Friday, December 29, 2006

Making Macedonia negotiate

It’s sad, but it was to be expected. The leadership of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is playing tricks on Greece.

After all, experience has shown that it can play games behind Greece’s back and go unpunished. Renaming Skopje airport “Alexander the Great” was a bid to reinforce Skopje’s fixation with creating a “Macedonian” identity. Even if Skopje backs down eventually, it will seek political rewards for doing so. The EU will go on to praise Skopje’s moderation while Costas Karamanlis’s administration will brag about having stopped its bid to usurp Greek history. Everyone will be happy – but, politically speaking, Skopje will be the real winners.

The root cause of the problem is that the name issue remains unresolved. FYROM has no reason to press for a solution. In fact, Athens should be the one pressing for a breakthrough. In 2005 Prime Minister Karamanlis warned Skopje that its NATO and EU ambitions hinged on a settlement. But Athens finally gave the green light to FYROM gaining EU candidate status without a solution to the name problem.

If the past is any prologue, FYROM will negotiate only if it is forced to. That is, it will negotiate only if it’s threatened with a block of its path to Europe and the transatlantic alliance – both of which are rightly seen as crucial to the survival of the state.

What would set a political precedent and change the terms of the problem is a referendum whose outcome would block FYROM’s path to NATO and the EU unless a commonly accepted solution were reached. That would force Skopje into serious negotiations and an honest compromise. Washington would also urge FYROM to do so.

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