[by Zhidas Daskalovski, PhD, CRPM President, originally published in the European Voice, 10.12.2009]
A proposal good enough to end the dispute over the name of the ‘former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia’?
In October the European Commission recommended opening negotiations for EU membership with Macedonia; it now seems that the EU’s leaders will not decide on opening talks until next year (“Greece blocks Macedonia talks”, EuropeanVoice.com, 8 December).
As in 2008, when NATO leaders refused to invite Macedonia to join the alliance, Macedonia’s integration into the EU is, de facto, being vetoed by Greece and its demand that Macedonia add a ‘qualifier’ to its constitutional name – the Republic of Macedonia – to differentiate the country from the northern province of Greece that bears the same name.
The temporary (and legally dubious) solution that the UN coined when it admitted Macedonia “as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” is no longer adequate as a means for the international community to circumvent this bilateral dispute.
There is a compromise solution that the UN mediator has not put forward and that would respect the concerns of both sides.
First, though, what are those concerns? To most Greeks, use of the term ‘Macedonia’ – the name of an ancient kingdom ruled most famously by Alexander the Great – violates Greece’s national narrative and seems to imply an entitlement to the legacy (and even geography) of historical Macedonia.
For their part, Macedonians argue that the right to ethnicity, nationality and identity is a fundamental principle of international law.
The solution would be for the country to be known internationally as the Republic of Makedonija. This is a name of Slavic origin and how Macedonians refer to their country in their own language.
Greece would be left with the name ‘Macedonia’, which it could use for the northernmost region of the country and, indirectly, to invoke ancient Macedon. A declaration in which the Republic of Makedonija would acknowledge that ancient Macedonia is part of Greece’s historical legacy could reinforce the agreement.
Makedonijans could co-exist along Greek Macedonians. Both governments could claim victory, one having won international recognition under basically the same name as in the constitution, the other having protected the Macedonian-ness of Greece’s history and present.
This is more than a matter of gaining membership of the EU and NATO – Macedonia’s very future depends on a resolution.
If the EU sides with Greece, it would in effect be declaring that the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership are not important in Macedonia’s case and that the most important factor is an additional criterion unrelated to democracy or the rule of law. Public opinion would turn against the EU in Macedonia. As a result, no Macedonian government would have much incentive to continue with reforms demanded by the EU. The EU’s leverage would decrease. More importantly, the possibilities for further soft mediation by the EU in Macedonian-Albanian political disputes would diminish.
Macedonian nationalism might grow, while Macedonia’s large ethnic-Albanian minority might become restive watching the state of Albania, already a member of NATO, move forward with EU integration. Ethnic-Albanian nationalism is already being encouraged by Kosovo’s independence.
The EU does not need another crisis. The EU needs to apply more pressure to end this dangerous dispute. An option is available.