The Case Against Greece
Friday, 22 February 2008

Greece is afraid of 2 million Macedonians claiming properties in Greece
Greece falsely accuses Macedonia that the latter is engaged in irredentism and hostile propaganda - not to mention Athen's preposterous claim that Macedonia does not have the right to its own name or to its historical, ethnic, and religious identity. Demonstrably, Greece's recent moves are mute points: Macedonia historically and culturally did transcend the country's current borders. In 1912-13, after two brutal regional wars, Macedonia was forcefully partitioned among Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia. The Macedonians were subject to genocide and many were driven from their land.

It is this reality that Greece tries to cover up. Human Rights Watch, among other credible organizations, have documented the existence of, and on-going discrimination being waged against the remaining Macedonians in Greece. In fact, until recently, Greece had Apartheid-like laws on its books to prevent exiled Macedonians or others hoping to enter Greece to claim title of their family property. This should help explain the "name dispute," the endless Greek misinformation, the hostile posturing, attempts to censor, then ridicule and finally dismiss Macedonian claims. But now it may be turning more refined methods in the hope to have an international sanction of the Balkan nation.

Greece's campaign to blot Macedonia from the map has been in effect for over a century and Kosovo is not the only simmering Balkan issue. Recently, Greece has intensified its campaign in the U.S. and in the European Union, and even in Latin America - at a time when Macedonia’s present stability is critically important as it inches closer to European Union and NATO membership. For example, instead of maliciously trying to block Macedonia from establishing ties with Latin America, Greece should renounce efforts to replicate its baseless disputes in Europe, on the Latin American continent. Greece could take a leaf from history, particularly from recent Latin American initiatives at neighborly relations and regional cooperation, such as the spate of regional agreements coming to life throughout the region: e.g., Mercosur, CAN and Alba.

Last year, for example, Venezuela was brazenly invoked by the Greek propaganda machine against Macedonia. During a visit to the United States, one of Macedonia's political leaders was surprised to be questioned by U.S. officials whether he had entered into secret meetings with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. This was one of several rumors maliciously being spread by the powerful Greek lobby in the U.S., which frequently happens to coordinate its activities with the activities of the Greek ambassador to the U.S., Alexandros Mallias. The Greek interest here was clearly limited to trying to injure Macedonia’s ties with the U.S., by exploiting current U.S.-Venezuela difficulties. Chavez, for his part, had been (pleasantly) surprised during a different occasion to learn that there exists, in his words, a descendant of Alexander the Great, referring to Srdjan Kerim, the former Macedonian foreign minister, who recently assumed the position of president of the UN General Assembly.

A competition thus has been steadily developing for winning Latin American hearts and minds when it comes to the issue of recognition of Macedonia. Faced with a concerted Greek effort to block Macedonia internationally, bilateral recognition of its legitimacy has become the ticket for Macedonia's very survival. This is understandable: at a time when war raged in the Balkans in the 1990s, Greece's campaign against Macedonia included a three-year illegal embargo and an economic blockage of the country, which was also directed against international institutions dealing with it. As a result, factories in Macedonia were shut down; crops rotted in the fields; emigration of Macedonians abroad in search of a livelihood expanded, even including moving complete households and families to faraway Latin American countries such as Brazil and Argentina. In the words of a Macedonian minister, Jane Miljoski, it was a "murder without bullets." Yet, the attempt at committing genocide against Macedonian culture and history by Greece includes labeling the use of Alexander the Great's name as hostile propaganda, including attempts to officially prohibit the singing of songs about him at Macedonian sporting events, approaching serious levels of paranoia.

Some countries like Peru, Paraguay, or Suriname have had the courage to recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name. Others, like Brazil and Argentina, have been more circumspect, but have nonetheless extended recognition and established diplomatic ties with the "Macedonian government." Still others, such as Chile, have completely turned off the argument, perhaps driven by trade considerations. Chile has so completely fallen under the Greek sway that it did not even want to even hear about recognizing Macedonia under its centuries-old name. All seems "fair" in this pathetic game of pondering for influence, and in Chile's example that includes the existence of such flourish institutions as the heavily funded Centre of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Chile, the only one of its kind in Latin America. Perhaps Macedonia too will have to build a Macedonian Center for Contemporary and Ancient History near La Moneda. Meanwhile, most of the world's leading historians such as Dr. Eugene Borza of Pennsylvania State University or Dr. Ernst Badian of Harvard, agree that the ancient Macedonians of Alexander the Great - the ancestor's of today's Macedonians - were a distinct, non-Greek, people, conscious and proud of their separate and distinct ethnicity.

Greek Presence in Latin America
Greek presence in Latin America has been rather limited, given the small number of diplomatic missions, exchanges of official visits, and limited trade and economic activity. The Greek emigre communities in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Panama, like Greek emigration elsewhere, have been fired up by the Macedonian issue and fanatically support the local application of Greece's discriminatory stand against Macedonia. Despite the great geographical distance that separates the Balkans from Latin America, Greece’s influence in Latin America has been aided by the head start that Athens has had in developing relations there at a time that relations were not being burdened by any fractious issue. Furthermore, the cooperation of Cyprus with Latin American countries, within the framework of the Movement of the Non-Aligned Countries, also has helped Greece promote its position. Ever since Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou visited Mexico in 1986 for the first time in an official capacity, Greece's influence has steadily grown, this has included opening embassies in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina, and more recently, in Cuba, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru.

