By Trisha Roy
The tiff between Greece and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia drew limelight again after hundreds of thousands of Greeks protested outside parliament 3 days ago over negotiations to allow the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to shorten their official name to “Macedonia”. Since the split of the Soviet Union in 1991, this tiff has been an ongoing issue in the bilateral and international relations.
A brief history
The Macedonia naming is a political dispute over the use of the name “Macedonia” between the south-eastern European country of Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, formerly a region within the federal Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Pertinent to this background is an early 20th-century multifaceted dispute and armed conflict that formed part of the background to the Balkan Wars. The specific naming dispute, although an existing issue in Yugoslav–Greek relations since World War II, was reignited after the breakup of Yugoslavia followed by the newly gained independence of the former Socialist Republic of Macedonia in 1991.
The issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not just a dispute over historical facts or symbols. It concerns the conduct of a UN member state, the FYROM, which contravenes the fundamental principles of international law and order; specifically, respect for good neighbourly relations, sovereignty and territorial integrity. The name issue is, thus, a problem of regional and international dimensions, consisting in the promotion of irredentist and territorial ambitions on the part of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, mainly through the counterfeiting of history and usurpation of Greece’s national, historical and cultural heritage.
Historically, the term “Macedonia”, which is a Greek word, refers to the kingdom and culture of the ancient Macedonians, who belong to the Hellenic nation and are unquestionably part of Greek historical and cultural heritage.
Geographically, the term “Macedonia” refers to a wider region extending into the current territory of various Balkan countries, with the largest part of the region being in Greece and smaller sections in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania. The core of what was ancient Macedonia lies within contemporary Greek borders, comprising the northern portion of the Greek state, and is called Macedonia. Around 2.5 million Greeks reside in this region today and they and their forebears have considered and called themselves Macedonians through the centuries.
The roots of the name issue go back to the mid-1940s, when, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Commander in Chief Tito separated from Serbia the region that had been known until that time as Vardar Banovina (today’s Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), giving it the status of a federal unit of the new Socialist Federal Republic of Macedonia, renaming it, initially, the “People’s Republic of Macedonia”, and, later, the “Socialist Republic of Macedonia”. At the same time, he started to cultivate the idea of a separate and discrete “Macedonian nation”.
Against this historical background, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia declared its independence in 1991, basing its existence as an independent state on the artificial and spurious notion of the “Macedonian nation”, which was cultivated systematically through the falsification of history and the exploitation of ancient Macedonia purely for reasons of political expediency.
Greece reacted strongly to the theft of its historical and cultural heritage and the treacherous territorial and irredentist intentions of the FYROM, and the issue was brought before the UN Security Council, which, in two resolutions [817(1993) and 845(1993)] recommended that a settlement be found quickly, for the sake of peaceful relations and good neighbourliness in the region.
Developments in the past two decades
In 1993, following a recommendation from the Security Council, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was accepted, by the decision of the General Assembly, into the United Nations under this provisional name, until such time as an agreed solution is reached. In 1995, Greece and FYROM concluded an Interim Accord, which imposed a binding “code of conduct”. Based on the Interim Accord, the two sides began negotiations under the auspices of the UN. These negotiations have continued to this day. In the time that has elapsed since the signing of the Interim Accord, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has systematically violated the letter and spirit of the Accord, as well as the obligations deriving from it by promoting territorial designs against Greece through the portrayal on maps, in school books and history books, of Greek territory as being within the territory of a “greater” Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in violation of articles 2, 3, 4 and 7.1. It has supported irredentist claims and incited nationalistic feeling within Greece, in violation of article 6.2
In October 2012, the Greek government took a major initiative aimed at imparting momentum to the negotiation process for the resolution of the name issue. The Greek Foreign Minister sent a letter to his FYROM counterpart, proposing that the two countries sign a Memorandum of Understanding that would set out the framework and basic parameters for the definitive resolution of the name issue. Specifically, this letter proposed that in order to provide a fresh impetus to the substance of the negotiations under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, it is necessary to proceed on the basis of an agreed framework on the basic parameters of a solution which should include an agreement on the fact that any proposal should contain a clear and definitive qualifier regarding the name, which will leave no ambiguities as to the distinction between the territory of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and regions in neighbouring countries, in particular, the region of Macedonia in northern Greece, and that the name agreed upon will be used by all and for all purposes. The international response to this proposal was positive.
At the June 2008 European Council, the EU decided, in a collective and unanimous decision, that the resolution of the name issue in a mutually acceptable manner is a fundamental necessity if further steps are to be taken on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s EU accession course.
In December 2012, the European Council decided, in a collective and unanimous decision, that the opening of EU accession negotiations with FYROM hinges on the implementation of the necessary reforms, promotion of and respect for good neighbourly relations, and the resolution of the name issue within the framework of the negotiations under the UN. The resolution of the name issue is thus set as a prerequisite for the opening of accession’s negotiations between the EU and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and as a criterion for the maintaining of good neighbourly relations with Greece. In December 2013, the Council decided that it would re-examine this prospect within 2014, based on a new briefing from the Commission on the progress of reforms and the taking of tangible steps by Skopje to promote good neighbourly relations and the finding of a mutually acceptable solution to the issue of the name, within the framework of the negotiations under the auspices of the UN.
The current scenario
Currently, Athens has blocked the ex-Yugoslav republic’s attempts to join NATO and objects to its EU membership bid. Despite the existence of this serious issue, which impacts the relations between the two countries, Greece continues to have a prominent economic presence in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, contributing substantially and significantly to development, job creation, infrastructure construction, etc., in our neighbouring country.
If the issue is resolved, it will remove a major point of friction from the relations between the two countries and will allow for the full realisation of the great potential for cooperation between the two.
Featured Image Credits: Visualhunt.com
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