OPINION

Greece’s position on the Macedonia name dispute

What’s in a name? Here are a few comments on the Greek objection to FYROM acquiring the name «Macedonia,» and why Dora Bakoyannis is right to stand her ground. Ms Condoleezza Rice was recently quoted by your newspaper as saying «it would be a pity if something that has to do with antiquity were to get in the way of… a very important step for Macedonia and for NATO.» Unfortunately this statement illustrates yet again the propensity of the current US administration to make policy without reference to an understanding of reality. Greece’s Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is right to dismiss Ms Rice’s statement, as reported in your newspaper 31/03/08. The desire of the current US administration to leave some evidence of a positive legacy of itself through an expanded NATO – in the context of a string of foreign policy and domestic policy failures – appears to override any consideration of the local geopolitical impact of what it proposes. It is back-of-an-envelope policymaking overriding the issues of global and local peace and stability. From the mess made in the Middle East, to the potential mess in the Far East (North Korea and Taiwan), we find the US focus has now shifted back to Europe with the expansion of NATO and the provocative siting of missile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic as the main project of the moment. And the same sort of careless pushing through of decisions without concern for their implications is evident. The rash support for the declaration of independence of Kosovo is an additional case in point, as is the proposal to open negotiations for the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine within NATO. For Greece the issue of Macedonia is not to do with antiquity, but is very much to do with national identity and the formation of that national identity within well-defined borders during the 20th century. Greece might articulate an account of its historical status stretching back to antiquity as part of its own national ideology, but that is not the real point. At the risk of stating the obvious, let me expand on this point. The borders of the modern Greek state were not defined by antiquity and nor were they defined by the Greek revolution of 1821. They are a product of the first half of the 20th century carved out from the territories left behind by a contracting Ottoman Empire. Greek control of Thessaloniki was a product of the First Balkan War in 1912. The regions of northeastern Greece are a product of the Second Balkan War of 1913 and were confirmed as such by the Treaty of London which was then reconfirmed after the First World War by the Treaty of Versailles. Modern nationalism The territory of Macedonia, historically diverse in its ethnic composition, varying village by village over the whole region, has been throughout the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century an area of competition between Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek nationalism. The outcomes of the Second Balkan War and the First World War benefited the Greeks and Serbs at the expense of the Bulgarians. The Nazi occupation of the Balkans reciprocally benefited the Bulgarians in their control of large parts of the region and Eastern Thrace, only to be reversed by the outcome of the Second World War and the line drawing of the United Nations. Modern Macedonian nationalism is really a new phenomenon, which is the product of the regionalized structure of the post-1945 Yugoslavian state and its dissolution in the 1990s after the death of Tito and the delegitimization of communist ideology as an ideology of government throughout most of Europe. What’s in a name? It is a symbol of a new form of nationalism which needs to be contained as it carries with it the potential for geopolitical instability – of which historically the Balkans have had a bellyfull. When Antonio Milososki, the foreign minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), spoke in an interview with the US magazine Newsweek about Greece neglecting the rights of its «Macedonian minority,» it is understandable that the Greek government should be alarmed. A similar alarm is understandable in response to statements in support of a «Greater Albania» which followed the declaration of independence of Kosovo by some within Albania and Kosovo – feeling they now had big power backing (in the shape of the US), which is a familiar theme within Balkan politics and underlies much of the 19th and 20th century histories of the region. Clearly, the new tiny Macedonian state (FYROM) does not constitute a military threat to Greece, and prospectively bound within NATO there will be little scope for it to constitute any such threat. However, nationalism has a habit of overspilling its borders. It can generate unofficial activity with the emergence of splinter groups, appealing to populist sentiments, who are prepared to act independently of the state. This can certainly occur if there are supposed historical issues to settle. The history of the Balkans is littered with examples along these lines. What’s in a name? The Greek government’s concern is justified.
KEVIN WILLIAMSON, Aghia Paraskevi, Athens. As foreign minister, George Papandreou said that there is no room for sentimentality in foreign relations, nor, he might have added is there room for «right» or «wrong» on an issue. Greece being 100 percent right on the Skopje name issue is totally irrelevant. The only issue is whether Greece has attained the influence, the diplomatic sophistication, the power and the confidence to successfully project its position on the international stage.
PETER KYRIAKEAS-KIRK, Stoupa, Messinia.