Saturday, April 05, 2008

In Bucharest a Greek-Macedonian dispute over stability

One of the most important post-Cold War NATO summits is over. The results should be scrutinized by President Bush and his advisors. Actually is was them who sup-ported a specific single-dimensional policy in a number of issues that drove American diplomacy to isolation and brought to the surface, once again, the division within the Atlantic Alliance.

One of these stemmed from the divergent views between Greece and the US over the "Macedonian" issue created by Yugoslav leader in 1945 with the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, today Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The issue has been a dormant volcano for decades since Greeks worries about the overt and covert expressions of irredentist claims against its northernmost province Macedonia because of NATO´s policy. NATO supported Tito in its effort to emanci-pate from the Soviet Union and after this became a political reality overlaid Greek worries for 45 years. The need to support the enemy of our enemy prevailed over the legitimate concern of an ally who eventually was used to support the geopolitics of the West.

The "Macedonian Issue", a time-proof dispute in the Balkans, first emerged as a side-effect of the evolution of the "Eastern Question" and the liberation of the Ottoman conquests, namely the Balkan peoples, who gradually rose against the conqueror and attempted to set up their territorial bases with a view to forming nation-states. In a sense it emerged as the result of antagonism among Balkan nation-states that wished to get the lion´s share from the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. Yet, the course to liberation had hardly finished when Balkan peoples turned against each other, in order to secure a greater territorial chunk out of the Balkan peninsula, a policy that led contending Balkan nationalisms to clash. In the inter-war and post second World War era, the dispute was rooted in the rivalry over control of geographical Macedonia.

In the post-Cold War era the re-emergence of the issue triggered heated arguments as to how legitimate Balkan nationalisms were and how they should be treated. The pro-tection of human rights seemed to have clashed with the axiom of respect for the terri-torial status, a trend that established a new "paradigm" in the international political arena. The difficulty in adopting a balanced policy in the post-Cold War Balkans lied in drawing a line between post-communist nationalism and its legitimate aim in estab-lishing or strengthening national identities as a part of the de-communisation process and overt of covert irredentism that threatened the fragile territorial status in the Bal-kans. As a matter of ideology the West acknowledged, to a certain degree, emerging nationalistic trends in the Balkans as an expression of long-suppressed freedom of ex-pression, individual or ethnic, as well as cultural diversification that have been mar-ginalised dramatically under the homogenising cloak of the communist ideology.

The Greek-FYROM conflict over the latter´s constitutional name has two main as-pects. One is political and related to regional security and border stability. The second is historical. This aspect appears to have dominated the approaches of outsiders who have not studied the politics and ethnological features and perplexity of the region. Post-Cold War Balkan nationalism were evaluated as "new and legitimate", yet this evalua-tion did not provide a "ceiling" of legitimacy that would allow analysts to draw a line be-tween "legitimate" and "non-legitimate" nationalism.

Under this spectrum history became the weapon in the hands of nationalists trying to legiti-mize irredentist claims. This to remind everyone that the issue is not primarily or exclusively an issue over historical accuracy and continuity. Originally both sides turned the dis-pute into a fudge over history, while the conflict bears significance in the security level and ought to be seen through the degree of legitimacy of the need of Balkan peoples, living under oppressing communist regimes, to express their cultural identity.

To outsiders it has always been an expression of Balkan irrationality in a region lack-ing natural resources and an advanced political culture. This was rather evident even today in the caricature of the Greek Prime Minister, K. Karamanlis wearing a Nazi outfit published in Skopje or the Greek flag with the Nazi symbols. To the Greek peo-ple it was an act of insult to a nation that has offered so much in the war against Na-zism.

The quest for "historical accuracy" became the sole means of establishing an ethnic identity and a powerful ideological weapon in the hands of nationalists. As pointed out, "at times…modern nationalists propagate by rewriting history and backdating their own modern concepts on to history…In the modern world, nations can in certain circumstances and under certain conditions be seen to be created…a process of eth-nogenesis" (Hugh Poulton, Who are the Macedonians, Hurst & Company, (London, 1995), p.3). However, the suggested ethnogenesis or ethnic emancipation process should not be done at the expense of another national identity, as the "birth" of an ethnic identity may be a threat to another nation. The creation or emancipation of an ethnic group may also take place at the cost of eliminating historical facts, which become the target of nationalism. Here "nationalism" is defined as "an activist ideological movement which aims to unite all members of a given people on the basis of a putative shared culture".

