Greece v. Republic of Macedonia: The Name Dispute
I. Definition of Conflict and Parties
The epicentre of the aforementioned conflict is the use of the name Macedonia by the Republic of Macedonia (hereinafter, ‘RoM’) as its post-1991 constitutional name. Following its peaceful secession from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in September 1991, RoM sought international recognition and admission in international organizations under its constitutional name. Greece ever since opposes RoM’s use of the term Macedonia invoking lack of disambiguation between it and the adjacent Greek region of Macedonia. Moreover, Greece also objects to an unequivocal use of the term Macedonian for the main ethnic group and language of RoM. In international fora, as well as in relations involving states which do not recognise the constitutional name, it is the provisional reference the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that is currently used to designate RoM pending settlement of the dispute. Greece has extended the battlefield of the conflict in the international arena stating expressly that it will not accept the admission of RoM to the EU and NATO, until the name dispute is resolved.
This is a strictly bilateral conflict between Greece and RoM and had it not been for the strong Greek objections before international fora-that actually halt the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of RoM-this dispute would not have triggered such attention from the international community. Within Greece, there is an ultra right-wing parliamentary party-that has recently augmented its popularity in the Greek region of Macedonia-calling for a ‘historical equitable’ solution to the dispute (excluding the term Macedonia) and exerting pressure to mobilize the nationalistic reflexes of the Greek population. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the population as a whole, as well as particularly in the Greek region of Macedonia, are consistent voters of the major two parties that have formed the administrations negotiating this issue for the last two decades and have adopted a rather compromising approach openly renouncing extremists approaches.
Although there seems not to be an important fraction within the Greek state having a distinct approach on the dispute, this is not the case for RoM. The latter experienced a civil war in 2001 between its main constituencies, namely the profoundly Slav-Macedonian majority and a considerable Albanian minority. Under the new constitution of 2001 that was the outcome of a cease-fire compromise (Ohrid Agreement), the Albanians now enjoy increased privileges in the state’s institutions, whereas it is also the practice that the dominating Slav-Macedonian party will form a governmental coalition with one of the Albanian parties. The Albanian constituency of RoM pushes for a speedy resolution of the name dispute, since its main concerns are focused on the welfare of its people that it can be achieved through admission to NATO and EU. Albanians of RoM largely regard the conflict as a historical battle of the Slav-Macedonian constituency, but have no particular sympathy for their claims.
Bulgaria is also an interested party, although it does not play any significant role in the negotiations. Bulgaria historically has been involved in the dynamics of the area and had exercised sovereignty over different time periods within the last two centuries over the greater Macedonia region (comprising nowadays territories in Greece, Bulgaria, Albania and RoM). Moreover, Bulgarian authorities consider a significant part of RoM’s Slavic population to be of Bulgarian origin and sporadically interfere with RoM’s internal affairs.
EU and NATO are also significant third parties in this dispute, taken into account their enlargement agendas and respective RoM’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, but there is no common perspective among their member-states. Moreover, being effectively in a strong position in both EU and NATO due to the veto power, Greece can influence the dynamics within these fora. US is a strong adherent for the accession of RoM in the NATO alliance and tries to facilitate resolution of the conflict by exerting pressure to both sides to overcome this dispute and, especially to Greece not to further oppose RoM’s Euro-Atlantic integration (as evidenced, i.e., by the US position in the April 2008 Bucharest Summit of NATO favouring an invitation to RoM ). However, it must be stressed that both the US and EU were signatories of the Ohrid Agreement as guarantors for its implementation. The said Agreement contemplates that RoM will pursue its admission in the Euro-Atlantic institutions and underscored the importance of maintenance of security and territorial integrity of the state.
(i) Framing of the conflict
RoM sees this dispute as a fundamental challenge of its ethnical identity. It perceives that Greece is not opposing only to the name of the country per se, but to the existence of an independent ethnical Macedonian group, as well as a discrete Macedonian language. To this end, it further claims that Greece’s intention is to negate the right to self-determination to people with a Macedonian conscience and ultimately associate the term Macedonia only with reference to Greece.
Nevertheless, Greece apparently frames the dispute in other terms. It cites irredentist references in the school textbooks of the neighbouring Republic calling for a United Macedonia, as well as fierce speeches made by RoM’s politicians, to substantiate its claim that the name dispute is only the top of the iceberg. Greece considers RoM to be a potential threat to the territorial integrity of its homonymous northern district and raise security questions correlated with the alleged attempted usurpation of the Macedonian name.
