An Underrated Summit: Macedonia
Aayush Mohanty, Research Associate, VIF

The Greek Prime Minister and the Macedonian Prime Minister on June 17 concluded an agreement which led to Macedonia renaming itself as Northern Macedonia.1 This is expected to bring an end to a 27 year dispute over Macedonia’s name that is politically and diplomatically explosive. The dispute between the two countries has been long-running and nationalist sentiments are at stake in both countries as far the name is concerned. The Greek Government survived a no-Confidence motion to sign this historic agreement. 2

Greece has always had a problem with its neighbour calling itself Macedonia as its northern region has the same name which was where Alexander The Great, a historical figure the Greeks take pride in, was born. Further on, the more significant issue is that the Greeks saw Macedonia’s name as a potential basis for a territorial claim to the northern areas of Greece. In 1991, Macedonia had broken away from Yugoslavia peacefully and was officially named as the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ in the United Nations as Greece insisted on the newly formed country not to be known as ‘Republic of Macedonia.’ The Macedonians who spoke Slavic escalated the situation by naming their international airport as ‘Skopje Alexander the Great Airport’, and the motorway ending at the Greek border was named as ‘Alexander the Great Motorway’. This conflict has led to Greece rejecting Macedonia joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU). 3

The summit between the two Prime Ministers has led to a newly proposed name, which is ‘Republic of Northern Macedonia.’ This name has to be recognised by all international institutions in which Macedonia is a member of and all the countries which recognise it. Other alternatives suggested were Ilinden Macedonia (Ilinden is St. Elijah’s day when Macedonians launched an attack against the Ottomans in 1903 and the Nazi’s in 1944), Upper Macedonia and New Macedonia. The new agreement signed clarifies that Macedonians have a different language and have nothing to do with ancient Greek heritage. 4

Macedonia took the first step to resolve the dispute by renaming the Alexander the Great Airport and Motorway to ‘International Airport Skopje’ and ‘Friendship Motorway’ respectively.5 This step led to both the Prime Ministers meeting on the sidelines of EU in Bulgaria, which was followed up by phone calls which led to the summit on the southern bank of Lake Prespa which is a natural border between the two sovereign states.6

On paper, the conflict seems to have been adequately resolved, but there are domestic and international obstacles. Domestic reaction in both countries has been of opposition. In Macedonia, the parliament has to back the agreement before the EU Summit in Bulgaria on June 28 and 29. Meanwhile, Greece has to rescind all opposition it has to Macedonia joining EU and then NATO. The Macedonians will have a referendum in September or October. Here is where the deal can run into trouble.7 The biggest Macedonian opposition party believes that the treaty undermines their sovereignty and a massive protest was organised against the agreement with Greece in Skopje.8

The domestic resistance in Greece is far more severe. The opposition and some of the coalition partners of the current Government in Greece are against the treaty until Skopje reviews their constitution, which is dependent on the referendum. The demand from Greek nationalists is for Macedonia to be renamed, anything other than Macedonia. Until Macedonia changes passages about nationality and the language, they do not want any acceptance of the treaty signed by the two Prime Ministers. The New Democracy Party in Greece, the main opposition party, will not relent, leading to the coalition government losing votes to make sure that there is a conclusion to the 27-year-old dispute.9 Independent Greeks, a part of the coalition government in Greece, also opposes the deal, but the question remains as to whether they are willing to give up power for not agreeing with the deal.10 The no-confidence motion was rejected by 153 Members of Parliament (MP) while being favoured by 127 MP’s. The New Democracy Party is already leading opinion polls for the next elections due in 2019. The Greek coalition government’s conservative partners have decided not to ratify the agreement which is expected to occur by the end of this year.11

There has been no international resistance, yet. If the renaming process is successful then Macedonia will be admitted to the EU and NATO, a move which the Russian Federation might not like as it would be another strategic headache for them along with Poland, as NATO inches closer to the Russian border region. Russia and Greece have cordial ties; in fact, the deal has led to Russia pushing Greece to bring an end to disputes with Albania and Cyprus. 12 Russia wants the parties to resolve the dispute according to the United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

NATO Secretary General has said that they are likely to start talks with Macedonia joining the military alliance during the NATO Summit in Brussels in July. But joining EU might be tough for Macedonia as France and Netherlands are making an argument against Macedonia and Albania joining because of corruption, lack of judicial reform and organised crime. Germany until recently was with France on Macedonia’s candidature for EU but due to geopolitical reasons its stance has softened in view of increasing Russian and Chinese influence in the Balkan region.13

The Greek-Macedonia agreement opens the way for further expansion and integration of the EU. It also establishes a framework for resolving conflicts based on history, names and culture not just in Europe but all around the world. This deal also gives Macedonia more validation to be recognised as a nation-state as neighbours around it have claim on its language (Bulgaria), religion (Serbia) and land (Greece).14 This deal also proves that nation-states are willing to make compromises to be a part of supranational institutions like EU and NATO. The summit has proved that organsations might have less effect on how nation-states take decisions but the benefits of joining one also can be a factor in the decision making of a state.

References

1. Greece, Macedonia sign historic deal to end name row, The Times of India, 17 June 2018, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/europe/greece-macedonia-sign-historic-deal-to-end-name-row/articleshow/64621894.cms
2. Greek PM survives no-confidence vote in parliament, Reuters, 16 June 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-greece-macedonia-tsipras-noconfidence/greek-pm-survives-no-confidence-vote-in-parliament-idUSKBN1JC0X8
3. Macedonia and Greece: Deal after 27-year row over a name, BBC News, 12 June 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44401643
4. Ibid
5. Ibid
6. Skepticism as Greece, Macedonia prepare to ink name accord, The Times of India, 17 June 2018, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/europe/scepticism-as-greece-macedonia-prepare-to-ink-name-accord/articleshow/64621288.cms
7. Ibid 3
8. Macedonian Opposition Calls On to Rally Against Treaty With Greece, Sputnik News, 17 June 2018, https://sputniknews.com/europe/201806171065482567-macedonia-opposition-calls-protests/
9. Greek opposition won't back deal on name unless Skopje changes constitution, Reuters, 12 April 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-greece-macedonia-opposition/greek-opposition-wont-back-deal-on-name-unless-skopje-changes-constitution-idUSKBN1HJ1SJ
10. Ibid 3
11. Ibid 2
12. After Macedonia deal, Greece and Russia call for Cyprus solution, Cyprus Mail (Online), 13 June 2018, https://cyprus-mail.com/2018/06/13/after-macedonia-deal-greece-and-russia-call-for-cyprus-solution/
13. EU divided over Balkan accession as NATO says Macedonia welcome, Reuters, 25 June 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-balkans/eu-divided-over-balkan-accession-as-nato-says-macedonia-welcome-idUSKBN1JL0OL
14. Alexis Tsipras Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, Foreign Policy, 15 June 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/15/alexis-tsipras-deserves-the-nobel-peace-prize/

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


Image Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1737425.stm

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