The renewed push to change Macedonia’s name and identity
Last week certain members of the media, think-tanks, bloggers, and others wrote and published articles, social media posts and other flotsam and jetsam breathlessly proclaiming that Macedonia and Greece were very near to “solving” the so-called name issue Greece has with Macedonia. Translation: Macedonia is just now on the doorstep to both NATO and EU membership and everyone can now relax, happily singing hosannas as the new government of Macedonia leads the country into an era of peace, sweetness and light eternal. The Macedonian government itself put quite a bit of their own political capital on the line spinning, in effect, “this time, it’s different.”
Except that it isn’t and nothing much happened.
It is revealing, however, to read some of the headlines: the UK’s Guardian (a newspaper which actually asks readers for financial donations), triumphantly proclaimed “Macedonia and Greece appear close to settling 27-year dispute over name” (the Guardian has a peculiar bias against Macedonia as they seem to go out of their way to refer to the country as a “mini-state”). The EUObserver declared “EU sees ‘momentum’ on Macedonia name dispute.” And New Europe asserted “The time is now” for accession talks with the EU. Oh really? “The time is now?” Do they have any idea how many politicians and pundits have said that for over two decades?
For the Macedonian government’s part new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told the EU’s Donald Tusk that “Bilateral issues should not hinder Euro-integration process.” Except that the EU allows them to and here we are. The new foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov (a former ambassador to the United States and a former negotiator on the issue), paid a visit to Athens to talk to his counterpart, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, and told Politico that “The nicer we are, the more difficult it would be to block us.” The minister may or may not be aware of it, but he is almost quoting Proverbs 15:1 — “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And while that can work in personal relationships (for instance, in a minister-to-minister relationship) it is far more difficult in the world of realpolitik. For his part Kotzias rebuffed Dimitrov stating that Macedonia “had been taught not to compromise, not to seek consensus, and to make the big mistake of turning the name problem from a geographical problem into a problem of identity.” The ironic thing is that when Dimitrov was a negotiator, identity was a part of his discussions. Another Greek official downplayed everything telling the Financial Times that “he ruled out setting a timetable for reaching a compromise: ‘This is an issue that has been on the table for more than two decades and it would be rash to make any prediction.’” For his part NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, after meeting with Zaev, repeated the NATO line from 2008 until this very day telling the press “what we need to be able to follow up and extend an invitation is that there is a solution to the name issue, a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has to be reached within a UN framework. And that is still the position of the alliance, we have reiterated that position at our summits following the Bucharest summit in 2008 and we did so also at the summit in Warsaw in 2016 last year. So that’s still the NATO position.” This in spite of the fact that rumors have been rampant about Stoltenberg visiting Macedonia soon (he won’t).
There is more to the story, of course. Meto Koloski, President of the United Macedonian Diaspora rightly tweeted that “No article on Macedonia this week mentions that Greece violated 1995 UN Interim Accord by blocking NATO membership per ICJ 2011 decision” (ICJ — International Court of Justice). And that’s true. The media, the think-tanks, the so-called experts all making pronouncements on this issue have researchers and they know the history including that ICJ decision. Which begs the question: why not mention it? Is there a hidden agenda? Is there a move to simply ignore these things, put as much pressure on Macedonia as possible and try to force the citizens to change their own name and identity? Case in point: A freelancer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation wrote a column this past weekend titled “Naming Macedonia: It’ll be harder than it looks.” Aside from the fact that Macedonia has already been named, the author, who ironically misspelled one Macedonian leader’s own name (leading one to imagine just how much fact-checking he did as many of his statements were simply wrong), displayed his personal bias against the country in his opening lines sating “What’s in a name? Or … how can a small country on economic life support contribute to so much upset in the neighbourhood? The upset is in the Balkans and it revolves around Macedonia — or rather the country that would like to call itself Macedonia but can’t, because the country next door has a veto.”
Make no mistake — since at least 2008 (the Greek veto at the NATO Bucharest Summit) there has been a consensus among certain global elites that, while accepting Macedonia as a distinct nation-state, there must be more pressure brought to bear on getting Macedonia into NATO and the EU. So the question then becomes: which state and people will be first to crack under pressure and agree to a compromise, Greece or Macedonia? The consensus is Macedonia, which means changing the name and the identity.
That, however, would be both a tragedy and a crime.