RoM claims that its main constituent ethnic group is Macedonian in ethnicity and, therefore, they have every right to claim unequivocally the name Macedonia for their state, a significant territorial part of which falls within the historical geographical boundaries of the broader region of Macedonia. RoM considers its official language a discrete Macedonian language, totally distinguishable from the Slavic family of languages. Moreover, RoM claims that under the well recognized principle of self determination in the realm of public international law, the sovereign people of RoM have the right to designate themselves at their own discretion and cannot tolerate such an absurd intervention of another country in their internal affairs. To this end, RoM seeks for global recognition and participation in the international fora under its constitutional name. To placate Greek concerns, RoM’s public authorities have introduced the ‘double-formula’ argument and have expressed their will to negotiate a different name with regard to bilateral communications with Greece on the condition that this name shall not be used before international fora. RoM is also of the opinion that the name dispute should not hinder its accession in international organizations and cites the 1995 Interim Accord between the two states mandating Greece not to object to any application by RoM so long as it uses only the appellation set out in “paragraph 2 of the United Nations Security Council resolution 817” (i.e. “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”). RoM also perceives the Greek blockade to its NATO application as an attempt of Greece to influence the outcome of the negotiations taking actions from position of power.
On the other hand, Greece fights for one composite appellation (including the term Macedonia as a purely geographical qualification) erga omnes, i.e, to be used in all international and intergovernmental exchanges, and be also to be designated in the RoM passports. Although Greece had a more robust position in the original phases of the dispute (when it refused any use of the term Macedonia with regard to the designation of the country, its people or their language), it is now more willing to address the self-determination concerns of its neighbours. Nevertheless, Greece refers to the works of academia highlighting that the so-called Macedonian language is only a dialect of Bulgarian and that the major ethnic group is of pure Slav origin and objects their undisambiguated characterization as Macedonian. However, Greece has explicitly stated that it will exercise its veto right to block the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of RoM until the name dispute is permanently resolved, since the overall RoM’ attitude so far is clearly infringing upon the principle of good neighbourly relations.
It is apparent that RoM’s main interest comprises the fundamental need for establishing a coherent national identity. Having been in the realm of Slavic influence from Bulgaria and Serbia, RoM now strives to identify itself independently of any other neighbouring country. Calls for protection of an ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece, despite being unsubstantiated by Greek Statistical Services and denied by Greece , are not irrelevant with the name dispute, although they are mostly targeting an internal audience. It is apparent that any major concession that could hurt the nationalistic sentiments of RoM’s population would directly destabilize the current administration that had run an aggressive, nationalistic campaign. RoM also wishes to address property right of its nationals that fled from Greece following the end of Greek civil war in 1949, in the fear of retribution by the Greek state, since they had fought in the side of the Communists in favour of an independent Macedonian State. Not to be underestimated, the term Macedonia is well recognized worldwide and bears a strong reputation with regard to its historical connotations to ancient Macedonia and the Empire of Alexander the Great. RoM has been engaged in a intensive cultural and historical campaign to associate itself with the ancient people of Macedonia (including inter alia erection of statues of Alexander the Great and his father Phillip II in Skopje, renaming of its main airport after Alexander, renaming of the main highway to Greece –included in the Official Pan-European Corridor X and partly funded by Greece- as “Alexander of Macedon”, renaming of the main sports stadium in Skopje after Philip II, etc).
Greece’s main interests lie mainly in the fields of national security and territorial integrity. Having experienced a civil war after the end of World War II, where following Moscow’s orders Greek and Slav Communists fought for an independent Macedonian state, Greece fears that nationalistic trends could once more emerge in its northern borders. Moreover, Greece also appreciates the distinctive character of the term Macedonia and hosts in its territory many historical sites and monuments associated with ancient Macedonians. To this end, Greece needs to secure that the official, to be internationally used, name of RoM will not lead to a monopolization of the term Macedonia. Greek government also needs to save face internally, where the population remains sensitive on issues of historical conscience and regards the attempted ‘Antiquisation’ of RoM as an infringement of its own cultural heritage. Although the current dynamics on the ground facilitate a compromise, it should not be forgotten that more than a million people had publicly participated in the 1992 and 1994 ‘Rallies for Macedonia’ protesting for the RoM’s positions (analogous huge demonstrations were organized by the Diaspora in Australia and the US).
Common interests: It comes without doubt that maintaining peace and security in the turbulent region of southern Balkans is an important concern for both parties. Greece has not experienced a warfare or an open dispute of its borders since 1949 (end of civil war), while RoM was savaged by an eleven-month civil war in 2001. It should be stressed that despite political tension, there has been no indication whatsoever that a military confrontation could be an alternative to the dispute. Greece has not openly discussed the issue, but it is also clear that a failure of the Ohrid Agreement resulting to a possible dissolution of RoM to two more ethnically clean states (a Slavic-Macedonian and an Albanian state) would not serve its geopolitical interests, since the Slavic part would be more vulnerable to pressures exercised from Sofia and Belgrade, while the Albanian State could further augment the dynamics of the Albanian ethnic groups envisaging the creation of a Greater Albania (comprising Albania, Kosovo and the RoM’s Albanian part). In this respect, both countries have an interest in promoting RoM’s accession in NATO and EU that could stabilize the political situation in a secure environment and create economic growth opportunities. However, it is apparent that RoM’s weighs its interest on joining EU and NATO as far more important than Greece and RoM considers this perspective an urgent need that is highly prioritized in its political agenda.
