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Washington Post 04/04/2008

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Response to "For Macedonia, NATO Summit a Disappointment" by Peter Baker Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 4, 2008; 11:35 AM

Hellenic Electronic Center (HEC)

A Non-Profit Organization Registered in the US

with 37,000 Hellenes as members and

36 Hellenic associations in the US and abroad

April 5, 2008

The following letter is intended to clarify certain points in the April 4 article on the NATO

Summit. The conclusion of the article that the government in Skopje fulfilled the criteria set forth by NATO is questionable considering the grievances of NATO member Greece. Greece received unequivocal support from France, Italy, Spain, Iceland, and Luxembourg. In addition, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Belgium, and the Netherlands expressed "understanding" for Greece's positions. Therefore, it is premature to assert that Skopje satisfied all criteria set forth by NATO.

Greek fears of a long term threat emanating from Skopje are entirely reasonable considering recent events in the Balkans. Macedonia was liberated by Greece during the period of the Balkan Wars just as Kosovo was liberated from the Ottoman Empire by Serbia. The recent declaration of independence by Kosovo demonstrates that borders established by the Balkan Wars can no longer be guaranteed, and therefore Greece was obligated for reasons of national security to take measures to protect its territorial integrity, along with its historical patrimony. Political leaders in Skopje have had seventeen years to come to an agreement with Athens. Greece has recognized the territorial integrity of Skopje by establishing diplomatic relations, and by assisting its neighbor economically.

Athens continues to extend its hand in friendship toward Skopje, and is prepared to welcome its neighbour into NATO provided that its political leadership respond affirmatively by abandoning claims to Macedonia. Very recently, Skopje named its airport for Alexander the Great. Western critics of Greece generally fail to acknowledge that there are parties in Skopje that deny the Hellenism of Alexander the Great and Macedonia in general. These elements have made no secret as to what their agenda is. Greek leaders performed quite well at the NATO meeting and were able to successfully convince many of their allies

about this threat by referencing the long history of provocations and historical and geographic distortions that come from Skopje.

Theodore G. Karakostas This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Member of HEC Executive Council

www.greece.org

For Macedonia, NATO Summit a Disappointment

 

By Peter Baker

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, April 4, 2008; 11:35 AM

BUCHAREST, Romania, April 4 -- What's in a name? A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but not to the Greeks.

For 17 years, Greece has quarreled with its northern neighbor about the name it chose after winning independence from the collapsing Yugoslavia. But now this obscure, seemingly trivial dispute has erupted into an international incident as Greece single-handedly blocked NATO membership for the country it refuses to call Macedonia.

The impasse disrupted the alliance's carefully laid plans to expand deeper into the once-troubled Balkans by admitting Albania, Croatia and Macedonia during the summit that ended here Friday. Because it operates on consensus, embarrassed NATO leaders had no choice but to bow to Greek objections and cross Macedonia off the list. The Macedonian delegation stormed out and headed to the airport rather than stay for a reception.

"This decision will cause considerable frustration among our citizens because it is unfair," an irritated Antonio Milososki, the Macedonian foreign minister, said in an interview Thursday as he packed to leave town. "It's not easy to understand that immaterial arguments from ancient times in history put forward by the Greek government have defeated the arguments and the real needs of the real-life stability challenges in the Balkans."

The dispute over Macedonia's name has dragged on without resolution for so long that most of the world had long since forgotten it. But not Greece. To Athens, the name seems like a stab in the heart, a claim to a heritage and a territory that in its view is quintessentially Greek. Most of the geographic area that is considered Macedonia lies within northern Greece, which has a province with that name.

"It's a very sensitive issue," said Evangelos Antonaros, a Greek government spokesman. "It has nothing to do, as some people say superficially, with Alexander the Great and history. It has to do with the relations on the ground today."

International mediators tried to avoid the train wreck that happened here. Every NATO member agreed that Macedonia had met all the criteria for membership, but the name issue was a deal-killer for Greece. Frenzied, last-minute negotiations and a slew of proposed compromise name suggestions proved no more successful in untying the knot than the previous 17 years of diplomacy.

President Bush appeared bewildered by the situation. "The name issue needs to be resolved quickly so that Macedonia can be welcomed into NATO as soon as possible," Bush said. He had already invited Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski and his counterparts from Croatia and Albania to a Saturday celebration in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. Bush spoke with Crvenkovski on Thursday and asked him to come anyway in the hope that "Macedonia will become a NATO member in the near future," as spokesman Gordon Johndroe put it.

The issue has its roots in the long dominance and messy fall of the Ottoman Empire, punctuated by the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 that helped define the region's modern borders. When the multiethnic Yugoslavia began breaking up in 1991, its southern political unit named Macedonia declared independence and baptized itself the Republic of Macedonia, an impoverished little nation of 2 million. An incensed Greece responded with economic sanctions.

The two sides reached a partial resolution in 1995 when Macedonia agreed to change its flag, which used the 16-ray Vergina Sun on red background, the emblem of Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. It also rewrote its constitution, stripping out language expressing solidarity with Macedonians outside its borders, which Greece interpreted as justifying designs on its territory. But Macedonia refused to change the name.

The United States and most countries ultimately recognized the Republic of Macedonia by its chosen name but Greece and the United Nations still insist on calling it the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM.

"Resolution of this name issue is critically important for the long-term stability of the region," said Matthew Nimetz, a former U.S. undersecretary of state who serves as the U.N. special envoy charged with trying to find a settlement. "These two countries will be neighbors forever, and they need to figure out how to live with each other."

Nobody understands better than Nimetz that the name question is not really a laughing matter, and nobody understands better how difficult it is to fix. After all, he's been at it for the better part of 14 years. It's proven such a Sisyphean task that a Macedonia blog posted a mock obituary of Nimetz dying decades from now at age 100: "He went peacefully while taking a cab to a meeting between the Greek and Macedonian governments to settle the long standing 'name' dispute."

In the run-up to the NATO summit, Nimetz called the two sides together and offered a list of five possible names -- the Constitutional Republic of Macedonia, the Democratic Republic of Macedonia, the Independent Republic of Macedonia, the New Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Upper Macedonia. The Greeks, insisting that any qualifier be geographic to distinguish from its own province, accepted Upper Macedonia. The Macedonians rejected them all.

So Nimetz came back with another proposal, the Republic of Macedonia (Skopje), using the nation's capital to make clear that it referred to the Macedonia associated with that area, not all of historic Macedonia. Not good enough for the Greeks. Macedonia agreed to a "double formula," in which everyone calls it Macedonia except for Greece, which could use a name more to its liking. Still no good.

The whole thing might seem crazy to outsiders, but then again, regional specialists point out, look at the deep emotional response of Americans to their own issues of symbolism, such as the Confederate flag. Rallies on the name issue in Greece have drawn thousands of people, and the Athens government has such a tenuous hold on parliament that many political experts believe it would fall if it gave in.

"The question is what's in a name," said Ivan Vejvoda, director of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, affiliated with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. "It's all about identity and symbolic politics, which are especially important for any country. And here this has come to a head."

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Last updated: 9 April 2008

 
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