‘Red lines’ on Skopje’s name still murky

At the recent NATO summit in Bucharest, Greece’s diplomats succeeded in the difficult task of having the resolution of the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) made a condition for its accession to NATO. Athens now has the situation in hand. Politically and formally, it has all the conditions it needs to impose a just, final solution in a debate that the majority of the Greek political elite had already considered a lost cause. The fact that it now has things its way does not mean, of course, that it will be ultimately successful. On the contrary, there are indications that in the final stretch it could lose what it gained in Bucharest. Although the government talks about «red lines,» it is by no means certain that these are clearly defined, since a large sector of the Greek political elite has only a superficial understanding of what is at risk here. They want another adjective to be added to the name «Macedonia» to satisfy the masses and to finish once and for all with an annoying issue. The policy of «a composite name with a geographical determiner for all uses» is correct, but the government is having second thoughts. The prime minister has been carefully avoiding any reference to a geographical determiner, obviously not wanting to rule out «New Macedonia,» which is being promoted by the West. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is talking about a geographical determiner, but, in doing so, she is abusing the Greek language. During a meeting with bloggers, she said that «New Macedonia» was a geographical term. She repeated her assertion when speaking in person to journalists, and again at the latest meeting of the Foreign Policy Council. What is extremely interesting is that PASOK’s Theodoros Pangalos hastened to go along with the trick of turning the word «new» into a geographical term. As both of these people speak fluent Greek, the only explanation is that they are laying the groundwork for an acceptance of «New Macedonia.» A few hours later, PASOK spokesman Giorgos Papaconstantinou stated the obvious: Speaking on television, he said that «new» is not a geographical term. Pressed for a comment and speaking on the same program, Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakis avoided the issue in a skillful diplomatic maneuver. This might seem like a finicky analysis, but nothing could be further from the truth. No contrast in ‘new’ «New Macedonia» had been suggested when the dispute began in 1992, to contrast with Ancient Macedonia. It was the time when the historical approach prevailed in Greece. The usurpation of the ancient Macedonian heritage by Skopje is extremely annoying, but the main issue is to do away with the geopolitical goal of trying to include the entire geographical area of Ancient Macedonia by means of the name. Greece recognizes the existence of a Slav-Macedonian ethnic entity and language, but not a Macedonian ethnic entity and language, for one very simple reason. In recent times, Macedonia has been multiethnic and not the homeland of one single ethnic entity. It belongs to three different states but it is not a «divided homeland.» It rejects Skopje’s view that FYROM is the only free part of Macedonia and that the other two parts are under Greek and Bulgarian occupation. «New Macedonia» is the wrong choice because it refers to the whole of (Ancient) Macedonia and not to a part of it. Therefore, it does not do away with the ideological concept of Macedonia, that is, the attempt by part of it (Slav-Macedonia) to usurp the whole (Macedonia). A geographical determiner is necessary in order to make it absolutely clear that Greece’s neighboring country is claiming just part of and not the entire area that was once Ancient Macedonia. The irony is that the term «New Macedonia» does not even do way with the usurpation of the historical heritage. Semantically, the adjective «new» suggests a revival, the existence of a connection and not a contrast. The names New York, New Zealand and New (Nea) Ionia were given by immigrants or refugees from British York, Dutch Zeeland and Ionia in Asia Minor. Taking an incredibly superficial approach, Athens appears ready to accept the term «New Macedonia.» If it does, it will have indirectly legitimized not only the usurpation of the historical heritage but also the Slav-Macedonians’ desire to expand into Greek Macedonia. Although our neighbors to the north do not have the power to threaten Greece, their expansionist ideas are enough to poison bilateral relations and be a destabilizing factor in the Balkans. The belief that «New Macedonia» is something that can be easily digested by the Greek public is opportunistic but not without foundation. However, the wrong solution will not take us very far, particularly if there is no provison that the composite name to be agreed upon by both sides will be FYROM’s new official name. No guarantee Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has stated that a composite name should be for all uses, but, at the same time, says that this would be guaranteed by the UN Security Council. In actual fact, the only thing the council can guarantee is that the composite name will be that which is printed on the country’s name card at international fora, and nothing more. The UN will not be able to force FYROM to use the compound name on home ground. Moreover, third countries will be able to use their own discretion in deciding whether to observe or ignore the Security Council’s non-binding stance with regard to bilateral relations with Skopje. Greece’s diplomats will be put in the difficult position of having to persuade other countries to adopt the new compound name in their bilateral relations with Skopje. Arguments will continue with the Slav-Macedonians over the name they will use in international activities. In other words, instead of getting rid of the problem, we will be perpetuating it in a different form. We will be trapped in a Sisyphean task, using up valuable diplomatic capital. If we are not to reach that point, we will have get to the root of the problem by ensuring that FYROM changes its constitution. The Security Council’s mandate, on which the negotiations are based, asks both sides to agree on a final name and not to find a name for international use. There can only be an agreement if both the major Slav-Macedonian political parties agree. If that happens, amending the constitution will not be a problem, since they have a parliamentary majority. The ethnic-Albanian parties have stated that they do not have any objection. That is the only way to make the Slav Macedonians make their own historic compromise. Greece cannot unilaterally impose a name change on another country, but its policy can make Skopje’s refusal a political choice with a high cost. Events are forcing the Slav Macedonians to realize that US support has its limits and that Athens holds the key to their country’s entry to European and Atlantic institutions. Greece has no cause to either rush or delay matters. The ball is in Skopje’s court. After the initial shock and angry reactions, their real dilemma is emerging – on the one hand their constitutional name and the fantasies of a «Greater Macedonia» that it represents, on the other the tangible benefits of access now to NATO, and in the future to the European Union. Negotiations will begin after the FYROM elections. The fact that the USA wants the country in NATO as fast as possible could grease the wheels in the UN mediation process. That could work in Greece’s favor if Athens makes clear to Washington just where its «red lines» lie. Straight talking is the only way to avoid getting tripped up or stepped on.