The question that needs to be answered is whether nationalism was behind Slav Ma-cedonian claims over Greek history, and the implied association of Slav Macedonians with Greek Macedonia. It may be so, since "history often assumes enormous signifi-cance for nationalists", who use it "to show the past control of a territory by a state to which the modern nation can claim affinity" (Hugh Poulton ). This may provide expla-nation as to why Slav Macedonian nationalists engaged themselves in a process of rebuilding history, in their own image to fit their political aims. I have been a witness of the insane logic of "liberating" Greek Macedonia as a young student in Toronto Canada (1981) when a man of age told me in perfect Greek that it was "his duty to liberate Greek Macedonia from Greece". It was the first time I had ever heard of the issue and this illustrates that NATO policy to support Tito during the Cold War has been successful. Even Greeks ignored the issue since the Greek governments followed NATO´s dictates and managed to hide an issue that today constitutes the kernel of the Greek-FYROM dispute.

A solution is so much needed and this is to everyone´s interest. However, national identities, whether they are true or constructed, they cannot change overnight even after a political decision. Diasporas operate on a psychological framework that estab-lishes powerful links with the past. Actually this may explain why Slav Macedonians aim at uniting parts of geographical Macedonia and blatantly ignore the fact that the Macedonian ethnicity was established with a Cominform decision and that it was a mater of ideology. Article 2 of the stature of the establishment (April 1926) of the "United I.M.R.O" set the ideological, political and intellectual framework for the creation of a "united and independent Macedonia", which was to become the "Swit-zerland of the Balkans". It propagated that a "the free and independent Macedonian state will be established on the basis of the entire equality of national, political, civil, and cultural rights for all the nationalities which inhabit it".

Comintern attempted to enhance relations among Balkan peoples, in order to boost the so desired "ideological homogeneity" of the Balkans. From the catalytic 1934 Comintern thinking, concerning the "Macedonian Question", that dominated the agenda of the communist gathering, D. Vlahov, leader of VMRO in Bulgaria recalls: "I mentioned earlier that the Comintern itself wanted the Macedonian question con-sidered at one of the consultations of its executive committee. One day I was in-formed that the consultation would be held. And so it was. Before it convened, the inner leadership of the committee had already reached its stand, including the ques-tion of the Macedonian nation,…It was concluded that the Macedonian nation exists" (Dimitar Vlahov, Memoari, Skopjie, 1970), p. 357). It seems that the existence or not of a single "Macedonian nation" became the central issue of a rather philosophical, an-thropological debate, that could not establish its existence through tangible, epistemo-logical criteria, a fact that dictated the recognition of a "Macedonian Nation" through an ideological formulae.

In the process the American administrations expressed their concern over irredentism against Greek Macedonia. This revisionist policy caused immediate American re-sponse to the issue, expressed by Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, who categori-cally denied the existence of a "Macedonian nation", stating: "The Department has noted with considerable apprehension increasing propaganda rumours and semi-official statements in favour of an autonomous Macedonia, emanating principally from Bulgaria, but also from Yugoslav Partisan and other sources, with the implica-tion that Greek territory would be included in the projected state. This Government considers talk of Macedonian "nation", Macedonian "Fatherland", or Macedonian "national consciousness" to be unjustified demagoguery representing no ethnic nor political reality, and sees in its present revival a possible cloak for aggressive inten-tions against Greece" (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945, vol. VIII, The Near East and Africa, (Washington, 1969), pp. 302-303).

Again, T. Niles, American ambassador to Athens, made the following statement in 2361992: "the Communist regime of Tito had created the Republic of Macedonia with a view to annexing northern Greece"; (Hearing before the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, June 23, 1992, Washington: US Government Printing Office, p. 14).

All the above would not matter today if history die not operate as the basis of modern irredentism. Greece and FYROM can and should be parts of the same alliance that has offered so much in European security after the Second World War. Yet, this should be done in a way that does not leave space for future misunderstandings.

The ontological and critical question that rises then is why should Greece deny its neighbours their right to identify themselves as they wish. After all this appears to be linked with the right of a small nation to survive a hostile environment under an im-minent Albanian threat. Greece does nor certainly constitute an actual threat to the country´s survival. It has made substantial compromises although personally I think that name issue is not the most important. What is important is to look ahead into the future and construct it with new material not the leftovers of the communist era. Greece supports the FYROM´s bid for NATO and EU accession not because it is an altruistic state but simply because it serves stability and development in the region. The rules for such a strategic engagement are now clear to everyone, including the US.

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