The Macedonian Tendency: Strobe Talbott on Macedonia Circa 1992!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Strobe Talbott on Macedonia Circa 1992!

By David Edenden

Strobe Talbott takes a sympathetic view of the Macedonian Greek dispute in 1992. In 1994 he was appointed
Deputy Secretary of State by Bill Clinton. However, he could not convince Clinton to recognize Macedonia by its own name. Here are some articles around that time from the Washington Post (here) ) (here).
America Abroad
Printout -- TIME

GREECE IS REMINDING THE WORLD THAT IT TOO IS A Balkan country, the inhabitant of a region where history often induces hysteria. In his policy toward the disaster zone that used to be Yugoslavia, Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis is well on his way to deepening and widening the war there.

When Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence and appealed for international recognition last year, Macedonia had no choice but to follow suit. Otherwise it would have been swallowed up by Serbia.

A commission of the European Community established criteria for recognition, stressing respect for the rights of ethnic minorities. Macedonia passed the test. Its population is a mixture of nearly a dozen nationalities, but its political system is democratic and pluralistic.

The E.C. was quick to recognize the other breakaway republics, including Croatia, whose regime discriminates against local Serbs. But the Community stiff-armed Macedonia. Why? Because Greece objects to the name and exercised a veto in the councils of the E.C. Macedonia is the birthplace of Alexander the Great and the name of Greece's northern province. Therefore Athens thinks it has a 2,400-year-old trademark on the word.

Last week the Greek Foreign Minister Michalis Papaconstantinou was in Washington, and I had a chance to ask him about this whole business. He maintains that for Macedonia to "adopt a Greek name" is a "provocation" that "implies territorial claims against us."

Never mind that Macedonia's constitution explicitly disavows any such claim. Or that its army consists of about 6,000 ragtag troops armed with pistols and rifles, while Greece's is more than 25 times larger and is equipped with tanks, heavy artillery and jet fighters. Or that there is neither precedent nor justification in international law for one country to tell another what it can call itself.

Partly because the Greek position is so preposterous, the suspicion persists that the complaint about the name camouflages a revival of Greece's own age- old expansionistic ambitions. Several European governments have relayed to Washington reports that Mitsotakis has secretly discussed the partition of Macedonia with Serbia and perhaps with Albania and Bulgaria as well.

Papaconstantinou denies this charge "categorically: I have never seen any document or heard anything of this sort. We want them ((the Macedonians)) to exist ((as a separate state)); we want them as a buffer zone" between Greece and Serbia. "The authorities in Skopje ((the Macedonian capital)) can change their name to anything except Macedonia," and that will remove "a point of friction in the Balkans."

Another recent visitor to Washington -- Jane Miljovski, a minister in the Macedonian government -- offers a persuasive rebuttal: "As citizens of a newborn, almost defenseless nation, we are afraid that if we can be bullied into changing our name, we will next come under pressure to change our borders."

^ Privately, most Western officials acknowledge that Miljovski is right. Yet publicly the E.C. and the U.S. have, in effect, sided with Athens on the ground that there are other, overriding interests at stake.

As a member of NATO, which is undergoing a post-cold war identity crisis, and the E.C., which is trying to keep the Maastricht treaty from unraveling, Greece has extra leverage these days on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S. it has the additional help of the powerful Greek-American lobby.

To his credit, Mitsotakis is working to resolve the long-simmering dispute over Cyprus and reach a rapprochement with Turkey. He keeps hinting that if he budges on the Macedonian question, extreme nationalists in the Greek Parliament -- where he has only a two-vote majority -- will bring down his government and replace it with one that will undo his welcome diplomatic initiatives.

Meanwhile, under the pretext of complying with international sanctions against Serbia, Greece is blockading fuel shipments to Macedonia. As a result, factories there have had to shut down; crops are rotting in the fields; ambulances are sitting useless in hospital parking lots. "It's murder without bullets," says Miljovski.

Economic strangulation will soon lead to social unrest, which in turn could ignite an ethnic conflagration worse than the one in Bosnia. Because Macedonia has large Muslim minorities, civil war within that republic is more likely than anywhere else to escalate into a religious and regional war that could end up pitting Greece against any number of its neighbors, including Turkey. Where will the overriding interests of the U.S., the E.C. and NATO be then?

Having heard out the Greek Foreign Minister, I'm prepared to give him and Mitsotakis the benefit of the doubt on their motivation: they're not guilty of irredentism -- a desire to recover lands lost long ago -- but merely of paranoia and myopia. The situation has all the makings of tragedy, which Aristotle, another great Macedonian who was Alexander's teacher, defined as the result not of wickedness but of foolish pride.

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