American faulty policy in the Greek-FYROM name dispute

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat May 3 13:24:41 UTC 2008

American faulty policy in the Greek-FYROM name dispute
Dr. George Voskopoulos

May 02, 2008

Alexis de Toqueville wrote one of the most comprehensive works on
American Democracy titled Democracy in America. His critique was based
among other things on the American political establishment and its
operating mode. I do not mean to en-dorse his critique as a whole but
I will agree that Americans do not really appreciate criticism. In
essence my views here reflect certain aspects of its evaluation
judgments based on the State Department´s policy and mediating
strategy in the Greek-FYROM dispute.

American active and rather biased involvement in the negotiations
between FYROM and Greece was evident in the late phases of
negotiations under the auspices of the UN. The dead-end was not a
surprise and this may be attributed not only to the clash of
non-negotiable national interests of Athens and Skopje but also
Washington´s pol-icy. A number of issues may be pinpointed as
non-facilitating factors in resolving the issue. They directly and
indirectly relate to the formulation of Greek and Slav-Macedonian
positions and the lack of understanding or ignorance on the part of
the State Department.

First, President Bush has obviously underestimated the importance of
the issue for Greece and consistently used the term "Macedonia" when
referring to FYROM. In terms of semantics this is a direct support to
Skopje a fact not appreciated by Greek public opinion and political
elite. When in 2004 US government decided to recognize FYROM under its
constitutional name "Republic of Macedonia" it was done as a means to
avoid further destabilization of the country. At least this was the
explanation provided by the State Department. Greek worries were not
just overlaid but rather treated as a symptom of national paranoia, a
technicality and not an issue of direct or indirect threat to
territorial status and a non-military threat to a NATO ally.

Second, the overt support of the State Department to FYROM hardened
the positions of the nationalists in the Slav-Macedonian government.
Eventually they gave them false signs since the State Department
treated FYROM as a protégé. For the Greek side it was obvious that the
real interlocutors during the bargaining process were the US and its
NATO ally Greece. Athens was treated as a de facto minor ally whose
le-gitimate security interests had to be sacrificed in order to cement
south-eastern Europe from Russian policy built on establishing oil and
natural gas pipelines.

This clearly illustrates a stark change of mood on the part of
Washington. During the Cold War, Greece was the only NATO ally and
EC/EU member whose interests had to be taken into consideration. The
lack of alternatives made Washington more care-ful in the articulation
of ideas and evaluations towards the so called Macedonian is-sue.
After the end of the Cold War American foreign policy established a
network of allies in the region that eliminated in part Greece´s
advantage of being the sole NATO member in the region.

When the name issue emerged de jure in the early 1990s American
officials dealt with it as if it were a technicality, although Greece
had kept silent ever since the es-tablishment of the Socialist
Republic of Macedonia by Tito in mid-1940s. In fact today Greece is
"punished" for not upsetting American policy and western strategy of
sup-port to a non-aligned Yugoslavia. This is an affront to Greek
public opinion and his-tory and a fact that enhances dramatically
anti-American feelings in the country.

Third, the reaction of the State Department to the insults to the
Greek Prime Minister K. Karamanlis (see his portrayal dressed as a
Nazi as presented by a magazine pub-lished in Skopje) and the Greek
flag decorated with Nazi symbols was unsatisfactory. The same applies
to the use of maps of Greater and united Macedonia circulated in
recent demonstrations in Skopje and the aim of uniting geographical
Macedonia. They constituted hard evidence of what the Greek side had
always rejected, that is Slav-Macedonian irredentist or
pseudo-irredentist claims. Playing deaf is not always a sound policy
particularly vis-à-vis an ally that has offered so much in the
struggle for democracy and freedom in the region.

The same people who today support "liberation" of Greek Macedonia (to
Slav-Macedonians nationalists "Aegean Macedonia") propagated in favor
of a world com-munist order a few decades ago. The State Department
seems to have forgotten a number of facts associated with history,
diplomacy and loyalty to allies. Of course power, especially
structural power, allows arrogance to overlay ethical issues not
as-sociated with the conduct of foreign policy. Political realists
reject ethical motives when materializing foreign policy goals. Yet,
this ethical foundation has been Amer-ica´s most powerful weapon in
leading what American presidents used to call the "free world".

On January 21, 1994 a New York Times columnist made the obvious
mistake of eliminating the security aspects of the issue and failed to
recognize the epitome of the problem. He wrote that "ever since the
breakup of Yugoslavia, Greece has been fighting and gradually losing
the battle to prevent the world from recognizing the for-mer Communist
wedge of land on its northern border by the name it has chosen for
itself -- Macedonia. It is an issue that boils with nationalist
passion. Yet, as some Greeks slowly seem to be acknowledging, it is an
issue that cannot be won…".

Evidently he himself made a number of blatant oversimplifications. The
first refers to the right of a state to use a name of its own choice.
Actually this is not happening even in the world of modern trade since
brand names are protected trademarks and copyright protected. As I
have previously suggested history is a powerful tool in the hands of
nationalists. FYROM has propagated the existence of a "Macedonian
na-tion" although its existence cannot be established throughout
history. Actually it was Tito who "provided the occasion to develop a
specifically Macedonian history which was clearly differentiated from
its neighbours"[1].

