The Journal Gazette: Fort Wayne Indiana
Argie N. Bellio is a Fort Wayne-born Macedonian-American and member of the United Macedonian Diaspora, a global non-governmental association addressing the interests and needs of Macedonians and Macedonian communities throughout the world. Metodija A. Koloski, is a Macedonian-American living in Washington, D.C., and is president and co-founder of the United Macedonian Diaspora. They wrote this for Fort Wayne newspapers.A diplomatic point of no return is inching ever closer in the Balkans, threatening to make it once again live up to its reputation as the powder keg of Europe. No, this is not the Kosovo dilemma, but the 16-year-old dispute initiated by Greece over the Republic of Macedonia’s constitutional name.
The dispute erupted after the Republic of Macedonia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and, according to Athens, is based on its fears that Macedonia will press irredentist claims on a province in northern Greece, which it renamed Macedonia in 1988. How the Republic of Macedonia could ever pursue such claims has never been explained.
After years of Greek stonewalling and a three-year illegal embargo, the Interim Accord between the two nations allowed Macedonia’s admission into the United Nations. However, this was achieved only when Macedonia was forced to accept the interim name “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” or “FYROM,” and with its seat in the general assembly between Thailand and Timor Leste.
Understandably, the term “FYROM” is demeaning to Macedonians, and it makes about as much sense as “Former Ottoman Province of Greece” or “Former German Province of Poland.”
Despite Greek objections, more than 120 countries, including the U.S. and all of the other the former Yugoslav nations, recognize the Republic of Macedonia’s under its true name.
The recognition by the U.S. is important to Macedonia and shows the close bond between the two nations. Macedonia is participating in military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Lebanon. It is also a candidate for NATO membership and expects an invitation to join NATO in the near future.
Greece, sadly, is threatening to veto the Republic of Macedonia’s NATO entry unless the term “Macedonia” is removed from its name. Such threats are in direct contravention to the Interim Accord, which bars Greece from impeding the Republic of Macedonia’s accession to international bodies including NATO and the European Union, as long as Macedonia is admitted under the U.N. provisional reference term.
Vetoing the Republic of Macedonia’s NATO membership will create great instability in the region, with potential spillover effects in Kosovo, Albania, Serbia and even Greece itself. Hence, the name dispute remains a potential fuse for yet another Balkan war.
So why does Greece continue this quixotic war against Macedonia’s name? It is about a skillful cover-up of continued Greek oppression of its ethnic minorities, including ethnic Macedonians who continue to live within Greek borders and number in the hundreds of thousands. According to the Greek government, Greece is an ethnically pure state, though a proper census has never been permitted in modern times to prove that.
Thus, the obvious fear in the Greek psyche has nothing to do with the Republic of Macedonia at all. It has everything to do with the large ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. This ongoing denial of basic civil rights to ethnic Macedonians in Greece is well documented by the U.S. Department of State, the European Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and other international human rights groups.
The Republic of Macedonia’s existence and choice of name are sovereign rights, and it is the Republic of Macedonia’s prerogative to promote, preserve and protect the Macedonian ethnic identity and culture on behalf of millions of Macedonians around the world. Such are the rights and prerogative of any sovereign state.
Greece should end this farce of a “name dispute” for the sake of regional stability. The U.S. should pressure its NATO ally Greece to do just that, and the U.S. Congress should continue promoting stability in the Balkans by not passing SR 300 or HR 356.