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FYROM Name Issue
The issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not just a dispute over historical facts or symbols. It concerns the conduct of a UN member state, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which contravenes the fundamental principles of international law and order; specifically, respect for good neighbourly relations, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The name issue is thus a problem with regional and international dimensions, consisting in the promotion of irredentist and territorial ambitions on the part of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, mainly through the counterfeiting of history and usurpation of Greece’s national and historical heritage.
The name issue arose in 1991, when the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia seceded from Yugoslavia and declared its independence under the name “Republic of Macedonia”.
Historically, the term “Macedonia”, which is a Greek word, refers to the Kingdom and culture of the ancient Macedonians, who belong to the Hellenic nation and are unquestionably part of Greek historical and cultural heritage.
Geographically, the term “Macedonia” refers to a wider region extending into the current territory of various Balkan countries, with the largest part of the region being in Greece and smaller sections in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania. The core of what was ancient Macedonia lies within contemporary Greek borders, comprises the northern portion of the Greek state, and is called Macedonia. Some 2.5 million Greeks reside in this region today and they and their forebears have considered and called themselves Macedonians through the centuries.
The roots of the name issue go back to the mid-1940s, when, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Commander in Chief Tito separated from Serbia the region that had been known until that time as Vardar Banovina (today’s Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), giving it the status of a federal unit of the new Socialist Federal Republic of Macedonia, renaming it, initially, the “People’s Republic of Macedonia”, and, later, the “Socialist Republic of Macedonia”. At the same time, he started to cultivate the idea of a separate and discrete “Macedonian nation”.
Tito of course had many reasons for making these moves, the main one being to lay the foundations for future Yugoslavian territorial claims in the wider region of Macedonia and secure an opening on the Aegean. Tito’s intentions in the wider Macedonian region had been confirmed as early as 1944, when he declared publicly that his goal was to reunify “all the sections of Macedonia that were broken up in 1912 and 1913 by the Balkan imperialists.”
A December 1944 State Department dispatch to the U.S. authorities, signed by the US Secretary of State at the time, Stettinius, noted, among other things, that “This [US] Government considers talk of Macedonian "nation", Macedonian "Fatherland", or Macedonian "national consciousness" to be unjustified demagoguery representing no ethnic, nor political reality, and sees in its present revival a possible cloak for aggressive intentions against Greece.”
Against this historical background, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia declared its independence in 1991, basing its existence as an independent state on the artificial and spurious notion of the “Macedonian nation”, which was cultivated systematically through the falsification of history and the exploitation of ancient Macedonia purely for reasons of political expediency.
Greece reacted strongly to the theft of its historical and cultural heritage and the treacherous territorial and irredentist intentions of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the issue came before the UN Security Council, which, in two resolutions [817(1993) and 845(1993)] recommended that a settlement be found quickly, for the sake of peaceful relations and good neighbourliness in the region.
In 1993, following a recommendation from the Security Council, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was accepted, by decision of the General Assembly, into the United Nations under this provisional name, until such time as an agreed solution is reached.
In 1995, Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia concluded an Interim Accord, which imposed a binding “code of conduct”.
Based on the Interim Accord, the two sides began negotiations under the auspices of the UN. These negotiations have continued to this day.
In the time that has elapsed since the signing of the Interim Accord, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has systematically violated the letter and spirit of the Accord, as well as the obligations deriving from it:
- promoting territorial designs against Greece through the portrayal on maps, in school books, in history books, etc., of Greek territory as being within the territory of a “greater” Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in violation of articles 2, 3, 4 and 7.1;
- supporting irredentist claims and inciting nationalistic feeling within Greece, in violation of article 6.2;
- using the name “Republic of Macedonia” in international organizations – including the United Nations – that it has joined under the condition that it use the provisional name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, in violation of the relevant commitments provided for in article 11.1 (even on the floor of the UN General Assembly, the then-president of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia stated that “the name of my country is and shall remain the Republic of Macedonia”);
- using symbols – including the Vergina Sun and other symbols that are part of Greece’s historical and cultural heritage – the use of which is prohibited under article 7.2. Other instances of this violation include the renaming Skopje’s airport “Alexander the Great”, the raising of statues of Alexander the Great and Philip II, and naming the section of Corridor X that passes through the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia “Alexander the Macedonian”, construction of the “Porta Macedonia” arch, the surface of which bears carved reliefs depicting scenes from ancient Greek history and the Vergina Sun, as well as express reference to “Aegean Macedonia”.
- taking or tolerating provocative actions that incite hostility and fanaticism, including desecration of the Greek flag and substitution of the Nazi swastika for the Christian cross, harassment of Greek businesses, businesspersons and tourists, etc., in violation of article 7.1, irredentist slogans shouted by Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia supporters at international sporting events, actions both provocative and insulting to Greece at the Carnival of Vevčani, which is funded by the Culture Ministry of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
A fundamental principle of every negotiation between states is that the involved parties must negotiate in good faith and a constructive spirit, and exhaust every possibility of reaching a compromise solution.
