Greece‘s concern at the frequent provocations and indications from its northern neighbor, FYROM, that it harbors territorial aspirations against Greece are often dismissed in Washington, especially so under the Bush administration. A recent controversy where an advertisement from the Absolut Vodka company depicting California as part of Mexico has showed that American politicians are not so forgiving when the shoe is on the other foot.
Greece has long insisted that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) using simply the name “Republic of Macedonia” to describe itself is not acceptable as that would constitute a monopolisation of the term and encourage the territorial aspirations for the wider geographical region of Macedonia, aspirations which FYROM has consistently exhibited since it gained independence in 1991.
Greece insists that an alternative compromise, one which qualifies that the former Yugoslav Republic occupies only part of the wider Macedonian region (and does not imply terrorial aspirations for the Greece’s own province of Macedonia), such as “New Macedonia or “Slavic Macedonia”, must be reached. Some corners of the European and American press has labelled Greece’s concerns as “paranoid” and unreasonable and, since 2004 under the Bush administration, similar comments have been made by government officials such as Condaleeza Rice. This sort of encouragment of the nationalist elements in FYROM by the Secretary of State has certainly not helped the prospects of a negotiated solution between the two Balkan states.
Greece’s stance has unfairly been labelled as unreasonable. Since 1991 there has been a steady stream of subtle and overt provocations and indications that ultra-nationalism and territorial aspirations against neighbours are still rife on an official, government level in FYROM:
The first constitution promulgated by FYROM included a clause which said the “Macedonian” state had the right to intervene on behalf of “Macedonians” in neighbouring countries
In 1992 a banknote featuring the White Tower of Thessaloniki, capital of Greek Macedonia, was approved by the government but never circulated due to the outcry in Greece
Maps of ‘United Macedonia’ have been constantly found in classrooms and primary and secondary school textbooks
In 2007 Skopje Airport was renamed “Alexander the Great Airport”
Various government websites refer to the geographical parts of Macedonia belonging to Bulgaria and Greece as “Occupied Macedonia”
A common theme at the rallies of ruling nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party are maps of ‘Greater Macedonia’
in February 2008 Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was photographed laying a wreath at the tomb of a 19th century revolutionary and a map of “United Macedonia” (see above picture accompanying this article)
The question is this: are Greece’s concerns about the constitutional name and the aggressive, irredentist attitude of FYROM at an official level dismissed by some unreasonable and would this be the case if the shoe was on the other foot i.e. if the countries of those calling Greece paranoid were the object of aggressive behavior and territorial aspirations from neighbours?
An interesting case in point is the recent controversy in the United States when the Absolut Vodka company which, in keeping with it’s advertising theme about ideal situations, ran an advertisment in Mexico featuring a map of ‘Greater Mexico’ encompassing Texas, California and most the western United States.
The map shows Mexico’s borders as they were prior to 1848 and the Mexican-American war of that year. This is relevant given that while Absolut Vodka’s people can claim the map is merely a historical one, current Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and successive governments of FYROM which have promoted ‘Greater Macedonia’ cannot claim the same given no such state with those borders existed historically. The idea of a ‘United Macedonia’ has its beginnings in 1944 when the communist dictator of Yugoslavia, Josip Tito, renamed the southernmost Yugoslav constituent republic the “Socialist Republic of Macedonia” and went to great lengths to promote the idea of a “Macedonian” nationality.
Nonetheless the offending ad was withdrawn after a barrage of complaints from U.S citizens and condemnations by politicians.
The next question is which case of territorial irredentism is more serious: a risque ad by a vodka company which was a poor attempt at humor; or a series of hostile provocations and indications of territorial aspirations against neighbors Greece and Bulgaria from an official government level in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?
Irredentist behavior towards Greece has been taught in FYROM classrooms and shoved in the face of Greeks for nearly two decades now. Greece has a legitimate argument when it says this sort of behavior threatens peace and the often tenuous security situation in the Balkans.
In 2004, in the midst of Greece-FYROM U.N-sponsored negotiations the Bush Administration decided to drop a bomb on Greece by unilaterally recognizing FYROM as the “Republic of Macedonia”. This is of course yet another example of the administration’s reckless and unilateral approach to foreign affairs which seeks to disregard the U.N completely. With the Bush Administration in its last few weeks of existence the Greeks are optimistic this sort of reckless, “Hawk” foreign policy will be replaced by a more consistent, constructive commitment on the part of the U.S to multilateral diplomacy. After all it was not until 2004 that the Bush Administration turned effectively America into a supporter of FYROM’s territorial aggression towards Greece. Historically speaking Bush’s move turned American policy on the Macedonian issue on its head. For example, on December 26, 1944 a U.S State Department Air gram read as follows: “This Government considers talk of Macedonian “nation”, Macedonian “Fatherland”, or Macedonia “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”. How things change, at least in the mind of Bush’s Hawks.
Despite being in the midst of an economic crisis, the election on November 4 this year will also no doubt constitute a renouncement by the American people of Bush’s disastrous foreign policy as well.
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