Saturday

19th Jan 2019

Opinion

Opportunity not to be missed in Greece-Macedonia row

  • A long-running row over the ex-Yugolsav republic of Macedonia's name - which it shares with a region of neighbouring Greece, shows that words matter in EU politics (Photo: Robert Thomson)

The naming dispute between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia that has raged for almost three decades must be resolved.

There are several reasons why the current opportunity, presented by the renewed UN-mediated negotiations between the two countries and encouraged by the US and the EU, should not be missed.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Firstly, Greece's contentions in the dispute are or have become illegitimate.

Greece continues to argue, on the official level, that its major objection is Macedonia's "irredentism".

While it is true that several statements by Macedonian officials, as well as certain provisions in the Macedonian constitution, did justify such a concern in the past, this is no longer the case.

The current government in Macedonia has gone to great lengths to dismantle the so-called 'Antiquisation' programme that was pursued by its predecessor, and has openly repudiated any claim on the history that Greece considers its own heritage.

As for the constitution, it is simply not true that it continues to include irredentist references. On the contrary, after its amendments, it includes an explicit rejection of any claim to foreign territory.

Greece has in substance accepted that its neighbour's "composite name" will include the term "Macedonia".

Therefore, continued insistence on a non-existent "irredentism" serves no purpose except pandering to a nationalistic segment of Greek public opinion.

The same is true about denying the existence of a Macedonian nation. The Macedonian national movement has been documented since the last years of the 19th century, and people that self-identify as ethnic Macedonians have been around for at least as long.

Secondly, Greek policy towards its northern neighbour through the years - including a trade embargo in the 1990s - has been devastating to Macedonia's economy, and continually hinders its chances for stability and prosperity.

Greece has in reality no reason to consider the Republic of Macedonia as a threat.

A country that has only 20 percent of the population of Greece and virtually no military forces cannot reasonably be considered a security concern.

Immoral

Continuing to obstruct Macedonia's prospects of development and international relations is simply a re-channeling of other threats and humiliations (for example, dissatisfaction with EU-imposed austerity or concern over the deteriorating relationship with Turkey) into a conflict with a weaker adversary that Greece feels it has the power to bully with impunity.

This is immoral.

Thirdly, the current government of the Republic of Macedonia has come to power through a process of public involvement and through the disillusionment of a large part of the voters with the extreme nationalist policies of the past.

A failure in the negotiations now will be a severe blow to the momentum that more moderate and more democratic policies currently enjoy.

And it is not just international relations that will suffer as a result. The internal progressive policies with regard to civil and minority rights, that this government was elected to promote, will also be endangered. Greece has no reason, as a democratic country, to wish for that to happen.

It is true that the main thrust behind the restart of the negotiations now has not been the desire of either Greece or Macedonia to correct past mistakes, but rather the on-going project of NATO consolidation in the Western Balkans.

It started with the admission of Slovenia into the alliance, and continued with Albania and Croatia, and finally with Montenegro. Macedonia has long endeavoured to be admitted to NATO, and it seems that this is now the next step, provided that Greece lifts its objections, which it will only do if the naming dispute is resolved.

It is no secret that this euro-Atlantic policy is pursued with some urgency in the face of deteriorating relations between the West and Russia, as well as increasing Chinese economic expansion.

This is also reflected in the European Commission's determination to integrate the Western Balkans into the Union by 2025. Greece has aligned itself with these policies.

Some argue that small countries have no reason to get involved in the grand designs of major powers, and that an entanglement with NATO's anti-Russian preparations brings the threat of war closer, rather than ensure security.

While this can be a legitimate discussion - particularly considering the track record of past Nato intervention - it should be disconnected from the issue of the naming dispute with Macedonia.

Nato has its reasons for encouraging a resolution, but Greece should have its own reasons, which I briefly set out here, for ending the dispute.

An insistence on discussing the issue under the weight of concerns about Nato policy leads to a curious coupling of anti-imperialism and nationalistic chauvinism that is regressive and reactionary.

It should not be allowed to dominate the public debate.

Augustine Zenakos is a journalist based in Athens

'Macedonia' no longer needs inverted commas

Not every Greek is obsessed with the 'threat' of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia changing its name to something more pronounceable. In fact, the rest of the world thinks we are insane.

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

How to troll the European Parliament elections

The May 2019 European parliament elections will take place in a context which make a very promising ground for protest votes and extreme views, aided by bots and algorithms.

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU human rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us