Greece is firm in its sincere will to achieve a viable solution of the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We have made clear to everyone that the framework for a solution that our country can consent to is a name that includes a clear qualifier, leaves no room for disputes regarding the distinction between the territory of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the region of Macedonia in Northern Greece, and is used in relations to everyone (erga omnes) and for all purposes.
In October 2012, the Greek government took a major initiative aimed at imparting momentum to the negotiation process for the resolution of the name issue. The Greek Foreign Minister sent a letter to his Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia counterpart, proposing that the two countries sign a Memorandum of Understanding that would set out the framework and basic parameters for the definitive resolution of the name issue. Specifically, this letter proposed that in order to provide a fresh impetus to the substance of the negotiations under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, it is necessary to proceed on the basis of an agreed framework on the basic parameters of a solution which should include an agreement on the fact that any proposal should contain a clear and definitive qualifier regarding the name, which will leave no ambiguities as to the distinction between the territory of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and regions in neighbouring countries, in particular, the region of Macedonia in northern Greece, and that the name agreed upon will be used by all erga omnes and for all purposes. The international response to this proposal was positive.
In its response, the side of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, while thanking the Greek side for its proposal, reiterated its longstanding positions, essentially dismissing the Greek proposal.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has so far not responded to Greece’s moves and insists intransigently on its initial position, which it is attempting to impose de facto internationally, with the result that substantial progress has not been made in the 19 years of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations.
It is clear that through this stance the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is failing to respect the principle of good neighbourly relations.
Within this framework, at the Bucharest NATO Summit in April 2008, the members of the Alliance decided in a collective and unanimous decision that an accession invitation will be extended to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia only if the name issue has been resolved in a mutually acceptable manner. This decision has been reaffirmed and reiterated at all subsequent NATO Summits, including those in Strasbourg (2009), Lisbon (2010), and Chicago (2012).
On 17 November 2008, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia applied to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague against Greece, alleging that Greece raised objection to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s accession to NATO at the Bucharest Summit in 2008.
In this case, the International Court of Justice in The Hague did not go into the substance of the name dispute, noting that it does not have the relevant jurisdiction, and that the dispute must be resolved within the framework determined by the resolutions of the UN Security Council: through negotiations under the auspices of the UN. The ICJ also called on the two sides to engage in substantial negotiations under the auspices of the UN.
The Ruling does not concern and could not concern the NATO decision-making process or the criteria and requirements the Alliance sets for countries aspiring to NATO membership.
At the June 2008 European Council the EU decided, in a collective and unanimous decision, that the resolution of the name issue in a mutually acceptable manner is a fundamental necessity if further steps are to be taken on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s EU accession course.
In December 2012, the European Council decided, in a collective and unanimous decision, that the opening of EU accession negotiations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia hinges on implementation of the necessary reforms, promotion of and respect for good neighbourly relations, and the resolution of the name issue within the framework of the negotiations under the UN. The resolution of the name issue is thus set as a prerequisite for the opening of accession’s negotiations between the EU and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and as a criterion for the maintaining of good neighbourly relations with Greece.
Greece supports rather than opposes the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s European and Euroatlantic perspective. It was also with Greece’s consent that the visa requirement for citizens of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was abolished. But the basic objective prerequisite for the continuation and completion of the European and Euroatlantic courses of every candidate country is adoption of and respect in practice for the fundamental principles of the organization they want to join, and particularly the principle of good neighbourly relations, which is the basis for a partnership or alliance between states.
Instead of acknowledging and appreciating Greece’s support for its European and Euroatlantic course, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia usually answers Greece’s gestures of support with fresh provocations and a hardened stance.
A compound name with a geographical qualifier for use in relations to everyone (erga omnes) is the best possible basis for finding an honest, mutually beneficial compromise that will not create winners and losers, but will lay the foundations for the development of a healthy and stable bilateral relationship based on the principle of respect for good neighbourly relations, and will strengthen peace and stability in the wider region.
Greece desires and is pursuing the mutually acceptable, clear and definitive resolution of the name issue – through a solution that will not create tensions in the future – at the soonest possible time
The Greek government is making every effort towards this direction. Greece remains steadfastly dedicated to the negotiation process under UN envoy Matthew Nimetz.
Despite the existence of this serious issue, which impacts the relations between the two countries, Greece continues to have a prominent economic presence in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, contributing substantially and significantly to development, job creation, infrastructure building, etc., in our neighbouring country.
The resolution of the name issue will remove a major point of friction from the relations between the two countries and will allow for full realization of the great potential for cooperation between the two countries.