What the State Department gets wrong on Macedonia’s name
For this column, as I go into my 27th year in and with Macedonia, I thought I’d return to a frequent theme in my writing as a way of remembering (for myself and others) a few important facts.
So, here’s an interesting story: Peter Robinson is an American author, research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution in California, and former speechwriter for George H. W. Bush, when he was vice president, and then President Ronald Reagan beginning in his first term and through his second term as president. Robinson hosts a wonderful podcast, Uncommon Knowledge, and is also a co-founder of the conservative platform Ricochet. If you want to grow in knowledge about weighty issues, look him up and follow him.
In a recent podcast with British author Andrew Roberts, I learned something I had not known, but the subject of which was quite familiar to me: the famous speech given by President Ronald Reagan in West Berlin on June 12, 1987, in which President Reagan challenged then Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” It’s a famous speech, at least to those of us who despise Communism and the evil it produced (and still produces).
Robinson, as a very young speech writer in the Reagan White House, wrote that speech. In his research for it, and knowing it would be a major speech, Robinson traveled to West Berlin where he spoke with US State Department officials, as well as local Berliners, people who lived with the Berlin Wall within eyesight, separated from friends and family by that monstrosity. Robinson tells the story of how the US State Department officials, in their meetings with him, told him that West Berliners no longer really cared about the wall, that it wasn’t really an issue with them anymore. They had simply learned to live with it.
Robinson goes on to relate that one night on that visit, and dinning with local West Berliners, they told him the opposite: that no, in fact, it was very much on their minds, and they wanted to see it torn down. That dinner and those remarks turned repeatedly in Robinson’s mind as he made his was back to Washington, DC and wrote the speech.
Robinson then tells the story of how President Reagan got an advance draft copy of the speech before the State Department did, knowing full well that the State Department did not want any reference to the wall in the speech. He relates how Reagan insisted that the phrase remain, knowing, almost intuitively, that it was true that West Berliners hated the wall and all that it stood for. The rest is history: the speech was well received — and remembered — and two years later the wall fell, for many reasons.
Now, the Berlin Wall was not just a symbol of tyranny, but was also a cruel reality: people literally died trying to get over or around the wall in their attempts to escape Soviet hell and reach at least a tentative West German future where they would be free and be given an opportunity (not a guarantee) to succeed in life.
While the forced name change of Macedonia to something Macedonians never wanted or voted for is not as deadly as the Berlin Wall, the response of the US State Department officials was and remains exactly the same: In January of 2020, the current US ambassador to Macedonia (whose name I will no longer put in print) was still trying so deliberately paint a different picture as to how Macedonians felt about the change. In two interviews (here and here) she essentially said “What concerns me, about attempts to confuse people about the impact of Prespa, of what it means and what it has meant for the country is that it risks losing the transformative effect that Prespa had. It risks confusing people about the benefits that they can have, in terms of creating new opportunities, expanding regional cooperation, bringing in foreign investment, and creating this positive future.” What the US ambassador is saying is, “Stop talking about it and accept your fate.”
And earlier this year, the US State Department, through the US Treasury Department, issued a degree that essentially said “don’t say Macedonia” but will threaten and sanction practically anyone who does.
The US State Department is wrong on many issues in Macedonia. Aiding and contributing to the forced name change of Macedonia — one that Macedonians did not want — is one of those wrongs. Continually denying — now, today — that Macedonians cannot have a say in their own destiny, their own government, their own sovereignty by saying what the current US ambassador says and by doing what State/Treasury is threatening to do is not just wrong, but immoral.
I return to something I have written about on several occasions, and which seems appropriate to bring up yet again: the fact that these State Department officials are not wedded to any real sense of belonging to an actual, sovereign nation. Yes, the State Department officials are “American” in the sense of being a citizen and having an American passport. But their attachment to the United States of America is both thin and fleeting — they fancy themselves “citizens of the world” a somewhat delusional thought with no legal basis — and find they have much more in common with their counterparts in Paris, France, than in Paris, Arkansas, or Paris, Missouri, or Paris, Illinois. And because they don’t have an attachment to a real identity, they don’t believe you should either. And when you (Macedonians or others) do assert your love for your identity, for your nation, for your traditions, history, culture, language and much more, they actually recoil in horror thinking this to be a very barbarian way of living and loving. And then, believing you to be barbarians, they often treat you as such. Barbarians, of course, must be subjugated and ruled.
And yet remember: despite the fact that they do meddle in Macedonia, you actually do control your own destiny as a nation-state.