Friday, March 07, 2008

No End to Tribalism? The Dispute Around the Copyright on “Macedonia”

No solution in the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece. The latest round of negotiations, which was held in New York this weekend, did not yield any tangible result. The Karamanlis government is now openly putting Macedonia’s adherence to NATO in question and suggests a Greek veto. At the very least, the Greek side seems to have acknowledged that there is no threat to its territorial integrity coming from Macedonia. A stunning discovery!

I have said it before. It is an absurd fight over an absurd issue. Both sides are to blame for this deadlock, but there are limits to what still can be considered decent, even within a Balkan context. Greece will have to live with the fact that Macedonia is a shared name, with the exception that for the Republic of Macedonia, the name defines nation, region and state. And the three do not coincide. For Greece, Macedonia is just one of many regions, and by the way one, which had been shamefully neglected for decades, until the remote and underdeveloped North of Greece has been revitalised thanks to generous European Union funds and programmes. Far too generous in the beginning to be managed properly, if my memory doesn’t play tricks on me.

By no means is Greece’s existence threatened by the name issue. Macedonia’s may be. And this is where both NATO and the EU have to start taking their commitments seriously. If stability is what we want in the Balkans, this game has to stop. The Macedonian government has shown good will to a certain limit. It is time to speak up and publicly pronounce what could be heard in the couloirs in Brussels for years: that the Greek attitude is at best incomprehensible. It is time to exercise gentle, friendly, but resolute pressure on the Greek government to put an end to this charade. And it is time for the UN to mediate more aggressively.

The issue is not as singular as Athens and Skopje try to portray it. There are other regions, which by the caprices of history ended up being shared by two or more states. Take Moldova, take the Banat. People and peoples in the Balkans have a shared history. A shared history of violence, of population shifts. This is for instance why Salonika is not predominantly Turkish and Jewish today, but Greek. This is why Smyrna is today Turkish Izmir. The list is endless. The creation of the Macedonian state, and the recent adding of an independent Kosovo (not to forget Montenegro) to the equation are just the logical consequences from this history. Here it has to end, though. And Greece bears a great deal of responsibility for making it stop.

If Greece does not realise where its strategic interests lie, it should not be surprised if the next issue on the agenda of Balkan conflicts will be the Epiros region - or Çam to the Albanians.

Tribal reflexes are getting us nowhere in the 21st century. Balkan nations, of which Greece is one, will have to quickly shift their attention to the real issues. To me it is much more exciting and promising that one centre of ultra high-speed computer infrastructure for the European science network GEANT will be the Balkans. Scientific and technological progress is so rapid and its impact on daily life so immediate that this dispute seems like a story from yesteryear, if I were to put it mildly.

For fifteen years I have been hearing that Greece wouldn’t move on this issue because it was a sure recipe for losing elections. In that case, maybe the Russian “guided democracy” is a thing to contemplate: no need for real elections frees your head for tough decisions…

Vision! Come on, where are you hiding?

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