Nationalism and Identity Politics in the Balkans: Greece and the Macedonian Question.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 14.2 (1996) 253-301.

    Zahariades, Nicholas. “Nationalism and Small-State Foreign Policy: the Greek Response to the Macedonian Issue.” Political Science Quarterly 109.4 (1999)

    Zahariades, Nicholas. “Greek Policy toward the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 1991-1995.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 14.2 (1996) 303-327.

  2. I believe Macedonia in Ohio should also change its name. It should be called "Former US Ohio City of Macedonia" - FUSOM. All of the FUSOM's citizens can themselves anything apart from Macedonians.

  3. Finaly someone reporting the truth about the Republic of Macedonia! Go on Dan!


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