Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Australia needs a sensible foreign policy on Macedonia

Australia’s outdated, unfair and flawed policy on Macedonia is in need of review and innovation if Australia is to become an independent middle power in international relations. Calls for policy innovation have come from a number of sources.

First, the Australian Macedonian community has voiced its concerns through a variety of means such as a peaceful protest in May 2008 in Melbourne attended by at least 20,000 people; and more than 50,000 letters were sent to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on August 2, 2008 to which no response has been received.

Second, the Rudd Government has ignored the calls made by federal MPs - such as from its own ranks like Ms Jenny George MP and from the opposition, Mr Luke Simpkins MP - for Australia to change its policies on Macedonia’s constitutional name and to bring Australia into line with the rest of the world.

The Rudd Government and the Leader of the Opposition are ignoring the fact that 124 nations, including USA, China, Russia, Canada and the UK, have already recognised the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name for ethical, social justice and strategic reasons. They have also largely ignored the concerns of Australian Macedonian citizens who are appalled by Greece’s constant attempts to destroy Macedonian culture, language, identity and civilisation not only in Aegean Macedonia but also in the Republic of Macedonia, in the EU, the UN and here in Australia.

Funded by the Greek government budget and various foundations, the ultra-nationalistic Greek lobby has pursued a destabilising foreign policy which is now the single biggest impediment to any sensible EU, UN or Australian policy on Macedonia and its people, including the diaspora.

The Rudd Government, like previous federal and state governments, has allowed the Greek lobby to dictate Australian foreign policy on Macedonia in return for votes and other promises.

The Australian political system, the mainstream media and leading foreign policy think tanks have collectively failed to scrutinise the unsubstantiated propaganda of the Greek lobby. They have also failed to analyse and assess the damage that this flawed policy is having on Australia’s international image and reputation as a serious and independent player especially in regional peace and stability and human rights protection.

Australian policy towards Macedonia is not evidence-based given the fact that Macedonia has gone out of its way to integrate into the European Union, NATO and the wider international community. Macedonia along with Slovenia was ready to join the EU back in the early 1990s. Macedonia is a candidate to join the EU but its accession has been blocked by Greece. Macedonia has constantly tried to find a solution to the artificial smokescreen problem that Greek political parties have created around the name issue. Macedonia, since independence, has modified its flag and changed its constitution in order to allay fears from Greece about any territorial claims. Macedonia has a tiny army of 8,000 self defence soldiers whereas Greece has 240,000 combat-ready troops. Macedonia has also engaged in a ridiculous process of negotiating its name and identity under UN auspices only to be vetoed by Greece at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008.


Macedonia and its people have been in existence centuries before Christ and have a separate language and identity from the Greeks. Following the break up of the Ottoman Empire, Macedonia was partitioned in 1913 into four parts without the consent of the Macedonian people. Modern Greece, with the help of the French and the British Empire received 51 per cent of Macedonian territory.

Up until 1988, the Greek authorities referred to this part of Macedonia simply as as Northern Greece. It is only after the Republic of Macedonia (which was part of Yugoslavia) had become an independent state in 1991, that Greece embarked on a campaign of claiming that all of Macedonia is Greek because Greece feared there would be re-unification of the Macedonian people.

It has tried hard to prevent the Republic of Macedonia from integrating into the world under the name of Macedonia. Greece swiftly renamed the Macedonian territories under its control as Macedonia, as part of its Hellenisation policies designed to justify its land grab.

Greece’s intransigence and tactics have been a source of embarrassment to the remaining 25 NATO member states who wanted to extend an invitation of membership to the Republic of Macedonia based on meeting all the technical criteria. The US has warned that institutions such as NATO will become unsustainable if one member can hold the organisation to ransom.

As an Australian citizen, I find it difficult to understand how Australia can possibly be advantaged by a foreign policy which at best is redundant and at worst inconsistent with Australia’s much proclaimed values of fairness, democracy, human rights, independent thinking, freedom etc. The Australian Government’s policy on Macedonia is completely out of step with the majority of nations in the world and its own stated objective of pursuing an enlightened, activist and independent foreign policy.

Those who think that Australia should continue to follow the Greek foreign policy line on Macedonia need to understand that such a policy is unjust, unsustainable and not in Australia’s national interest. If a survey were to be conducted of Australian Greek citizens and Australian MPs I believe it would show that most of them would agree that every nation has a right to self-identification and that human rights, language and cultural heritage should be protected.

The recent protests in Greece were driven by deep seated anger against serious corruption, unemployment and manipulation of the people by the Greek establishment. Greek foreign policy on Macedonia is not a reflection of the wishes of decent Greek citizens. Most Greeks, like most decent Australians, understand that the Macedonian people like any other people deserve a fair go and the time for playing political games is over.

It is important to remember that Australia and Macedonia have many points of common interest and purpose such as contributing to regional and global security especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, collaborating on energy policy and climate change, pursuing a multi-lateralist agenda, trade and investment and educational and cultural exchange.

To advance the bi-lateral relationship requires courage, commitment and political good will on the part of the Rudd Government. Macedonia recently introduced visa free travel for Australian citizens and celebrated the creation of an Australia-Macedonia Inter-parliamentary Group. Both sides need to provide resources to operationalise the closer relationship.

Speaking at a seminar in May 2008 on Australia-EU Relations at the Contemporary Europe Research Centre at the University of Melbourne, Ambassador Penny Wensley, the then Europe Chief at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade noted that “pursuing a creative middle power diplomacy requires engagement with like minded countries in order to promote joint positions on a range of strategic, economic and social issues”.

For this to happen, there needs to be a suitable foreign policy setting backed up by fresh thinking and new leadership on Australia’s role in international affairs.

For its part, the Australian Macedonian community and its civil society organisations stand ready to facilitate collaboration and advancement of the bi-lateral relationship and to build close and friendly relations with all responsible and respectable stakeholders.

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