The US Congress and the name deal

The US Congress and the name deal

In 2008, in a video sent around the world by the Pan-Macedonian Association of America, then president Nina Gatzoulis thanked about-to-be-elected Barack Obama for his original co-sponsorship of Senate Resolution 300 (S.Res.300) in the 110th Congress. S.Res. 300, authored by Senator Robert Menendez, became the basis for Greek-American advocacy on the Macedonian issue since then.

Senator Menendez held up the confirmation of president George W. Bush’s last ambassador to Skopje (which the Bush administration had already recognized as “Republic of Macedonia”) until it was agreed that he would present S.Res. 300 upon assuming his post. S.Res. 300 became the basis for fighting back congressional initiatives (legislation and letters) that supported Skopje’s accession to NATO.

It was used to help block the attempts to put Skopje on the agenda at the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, it helped the Greek-American community educate new members of Congress, and it continues to carry great weight: among its sponsors were a future president (Obama), secretary of state (John Kerry), Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman (Menendez), Senate minority leader (Chuck Schumer) and Senate majority whip (Dick Durbin).

What then did this Resolution provide for? It is clear from the outset: Expressing the sense of the Senate that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) should stop the utilization of materials that violate provisions of the United Nations-brokered Interim Agreement between FYROM and Greece regarding “hostile activities or propaganda” and should work with the United Nations and Greece to achieve longstanding United States and United Nations policy goals of finding a mutually-acceptable official name for FYROM.

S.Res. 300 goes on to admonish FYROM in several clauses. It reminds Skopje that the Interim Accord commits them to not “support claims to any part of the territory of the other party [Greece] or claims for a change of their existing frontiers” and to stop utilizing “propaganda, including in school textbooks.” S.Res. 300 went on to criticize practices like: teaching students in state-run schools that parts of Greece are rightfully part of FYROM; including maps of a “Greater Macedonia” in school textbooks; and renaming the capital city’s international airport “Alexander the Great Airport.”

Noting that these and other acts “instill hostility and a rationale for irredentism in portions of the population of FYROM toward Greece and the history of Greece,” S.Res. 300 urges FYROM to “review the contents of textbooks, maps, and teaching aids to ensure such tools are stating accurate information” and “urges FYROM to work with Greece [to reach] a mutually-acceptable official name for FYROM.”

So, how did the agreement struck between prime ministers Alexis Tsipras of Greece and Zoran Zaev of FYROM measure up against S.Res. 300? It is difficult – if not altogether impossible – to attack the deal under what has been the centerpiece of Hellenic advocacy on the Macedonian issue over the last decade.

Imagine if the sponsors of this legislation were looking at a checklist in order to evaluate whether the goals of S.Res. 300 were achieved. Change of name? Check (Article 1). Disavowal of irredentist claims against Greek territory? Check (Articles 3 and 4). Ending propaganda and irredentist sentiments? Check (Article 6). Reviewing textbooks and maps? Check (Article 8). Reversing the provocative practice of public projects (like the airport and monuments) usurping Hellenic history? Check (Article 8, existing Confidence Building Measures).

As the sponsors and supporters of S.Res. 300 reach out to us and ask for an evaluation of the Tsipras-Zaev agreement, do we tell them that their efforts succeeded? Intellectual honesty would require that we point out that the aims of S.Res. 300 are met by this agreement.

We are then left with one of two choices: we can say, “Just kidding, we wanted something more/different than S.Res. 300, we just never told you,” or “While the letter of the law (that is, the specific requirements of S.Res. 300) was met, there are other provisions in the agreement that undermine the spirit of S.Res. 300.”

Either of these answers potentially undermines the diaspora’s credibility on this issue, a credibility that is further strained if it seems that we are at cross purposes with the Embassy of Greece in the United States and other Greek diplomats at the UN and at Greek consulates.

There is still a road to go – the Zaev government has to deliver ratification by its Parliament, a successful referendum and constitutional changes before Greece’s Parliament ratifies the deal – before one can properly assess that Skopje is a genuine negotiating partner.

Even after that ratification, NATO accession has to be fully negotiated and passed by every NATO parliament, including Greece’s. The proper thing to demand of our champions in Congress would seem to be: “It looks like the aims of S.Res. 300 are set to be achieved. Help us keep the pressure on FYROM to honor its commitments under this agreement.”

Endy Zemenides is the executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council.

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