Yet, Latin America is slowly learning that when it comes to irredentism, it is demonstrably Greece that threatens Macedonia, and not the reverse. Greece is several times larger and economically far more powerful than Macedonia, in addiction to being a NATO and an EU member. When Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it explicitly foreswore territorial claims against anyone. As an anticipated response to a chauvinistic anti-Macedonian hysteria that then developed in Greece, Macedonia even changed its constitution and its flag to show its peaceful intentions and desire for good neighborly relations which, reflected a long-standing policy. Macedonia could not pursue irredentism against Greece even if it wanted to; it is too dependent for its economic survival on the port of Salonica, which Greece acquired in the wars in 1912-13. By contrast, just three months ago, two leaders of the state-sponsored ,dominant Greek Orthodox Church independently called for Greece to annex by force the southern territories of the Republic of Macedonia.

Concession after Concession
In such a minatory atmosphere, soon after its independence, Macedonia agreed to be admitted into the UN under a temporary provisional reference - "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" was only for the use by the UN furthermore, for a period of only two months. No other country has thus far been subject to additional, extralegal requirements when joining the UN, and the demands on Macedonia then were clearly outside the scope of the U.N. Charter. The full provisional reference is not to be confused with a meaningless, nonexistent word "FYROM," which Greece tries to insert rather than its formal name.

In addition to the extralegal UN requirements, Macedonia was also pressured by the international community to sign an Interim Accord in 1995 with Greece, to try to come to a mutual agreement. Ambassador Matthew Niemetz has been named a UN Special Envoy to work with the two nations towards a solution. While it would be wise for the countries to talk over their differences, the process has turned into an inevitable initiative to rename Macedonia and to change its identity.

A Fight for Recognition
Given that Greece has dug itself into a hole, and that the European Union, despite incessant talk of protecting fundamental human rights, has shown hypocrisy by straight away accepting Greece's stand on Macedonia, and, in addition, given the set timetable of admitting new NATO members, the U.S. now finds itself pressuring Macedonia to accept one of Niemetz's bizarre “triple formulae” (or similar) solution. The triple formula contains one name for the internal use in Macedonia, another name for Greece to refer to Macedonia as it chooses, and yet another name for international use. A more recent Niemetz proposal has been the "Democratic Republic of Macedonia." This allegedly is "more acceptable" for Macedonia to swallow, yet, the bottom line is that the exact nature of the proposed names are all but meaningless, as the essence of Athens demand on Macedonia is to show that Macedonia is being permitted by Greece to use such a given name. The change of Macedonia's name would give credence to Greece's mythology that the Macedonians have no roots in ancient Macedonia but are an artificial nation created by Yugoslavia’s Tito - or such similar outrages against a truth that only politicians can concoct.

Chile's mendacity aside, it appears that many in Latin America well understand that the UN's provisional reference is demeaning to Macedonians as well as seriously harmful to Balkan regional relations. It is the equivalent of forcing Chile, for example, to rename itself "The Former Spanish Colony of Chile" and then deny Santiago the use of the name "Chile." Since Macedonia's declaration of independence, over 120 countries have recognized it under its self-professed name, including the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey, etc. Yet, tragically, Macedonia remains as if it was a servitor, under extreme outside pressure to continue using its temporary reference internationally. It is worth repeating that no one in Macedonia has a mandate to change the Macedonian people’s identity and any suggestion to do so in order to placate Greece's quasi-racist policies are as insulting as they are jejune. Any Macedonian official who will alter the country's name will be guilty of treason and likely will be helping to destabilize Macedonia and the entire Balkans for the time to come.

It is at this juncture that Latin America could play a most constructive role. The region often has supplied a valve that can let off once the pressure of an already over-pressured Balkans can be charged from a safe distance. The region could show solidarity with a small and beleaguered country and extend recognition to Macedonia under its constitutional name. Those Latin American countries that have recognized Macedonia, have learnt that the part of Macedonia that Greece occupied in 1913 is not even named Macedonia. Greece is administratively divided into thirteen regions, three of which include the word Macedonia in their name: "Region of Western Macedonia", "Region of Central Macedonia" and "Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace," but none of it is named simply "Macedonia." Therefore, there can be no confusion as to territories, and, Macedonia directly has foresworn any territorial ambitions in any respect.

By contrast, succumbing to Greece’s unbudgeable stance, such as its recently stated intent to veto Macedonia's NATO membership for example, is certain to create sustained instability in the region, with potential spillover effects in Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and, even Greece itself. Hence, the name "dispute" remains a sizzling fuse for yet another Balkan conflict. After all, who but the Latin American countries can better understand that a country’s very existence and choice of a name are embedded sovereign rights, with each of them having a prerogative to promote, preserve, and protect their ethnic identity and culture.

Patently, Macedonia's name is not injurious to anyone and Macedonians are united in the right to self-determination. In fact, Greece has been referring to Macedonia by its name in official documents and in textbooks for nearly 50 years, at a time when Macedonia was part of the Yugoslav federation. The historical reality that Macedonia has existed and will continue to exist was recently acknowledged by the former Greek Ambassador to Macedonia, Dora Grosomanidou; she was promptly sacked for her candid admission. Leaders of Latin American countries that have not, out of common decency and immutable, rights, formally recognized Macedonia should heed Ambassador Grosomanidou's advice and give peace a chance.

Z. Kovac 


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