Moreover, both States have maintained strong economic relations with foreign investment in RoM from Greece being at the top of the list for capital investments and amounting to a net of 1 billion euro and some 10,000 new jobs. At the same time, Greece and RoM have signed a Free Trade Agreement that has led Greece to be the second largest trading partner of RoM in 2008.
The parties have engaged in negotiations under the UN auspices for the last two decades under intense international attention that have, however, led to a stalemate that so far obstructs the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of RoM. Nevertheless, the recent report of the EU Commission strongly endorsing the commencement of accession talks with RoM stipulated enthusiasm in RoM and might generate the perception that EU can exert pressure to Greece not to make further use of its veto power. At the same time, RoM is nowadays recognized by many of the major global forces with its constitutional name (four of five permanent Security Council members, except France) and a considerable number of other countries. To this end, RoM’s BATNA consists of the following elements: (a) carry on an intensive campaign to increase the number of countries recognizing it under its constitutional name; (b) let the member-states of EU and NATO facilitate RoM’s accession under the provisional reference FYROM by pressing Greece to comply with its obligations under the Interim Accord; and (c) wait for the outcome of the complaint it filed with the International Court of Justice with regard to the alleged unlawful exercise of veto by Greece in the NATO Bucharest Summit in April 2008. However, considering that even under strong pressure from the US administration, Greece managed to block an invitation in Bucharest, this BATNA is not strong enough to secure the positive outcome with regard to RoM’s admission in EU and NATO. Moreover, to maximize its BATNA, RoM must diligently show to the international community that it negotiates in good faith with Greece and, therefore, is legitimized to ask for the sympathy of its allies. It should, therefore, withdraw from the bilateral negotiations only and if it is accepted in both EU and NATO under its constitutional name.
After the Bucharest paradigm though, it is apparent that Greece will not hesitate to block all future applications of RoM to join the Euroatlantic institutions. Greek policymakers believe that the political situation within the Republic of Macedonia is not solid (given the impatience shown by leaders of the Albanian constituency ) and see that calls for early admission to NATO and EU could create incentives for concessions from the Macedonian side. For Greece, who has seen a number of countries lately renouncing the recognition of RoM under its constitutional name and returning to the use of the provisional reference FYROM, the BATNA is to stall all future accession of RoM to international organizations through consultation with other member-states and only in extremis by an exercise of its veto right, and re-initiate a robust and intensive campaign addressing the national security concerns created by the alleged RoM’s propaganda. Nor Greece’s BATNA, however, is relatively strong enough, taking into consideration that a negative and defensive approach on this issue will not be tolerated for long by its allies, especially if the internal situation in RoM destabilizes once again. Greece has no particular incentive to abstain from negotiations; on the contrary, the only acceptable time for Greece to withdraw from negotiation would be upon the non-possible incident of a publicly announced territorial claim from the RoM side that could justify a shift of Greece’s BATNA to a more robust response that could even trigger use of its excess military power.
III. Relation-Building and Legitimacy
As already noted, this conflict has not prevented the two countries from engaging into trade and investment schemes of substantial level (especially from Greece), although it has generated a great deal of political and academic debate on both sides. Despite tension, the parties have always been in contact since 13 September 1995, when they formalised bilateral relations in an Interim Accord signed in New York and committed to continuing negotiations on the naming issue under UN auspices. Currently the UN sponsored negotiations are led by Mediator Matthew Nimetz of US (replacing Secretary Cyrus Vance), who was appointed in December 1999 by Kofi Annan as the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Greece-FYROM talks. Negotiations had been intense the last years and it had been hoped that a mutually acceptable solution could have been achieved before NATO’s Summit in Bucharest in April 2008. Nevertheless, RoM did not receive an invitation to join the alliance and in their public statement NATO members announced that the reason was the inability of the parties to find solution in this name dispute. However, Greece and all NATO states agreed that an invitation will be extended as soon as negotiations are concluded. This generated an abrupt reaction from RoM that sued Greece before the International Court of Justice for violating the 1995 UN-brokered Interim Accord. Although Greece has not officially lodged its Counter-Memorial yet, it maintains that RoM has not been negotiating in good faith and, hence, had first violated the provisions of the Accord, thus, nullifying its legality. Greek also maintains that no veto was officially lodged in Bucharest, but there was rather no consensus among the allies on the RoM invitation issue, a thesis reiterated and confirmed by the former NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
It is rather doubtful whether the use of objective criteria could drastically improve the negotiations procedure at this time. To begin with, historical truth and social sciences could play a role in the determination of the character of the ethnicity and language of the majority group of RoM, but both sides can claim a significant number of contradictory scientific conclusions on this aspect. The international norm of self determination seems to favour RoM’s pursuit to define independently its state name. However, the Greek government ascertains that same right applies to citizens of the Greek district of Macedonia that claim their right to be called Macedonians. Lastly, principles of equity and fairness could not strengthen the position of either side. It is apparent that the weakest party both in military and economic terms is RoM, which is further prevented by Greece from joining EU and NATO. However, the alleged irredentist and nationalistic claims of RoM balance the fairness criteria and increase international understanding of Greece’s security concerns.