Friday, September 05, 2008

Greek-American Plan to Resolve Macedonia's Name Issue?

According to reliable sources, on September 23, in the presence of the foreign ministers of both countries, Condolenzza Rice, Secretary of State of the United States of America, will present a plan to resolve a festering dispute between Greece, its (anti-American) nominal NATO ally, and Macedonia, a member of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq and Afghanistan and a NATO aspirant. On September 24, the Plan will be submitted to the United Nations Security Council, probably to be passed as a Resolution. The Greek newspapers Ta Nea and Elefteros Typos published similar news on August 25 and August 21, respectively.

The Plan has been hatched in a series of secret meetings between Greek and American officials, culminating in a June 2008 conference held in Washington, involving Rice and Dora Bakoyannis, Greek's feisty Foreign Minister. The Macedonian government was kept out of the loop and may still be unaware of the existence of the Plan, let alone its contents.

It seems that the Greeks succeeded to convince the Americans that Macedonia is the intransigent party, piling one obstacle after another, in an attempt to avoid a politically unpopular settlement. Lately, the tiny polity's young Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, sought to enlarge the scope of the protracted negotiations to include other bilateral issues, such as the restoration of property to Macedonians expelled from Greece decades ago and the recognition of the Macedonian Orthodox Church by its Greek counterpart.

The Plan includes five elements:

1. The Republic of Macedonia will change its constitutional name (probably to Northern Macedonia, although that has not been decided yet). If true, this provision will constitute a major setback for Macedonia. No Macedonian government - let alone the current one - is likely to accept it.

2. Macedonia will be granted a transition period (of up to 10 years, according to some sources) - the time it would need to amend its constitution and to alter its registered name with various international and multilateral institutions.

3. Macedonia will be issued an invitation to join NATO (but not a date to start negotiations with the EU regarding its eventual accession).

4. Both countries will be allowed to use the adjective "Macedonian" (both commercially and non-commercially).

5. The parties will renounce any and all claims to each other's territory.

The "name issue" involves a protracted dispute over the last 17 years between the two Balkan polities over Macedonia's right to use its constitutional name, "The Republic of Macedonia". The Greeks claim that Macedonia is a region in Greece and that, therefore, the country Macedonia has no right to monopolize the name and its derivatives ("Macedonian").

The Greeks feel that Macedonians have designs on the part of Greece that borders the tiny, landlocked country and that the use of Macedonia's constitutional name internationally will only serve to enhance irredentist and secessionist tendencies, thus adversely affecting the entire region's stability.

Macedonia retorts that it has publicly renounced any claims to any territory of any of its neighbors. Greece is Macedonia's second largest foreign investor. The disparities in size, military power and geopolitical and economic prowess between the two countries make Greek "fears" appear to be ridiculous. Macedonians have a right to decide how they are to be called, say exasperated Macedonian officials.

The Greek demands are without precedent either in history or in international law. Many countries bear variants of the same name (Yemen, Korea, Germany until 1990, Russia and Byelorussia, Mongolia). Others share their name with a region in another country (Brittany in France and Great Britain across the channel, for instance).

In the alliance's Bucharest Summit, in April 2008, Macedonia was not invited to join NATO. Macedonia was rejected because it would not succumb to Greek intransigence: Greece insisted that Macedonia should change its constitutional name to cater to Greek domestic political sensitivities.

Thus, Serbia (and its ally, Russia) were left with access to a corridor, through non-NATO Macedonia to anti-American Greece and to the sea.

High-placed diplomatic sources in Washington told the Chronicle that the USA will now pressure Macedonia into changing its constitutional name in a way that will be acceptable to Greece and the powerful Greek lobbies in the USA. Should "friendly" persuasion fail, the USA will bare its fangs and may even threaten mild sanctions (the suspension of several military agreements).

Macedonia doesn't stand a chance of resisting such an onslaught. It will be forced into a humiliating retreat. An invitation to join NATO will promptly follow, in time for its ratification by all the member countries of the moribund Alliance.

Following the country's ill-advised early elections in June, 2008, the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE was coerced by the international community (read: the EU and the USA) into joining forces with DUI, the political incarnation of erstwhile Albanian insurgents in the northwest of Macedonia, hitherto an anathema as far as Gruevski, the incumbent Prime Minister, was concerned.

Hopping to bed with DUI will likely restrain the government's freedom of action. Every concession to Greece will be portrayed by jingoistic nationalists in Macedonia as capitulation and the consequence of blackmail by the Albanian parties. To the great consternation of the Macedonians, Albania, Macedonia's neighbor, has been invited to join NATO. The restive Albanians of Macedonia would like to accede to the Alliance as soon as practicable and at all costs. Understandably, they are less attached to the country's constitutional name than the non-Albanian (Macedonian) majority.

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