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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 April 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 APRIL 2018 25 OPINION The march through Melbourne’s CBD comes as tensions rise over the Macedonian name dispute. PHOTO: AAP/DAVID CROSLING People in downtown Skopje, FYROM carry banners and wave flags during a protest against the change of the country’s constitutional name. PHOTO: AAP VIA AP/BORIS GRDANOSKI The exorbitant Skopje 2014 project involved the expenditure of more than €684 million (or about eight per cent of GDP) for public works including the erection of statues of Alexander, Philip and Aristotle undermining good neighbourly relations with Greece. Expressions of nationalism both inside FYROM and in their diaspora include the display of banners demanding "Greeks out of Macedonia". This is an aggressive slogan given that Greeks have lived in the broader geographical region of Macedonia for over 3,000 years, have strong historical ties to the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia, and naturally identify as Macedonians. This should be contrasted with banners displayed at protests held by some Greek communities around the world stating "Macedonia is Greece" and “Hands off Macedonia”. While these may seem to be similarly irredentist claims at face value, the truth is that the Greeks holding these banners do not claim the territory of FYROM. They define Macedonia in a narrower sense both historically and geographically to include only territory that is currently part of Greece and where the Macedonian kingdom flourished in antiquity as part of the Greek world. Notably in Greece there is no equivalent to the maps of a 'United Macedonia' that show FYROM as part of Greek territory, in either an unofficial or official sense. Importantly, many Greeks recognise that this narrow definition of Macedonia does not cohere with a reality whereby the borders of Macedonia have changed over time and where other people, including the people of FYROM, self-identify as Macedonians. This includes all Greek governments for the past two decades and forms the basis of a consistent negotiating position to reach a viable and realistic solution on the naming issue with FYROM. In light of Greece's official position, their insistence on rejecting the maximalist name 'Republic of Macedonia' must be understood as a defensive position, one that protects Greek sovereignty and a rightful claim to a Greek Macedonian identity. FYROM'S AGGRESSION UNDERMINES ITS OWN STABILITY It is often posited, correctly, in our view, that admission to the EU and NATO would be beneficial for FYROM and that FYROM cannot successfully stage a military invasion of Greece. Unfortunately, this view is often accompanied with the impression that Greece is recalcitrant in seeking to undermine its neighbour by blocking NATO and EU accession. In fact, it is important to realise that this impression leads to complacency in the face of ultra-nationalism and expansionism by FYROM when these attitudes should be condemned independently of FYROM's military capabilities. Crucially, the same elements of aggression and irredentism that manifest themselves externally against Greece and other neighbours, also manifest themselves internally within FYROM itself. Thus, it is FYROM's own aggression in insisting on a maximalist and nationalistic position that exacerbates deep cleavages within its society and undermines stability, civil society and democratic norms. The first major cleave is be- tween nationalists and moderates. The latter denounce expansionism and irredentism and desire stable relations with their neighbours including Greece. The nationalist assertion of ties between modern FYROM and ancient Macedonia alienates these moderates who accept the scholarly consensus that the ancient Macedonians were part of the Greek world and who see their own language, culture and identity as a Slavic one. Unfortunately this sensible view was increasingly oppressed over the ten year rule of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's VMRODPMNE Party. This period was characterised by Gruevski's dichotomisation of society into "patriots" and "traitors" leading to demagoguery and increasing authoritarianism. This culminated in election fraud and spying on so-called "traitors". In particular, in 2015 a major scandal broke that involved major government figures ordering the wiretapping of approximately 20,000 citizens of FYROM, including over 100 journalists as well as politicians from the entire political spectrum. Indeed Gruevski's surveillance was so pervasive that he inadvertently ensnared himself by documenting his own election fraud. Tapes have been leaked providing evidence that the former Minister of Transport, Mile Janakieski, forced the director of an orphanage to coerce adult orphans to vote for VMRO-DPMNE. Another tape records the former Minister of Internal Affairs, Gordana Jankuloska laughing and bragging that her VMRO-DPMNE electoral operations were directed from police headquar- ters, effectively transforming the police department into the party headquarters. The proponents of nationalism, expansionism and irredentism often envision FYROM as an ethno-state rather than a civic state, a view that provokes and intimidates a sizeable ethnic Albanian minority. This represents the second major cleavage within society in FYROM. In 2011, FYROM became the only country in Europe in recent times to deliberately scrap its decennial census, doing so to conceal demographic developments that would have led to calls for more political representation for the ethnic Albanian minority. Also, despite the parliament recently passing a language law granting Albanian equal status as an official language, at the time of writing the President of the country, Gjorge Ivanov, who came into power with Gruevski's support, still refuses to grant his assent. Notably Gruevksi, who remains a prominent political figure informally leading the opposition despite being under investigation, tried to stop the whole parliamentary procedure through physical force, and had to be stopped by security from coming to blows with the Parliamentary Speaker Talat Xhaferi. Thus, although some of the more nationalistic elements within society in FYROM accuse Greece of genocide, holocaust and apartheid even to this day, accusations that are patently ludicrous and have no merit at all, it is in fact the treatment of minorities in FYROM which poses a great cause for concern. GREECE IS A MAJOR SUPPORTER OF FYROM Greece has provided and con- tinues to provide significant economic support to FYROM. Greece ranks third amongst FYROM's trade partners in terms of total trade volume. In 2006, 11 per cent of FYROM's trade volume with the rest of the world was with Greece. In 2007, 17 of the 20 most sizeable investments in FYROM were financed with Greek capital, while roughly 20,000 (about six per cent of the workforce) were employed in Greek-owned enterprises. Despite the severe economic crisis in Greece this support has continued. In particular, according to statistics published by authorities in FYROM, in 2013 almost 28 per cent of the total foreign direct investment in FYROM came from Greece. This assistance has helped to stabilise FYROM, particularly after several incidents of intra-community strife in the early 2000s that left the country on the brink of civil war. Greece supports rather than opposes FYROM's European and Euro-atlantic perspective. Greece recognises that the existence of stable nation states with mutually recognised and respected borders is a precondition for prosperity in the Balkans; a sentiment that led Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias to describe the existence of FYROM as a 'divine gift for Greece'. MOVING FORWARD The suggestion that Greece should be pressured by the international community into recognising its neighbour by their current constitutional name ignores that Greece is already at a position of compromise. This view also requests of Greece that they follow some members of the international community in turning a blind eye to nationalists in FYROM and indulging their excesses. Complete capitulation by Greece over the naming issue would not only threaten Greece's sovereignty and identity, it would also harm, rather than help, FYROM and its people since it would embolden nationalists who ultimately pose a greater threat to FYROM's own interests as well as the stability of the broader Balkan region. We believe that the only viable solution to the naming issue is a compromise that sufficiently differentiates between the two peoples, and respects the fact that each side claims a Macedonian identity, but should not monopolise it. We are encouraged by the willingness of both governments to enter into negotiations as well as the decision by FYROM's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to drop a reference to Alexander the Great from the name of Skopje's airport. As a caveat we note that the reference was added by Gruevski only as recently as 2006 as part of his nationalistic and expansionist agenda. As such, this decision should not be seen as a concession to Greece but as one that should have been made unilaterally if FYROM intends to embrace the values of the European and international institutions of which it seeks membership. It is incumbent upon the international community to encourage FYROM to compromise and to ratify a mutually agreed resolution in its constitution, both for its own sake and for the sake of regional peace and development.
7 April 2018
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