Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Skopje’s Summer Follies: Enough Please Nikola!

Author: Haps Borgen
1 September 2008

Was anybody really paying attention? After all, the summer’s activities included a serious flare-up in the Caucasus, the Beijing Olympics, the true start of the US 2008 election campaign, and the arrest of Radovan Karadzic and his removal to The Hague for trial.

Nevertheless, the summer follies in the FYROM’s capital included a heavy dose of barely disguised Slavo-Macedonian irredentism, apparently aimed at shifting the centre of discussion from the FYROM name negotiations (which Skopje knows it can not win on its terms) to the broader issue of some kind of “Macedonian” (and here they mean Slavic) cultural or linguistic entity.

Rubbish. Fortunately, most of the Greek government and the Commission in Brussels dismissed outright PM Nikola Gruevski’s torrent of letters and representations about his alleged “Macedonian” ethnicity and Greece’s alleged mistreatment of ethnic “Macedonians” and their properties (since Greece considers Macedonians to be Greeks, this is quite novel.) Cooler heads prevailed, with many analysts concluding these tactics were aimed at Gruevski’s domestic constituency.

It is truly excellent news that most of Europe quickly dismissed these inflammatory tactics coming out of Skopje. The Greek side was clearly not looking to exacerbate the problems, and the summer vacation period in both countries kept tempers well below the danger zone. There were only a few reports of trouble with tourist movements from either country visiting the other.

Washington did little to help, at least publically. These FYROMacedonian identity/ethnicity/property problems bandied about by PM Gruevski unfortunately took on more significance than they otherwise would have received since the “Macedonian ethnicity” issue has been accepted by the US State Department’s famed Balkan wizards as meritorious. This is of course thanks to acting Under Secretary of State Daniel Fried’s strong tilt in favor of Skopje since the failed April 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit. After ultra-nationalist PM Gruevski was re-elected in June as a result of Skopje’s troubled general elections, he somehow believed he still had Washington’s support for his irredentist agenda, instead of focusing carefully on UNmediated name talks still being managed by Matthew Nimetz.

We can only hope there will be a serious new attempt by Skopje to deal with the substance of the name dispute. It seems Athens remains ready to talk, but this can not be guaranteed forever in the face of continuing irredentist provocations from Skopje. Reports have surfaced of a US-sponsored plan to be hammered out in the presence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when all interested parties converge in New York for the UN General Assembly session later in September. Rumors of Skopje’s agreement to change its Constitutional Name (Republic of Macedonia,) after an adjustment period, were quickly dismissed by US sources. Meanwhile, FYROM officials were scurrying about the US, with FM Antonio Milososki attending the recent Democratic National Convention in Denver and PM Gruevski slated to attend the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis- St. Paul this week. Stay tuned, there is still time for another (desperate) act before Skopje loses its remaining best friends in Washington.

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