Fourth, American mediating effort was built on putting pressure on the
Greek side and bullying the Greek government allowing Skopje to
operate under the impact of protégé euphoria since Washington has
become a shield against Greek policies. This relationship between
great powers and protégés has formulated the conceptual an-ticipations
of the hardliners in FYROM. In mid-1940s B, Newman pinpointed that
"many Balkan states were little more than puppets in the finger of
protecting powers".

Fifth, the State Department has dramatically undermined the catalytic
role of Slav-Macedonian irredentist claims to Greek Macedonia.
Ignorance of geopolitical expedi-ence is not an excuse in ignoring the
obvious that is the long battle over control of Greek Macedonia, 90%
of which matches the borders of the kingdom of ancient Ma-cedonia.
Evidently younger generations of American diplomats have not learned
their history lessons. Tito was the man who created the Macedonian
issue by constructing the "Macedonian" ethnicity and language with a
view to dealing with Bulgarophilia and annexing Greek Macedonia. He
was the one who openly set territorial claims on what he called
"Aegean Macedonia" [2] and at times he turned the issue into a key
dispute of the Cold War.

However, his dream was not a means of advancing the Soviet and
Cominform-supported aim of establishing a Balkan Communist Federation
but rather a policy of setting the foundations for the annexation of
Greek Macedonia [3]. Despite internal divisions, the pro-Soviet Greek
Communist Party endorsed this policy under the threat of being
ex-communicated by Cominform. On March 4, 1949 A. C. Sedgwick
reporting for The New York Times confirms the pressure on Greek
Communists: «The Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) has ordered
the Communist party of Greece to declare itself unequivocally in favor
of an autonomous Macedonia and henceforth to work toward the creation
and organization of such a state…» [4].

Actually this has been the basis of the critique against Greek
Communists who were engaged in an ideologically-related struggle,
built on a Marxist basis, against Ameri-can and British supported
government forces [5]. Post-Second World War south-eastern history is
well-known and I do not have the time to include thousands of
bib-liographical references from American and British sources to make
myself under-stood. I do not mean to give young American diplomats
lesson of history although I am tempted to do so.

However, I have to remind them that it is this very policy that has
alienated the US from its allies [6] and led them to support ephemeral
alliances with those who sup-ported a communist world order. I need to
remind them that bullying an ally is an op-tion provided by the
multiple means of power disposed by the US, yet, it is not an
honorable policy. I need to remind them that Slav-Mecedonians and
Bulgarians need no interpreter when engaged in a conversation.
Finally, I need to remind them that the issue is not a choice between
an EU member - a NATO ally (Greece) and a weak country (FYROM) but a
choice between a status quo country and a revisionist state. Greece is
the most pro-status quo country in the region and has made substantial
compromises in the issue. Obviously the will to compromise was taken
as a sign of weakness. This clearly shows an inability to formulate
sound evaluative judgments.

Evidently late American foreign policy has been built on supporting
revisionist states, which again, exposes the advertised ethics of
exporting democracy. It is also evident that the State Department
would like to set hurdles to the current Greek administra-tion. In the
eyes of a small number of State Department officials this is the overt
or covert price Greece has to pay for its support to the Russian
energy expansion in the region. The issue here is that Greece has not
shifted its loyalty. On the contrary, the current Republican
administration has shifted its loyalty and wishes to sacrifice the
national interest of its allies, a policy that voids the security
guarantees provided by NATO. It wishes to dictate strategic choices in
the domain of foreign policy, and jeopardize the security of an ally,
a policy that above all violates the very meaning and collective
security character of the Atlantic Alliance.

Ex-President Clinton's view was that "American activism guarantees
international stability", yet this seems to have been forgotten,
although American foreign policy is characterised by a substantial
degree of continuity. It is time the State Department rediscovered its
long-supported values and honored its allies.

Our neighbours need to understand that stability can not be built on
irredentism. This is very basic for the return of the whole region in
development orbit. At the same time the State Department should stop
taking advantage of disputes that destabilize the region. These aere
the components of a real stabilizing activism.

1] S. Lefebvre, "The FYROM: Where to?", European Security, vol.3, n.4,
Winter 1994, p.711

2] "Tito held moving to win Macedonia"; Backing for Aegean Minority's
Unity Re-garded as Notice to Greece of Yugoslav Claim", New York
Times, October 14, 1945.

3] "Cominform Strikes at Tito And Athens Via Macedonia; Ancient Region
of Battles in the Balkans A Key to 'Cold War' on the Greek Front", The
New York Times, April 3, 1949.

4] «Greek Communist Shift to 'Free' Macedonia Points to Party Purge on
Cominform Orders», The New York Times, March 4, 1949.

5] This aspect is scrutinized in George Voskopoulos, Greek Foreign
Policy, from the 20TH to the 21st Century, Papazisis, Athens, 2005
(published in Greek)

6] This view is scrutinised in George Voskopoulos (ed.), Transatlantic
Relations and European Integration, realities and dilemmas, ICFAI
University Press, Hyderabad, 2006.
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