Greece looks toward Europe in grappling with American recognition of ‘Macedonia’

Poor management by successive Greek governments and the fact that most of the international community already refers to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as Macedonia does not cancel out Greece’s irritation at the American decision to recognize FYROM «by its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia.» The sudden development last week has compelled the Greek government to expedite the dialogue with its neighbor, a process that Athens had wanted to reactivate for some months under a UN aegis in order to find a mutually acceptable solution to the FYROM name issue. The bilateral dialogue, which had begun following the intermediate solution of 1995, did not appear to produce any results. It looked like the search for a solution had been silently postponed to the distant future, when time would have softened Skopje’s inflexibility. Greece’s desire to improve bilateral relations and even provide economic assistance to FYROM has had no effect on the behavior of the neighbor’s government. In such a climate, and with talks apparently at a standstill, certain moments proved decisive in bringing matters to their present state. One was the signing of a bilateral agreement between Washington and Skopje, one provision of which exempted the US from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Skopje agreed to this controversial insistence by the US, in exchange for gaining official American recognition in that document as the Republic of Macedonia. That took place on June 30, 2003, when Greece’s EU presidency was ending and Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou were visiting Washington. Press reports at the time said Papandreou was being briefed by telephone up until the last minute by the American ambassador to Athens, Thomas Miller. The Greek reaction, as reported then, was an official protest and later a letter from Papandreou to his US counterpart Colin Powell, in which he simply «raised the issue» according to a State Department communique. A document in the files of the FYROM Foreign Ministry, dated December 1998, shows that at least one agreement between FYROM and NATO («Basic Agreement for the operation of NATO Missions in Macedonia») bears the name «Republic of Macedonia.» There were many other occasions on which FYROM was recognized by its «constitutional name.» Examples include: in 1995, Oman, Singapore; 1996: Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Qatar, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Sudan, Rwanda, Nicaragua, Honduras; 1997: Kuwait, Mozambique, Tanzania, Djibouti, Guinea; 1998: Nepal; 1999: Congo, Taiwan, Chad; 2000: Cuba, Burundi, Uganda; 2001: China (following a break of a few years due to bilateral problems), Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Mauritius; 2002: Iraq; 2003: Jamaica, Nigeria, East Timor. Clearly none of the above-mentioned cases has the gravity of recognition by the US, but they do indicate not only the climate that had developed internationally at a time when Greece had its attention elsewhere, but also Athens’s inability – or lack of will – to react to such actions by states with which it has traditionally had friendly relations (such as Cuba, China and Mexico). Now Athens, surprised and upset by the American move (which Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis dubbed a «clumsy and unfortunate action»), has lodged an official protest with the US and has turned to Europe. Having apparently secured the support of its partners, it seems determined to stop there, while simultaneously attempting to complete the dialogue as soon as possible with FYROM so as to find a mutually agreeable solution. If all else fails, one final means of pressure may be to warn that if such a solution is not found, Greece will not consent to FYROM’s accession to the EU or NATO. Headaches at home Until then, the government will have to deal with harsh criticism at home, chiefly from PASOK. That has been a headache for Maximos Mansion and the Foreign Ministry. «As a Greek diplomat, I think I can express the views of all my fellow diplomats, in saying that I feel much stronger, much more certain about the effectiveness of our efforts when I know that the national front in Greece is unbroken,» Foreign Ministry spokesman G. Koumoutsakos said last week. Though the front is far from unbroken, its resistance will be sorely tested on Wednesday, when the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meets for a thorough briefing by Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis. On the agenda for the meeting are not only the FYROM issue but also Cyprus, developments in Greek-Turkish relations and Greek policy on Ankara’s EU prospects.