AIM: start

SAT, 14 APR 2001 18:37:24 GMT

Greece's Major, yet Incomplete, Change in its Policy towards Macedonia

AIM Athens, April 14, 2001

During the recent conflict in Macedonia, the Greek government adopted positions stressing the integrity of the neighboring country and the inviolability of its borders. At the same time Greece condemned, in the strongest of terms, attempts to divide the country along ethnic lines.

Greece's attitude signifies a major change in the country's foreign policy which during a good part of the 1990s consisted in overt and covert attempts to destabilize Macedonia with the help of Milosevic's Serbia. However, despite these significant changes, Greece's foreign policy on this issue is still plagued by serious contradictions and omissions.

The first omission concerns the fact that Greece has not as yet denounced the dogma of the "non-viability of multiethnic states" that provided the theoretical underpinning of its Balkan policy in the early 1990s.

Two key documents, where this dogma is expounded, are then President C. Karamanlis' 1992 letter to then Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonis Samaras, and the Memorandum on Yugoslav Macedonia, submitted in 1991 by Mr. Samaras to his colleagues in the European Union. In the former President Karamanlis claimed that Macedonia and Bosnia were "non-viable states" because "the ethnic composition and the geographical distribution of their population constitutes an explosive mix." In the Memorandum on Yugoslav Macedonia, Mr.Samaras asserted that Macedonia was not viable because "one third of its population are ethnic Albanians."

The dogma of "non-viability of multiethnic states," which Greece adopted in the early 1990s, and which the present government has not officially denounced, in effect legitimizes the secessionist aspirations of the ethnic Albanian extremists operating in neighboring Macedonia. Some statements of Albanian extremists to the effect that they cannot live together with the Slav Macedonians echo views popular in the Greek MFA during the early nineties. However it must be said that when Macedonian Albanian political parties asked then Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitotsakis to support their demands concerning their status as a "constituent community"(and not a minority) of Macedonia, the Greek Prime Minister implicitly declined to do so. Both Mr.Mitsotakis as well as Mr.Papandreou that followed him had pinned all their hopes for the "solution" of the Macedonian issue to the good services of their friend and ally Slobodan Milosevic.

The second and more serious contradiction in Greece's policy towards Macedonia consists in the fact that the Greek state to this day refuses to recognize the existence of a Slav Macedonian ethnic group, with its language, symbols, and history. A case in point is the issue of the Macedonian language which in most Greek official documents is referred to as "dialect" or "idiom"-but not as "language". The denial of the existence of a Slav Macedonian ethnicity has as a result that Greece finds itself in the paradoxical situation of recognizing the existence of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia but not the existence of ethnic Slav Macedonians. Moreover the overwhelming majority of the Greek media and political class continue using the demeaning term "Skopje" for Macedonia, "Skopjans" for its Slav inhabitants and "Skopjan" for the Slav Macedonian language.

The contradictions and omissions that characterize the foreign policy of Greece towards Macedonia are not the results of oversight or bureaucratic incompetence as is occasionally argued .On the contrary they are the result of the ideology of ethnic nationalism that has dominated Greek society since its inception. Abandoning the doctrine of "non-viability of multiethnic states" and recognizing at the same time the existence of a Slav Macedonian ethnic group would have implications that would be felt also within Greece's borders. Such a step would in effect mean recognizing the existence of a Slav Macedonian minority in Greece, whose existence the government and all the political parties of the country vehemently deny. As I argue in a forthcoming book ("The Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic's Serbia during the 1990s" to be published in January 2002, in London and New York), such a recognition would run counter to the templates of ethnic homogeneity and purity that define Greek ethnic nationalism. Slav Macedonians cannot exist for the very simply reason that nobody who is not Greek can properly speaking be said to "exist" in Greece. In Greece, like in most states dominated by the ideology of ethnic (as opposed to civic) nationalism, the "right to exist," like indeed any other right, derives from the person's belonging to the dominant ethnic group and not from his/her participation in the political community, his/her payment of taxes to the State or his/her obedience to the Constitution of the country.

Let me note in concluding that the decade-old disagreement between Greece and Macedonia never really concerned the question of the name of the young republic as has been erroneously assumed. The real bone of contention was always Greece's refusal to recognize the existence of a Slav Macedonian ethnic group within and outside Greece. Even if the Slav Macedonians for example decided to accept Greece's demands and change their name into say "Penguins" there would still be for example the question of the historical status of the "Penguins," as well as the question concerning the return to their place of origin of "Penguins" born in Greek Macedonia. That this -and not the name- is the essence of the problems between the two countries was recognized by none other than the former Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, who in 1995 wrote:

"I saw from the first moment the problem of Skopje in its true dimensions. What concerned me from the very first moment was not the name of the state. The problem for me from the very beginning was that (we should not allow) the creation of a second minority problem in the area of Western Macedonia (in Greece). My main aim was to convince the Republic (of Macedonia) to declare that there is no Slavomacedonian minority in Greece. This was the real key of our difference with Skopje".

Takis Michas