Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

What’s in a Name?

Macedonia's ambassador responds to "The Name Game".

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A protestor displays a scarf reading Macedonia at the protest in support of the constitutional name of Macedonia at one of the central Skopje squares on February 27, 2008. Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski insisted on Tuesday that his country had met all the conditions necessary to join NATO and that only the row with Greece was holding up membership. Greece has for more than 15 years refused to recognise the former Yugoslav republic's name because it is the same as the northern Greek province of Macedonia. Athens wants the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) used. AFP PHOTO/ROBERT ATANASOVSKI (Photo credit should read ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

ForeignPolicy.com recently published an inaccurate history (“The Name Game,” July 23, 2009) of Greece's efforts to prevent Macedonia from joining NATO and the European Union.

The authors refer to Greece’s veto of our NATO accession for reasons of “bad neighborly relations” and point specifically to Greek concerns that Macedonia’s chosen name implies “expansionist ambitions.”  However, the article neglects to mention Macedonia’s many efforts to accommodate and assuage Greek concerns. In 1995, Macedonia changed our national flag and reinforced the “no change of borders" provision of our constitution, adding that we “have no territorial claims against neighboring states.”

Only months ago, Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki sent a letter to his Greek counterpart, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, reiterating three initiatives originally proposed by our government in January 2008: the signing of a declaration of friendship, good-neighborliness, and cooperation; the establishment of a joint committee on education and history; and the reaffirmation of our proposed framework proposal for advancing bilateral relations between the two countries. Unfortunately, the Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected our offer out of hand; a week later, Bakoyannis confirmed the rejection in a letter sent to Milososki.

ForeignPolicy.com recently published an inaccurate history (“The Name Game,” July 23, 2009) of Greece’s efforts to prevent Macedonia from joining NATO and the European Union.

The authors refer to Greece’s veto of our NATO accession for reasons of “bad neighborly relations” and point specifically to Greek concerns that Macedonia’s chosen name implies “expansionist ambitions.”  However, the article neglects to mention Macedonia’s many efforts to accommodate and assuage Greek concerns. In 1995, Macedonia changed our national flag and reinforced the “no change of borders" provision of our constitution, adding that we “have no territorial claims against neighboring states.”

Only months ago, Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki sent a letter to his Greek counterpart, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, reiterating three initiatives originally proposed by our government in January 2008: the signing of a declaration of friendship, good-neighborliness, and cooperation; the establishment of a joint committee on education and history; and the reaffirmation of our proposed framework proposal for advancing bilateral relations between the two countries. Unfortunately, the Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected our offer out of hand; a week later, Bakoyannis confirmed the rejection in a letter sent to Milososki.

Macedonia remains fully committed to the U.N.-led mediation process. Earlier this month, I and several Macedonian officials met with U.N.-appointed mediator Matthew Nimetz to further discuss an acceptable solution to this dispute.

We have also been a staunch supporter of NATO, with public opinion polls showing 82 percent support for membership. We have met all preconditions for joining NATO and have troops serving alongside NATO forces in Afghanistan and, until recently, Iraq.

The authors ignored these facts. They allege that Macedonian textbooks contain maps showing the Macedonian ancestral homeland as stretching into Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania. One can find many maps throughout Southeastern Europe showing Macedonia’s historical territory from antiquity.  These are simply that –- historical –- they do not purport to show anything else.

Moreover, the authors offer several false analogies to Greek behavior. I would ask them, What if Canada or Mexico told the United States of America that they could no longer use “America” because it belonged to the greater region?  Surely the United States would not accede to this demand.  The United States has never claimed the exclusive right to use “America,” just as the Republic of Macedonia has never claimed the exclusive right to “Macedonia.”  Greece, however, continues to claim exclusivity.

Although the authors seem to indicate that the Obama administration has been silent on this issue, it has actually been sending a clear and consistent message that it wants Macedonia in NATO and that it wants both Macedonia and Greece to reach a mutually acceptable agreement soon.  No one wants this issue resolved more than Macedonia.  We are eager to find a solution that respects our identity and dignity so that we can put this dispute behind us and focus our full attention on the vital foreign-policy concerns of our country.  We look forward to taking our rightful place as a NATO member and continuing on our path toward EU accession.

Zoran Jolevski is ambassador of the Republic of  Macedonia to the United States.

Next: The authors reply.

Thomas Meaney and Harris Mylonas reply:

The focus of our article was U.S. foreign policy with respect to the future of NATO and the European Union, not the bilateral relations of the two countries involved in the name dispute. We never suggested that the Obama administration has been silent on the issue. Clearly the administration wants the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to enter NATO (and the European Union) and so do we. But NATO and the EU are qualitatively very different organizations from the U.N. They are strong alliances based on solidarity and require the close cooperation of member states.

With the exception of the ambassador’s letter, most reader responses to our article were regrettably indicative of the problem, not the answer. Emotional reactions, while understandable, tend to overwhelm pragmatic considerations and condemn governments to ultranationalist positions for domestic purposes. Under such conditions, stalemate is unavoidable. All parties involved in the process will have to compromise in order to reach a solution.

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