The “small state” that “still hasn’t found its identity?” (and On being outmaneuvered)
The Macedonian government negotiating team is likely being outmaneuvered by its Greek counterparts: more on that in a moment. First up, however, is this: last week, and before they met in Vienna with Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias was quoted in Greek newspaper Kathimerini as stating that Macedonia was a “small state” that “still hasn’t found its identity.” I’m astounded that there was no rebuke from the Macedonian government. They simply accepted this as fact. Kotzias also said that “we cannot agree that the country will be called ‘Macedonia.’’ That last part should be obvious: the Macedonian government has already stated that it is willing to call the country something other than “Republic of Macedonia.” The leading candidate among the so-called list of alternative names is “Gornamakedonija.”
And here is where we see the Greek negotiating team outmaneuvering the Macedonian government. Many media reports from Macedonia, Greece, and international media outlets have stated that the Greeks have been demanding that the “new name” is one word, “Gornamakedonija” and not translated into English, while the Macedonians have insisted that it be “Upper Macedonia” (two words and in English when used internationally). The Greeks are also demanding that the Macedonian constitution be changed to reflect this “new name” and that it will apply around the world and within Macedonia (erga omnes) meaning passports, ID cards, etc. In addition, the Greeks have demanded that the identity and language be called something other than “Macedonian” and that the Internet domain suffix change, among other changes. But more recent reports have come out stating that Greeks would be willing to “allow” the name to be “Republic of Upper Macedonia” (two words and in English) but are still sticking to their demands that this apply within Macedonia and that the constitution be changed (reports do not indicate any new position on the identity or language but if the name changes, these will change as well).
If — if — these reports are true, what does this mean? It means that the Greeks took a maximalist position on everything and especially with their insistence on “Gornamakedonija” with the hidden intention of then backing off of that position and being seen as having “compromised” by “allowing” the Macedonians to use “Upper Macedonia.” In doing so, they would be seen as the gracious party, but in return the Macedonians would be expected to “give” the Greeks something and something which the Greeks very much want and prize about all — a change in the constitution adopting the name “Upper Macedonia” for use within Macedonia, on passports, ID cards, the Internet domain suffix, etc. Of course what is unsaid is that in doing this, de facto the identity and language change and Macedonia then will have “found its identity,” in the words of Kotzias.
Even if we take Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov at his word — and he recently told a Greek audience “We are Macedonians. We speak the Macedonian language” — even if you take him at his word that he is being sincere, the Greeks will never allow the world to say the same thing and especially if and when Macedonia caves in and agrees to call itself, the “Republic of Upper Macedonia” because the Greeks will simply work to deny the Macedonians the right to call themselves “Macedonian” and their language “Macedonian,” especially when the Macedonians agree to call themselves “Upper Macedonia” in the constitution. This should be patently obvious to everyone.
Another point to remember is that all of this dovetails nicely with reports that Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev wants to strengthen his coalition by bringing in more MPs. The Greeks will insist that Macedonia’s constitution be changed, Zaev still wants the praise and “glory” of the international community for “solving” this issue and therefore Zaev could very much be willing to attempt a change of Macedonia’s constitution — though to do that he needs more votes, more MPs.
This coming week, Easter week, the two sides will huddle at home with their respective governments but have agreed for the foreign ministers to meet again on April 8 and if there is “progress” then to have the two prime ministers meet after that. All sides — the Macedonians, the Greeks, and the UN and internationals — continue to put out statements, press releases and other forms of spin with positive statements, noting that while there are difficult talks still ahead, if both sides are willing, they will be able to come to an agreement.
My point which I will continue to make is that a future government of Macedonia — it would have to be a future government — should withdraw from the name talks. Most of the planet already calls Macedonia by its chosen and constitutional name and most of the planet agrees that Macedonians exist and that the Macedonian language exists. Right now the government of Macedonia is actually agreeing that all of this is up for negotiation. And your name, your identity, your history, your culture, and your language should never be negotiable. In negotiating the Macedonian government has basically said that all of this — all that makes Macedonia special and unique — all of that has a price. And it should not. There is no price for your name and your identity.