Dear Mr. Whitlock, Thursday, July 30, 2009
I am sorry to see that your article “Another Rift Between Greece, Macedonia” published online on The Washington Post’s website on July 28, 2009 is completely off mark, biased, and reflects a generally unprofessional attitude on your part. This is not what international reporting is supposed to be like, in my opinion. The article’s tone smacks of political lobbying and not of investigative journalism. You have taken a very sensitive political, and historical topic and have trivialized it in such a way that paints Greece as a spoiled bully who needs to be “corrected” by the United States and the rest of the West. You conjure up romantic images of “Indiana Jones” and “Santa Claus” which are endearing to the average American reader (who by the way knows very little about European history and politics) and as a result you portray Skopje as the underdog who should be winning the hearts and minds of the West because it is being threatened by Greece. I respectfully would like to inform you that this is propaganda and not unbiased journalism.
I would like to analyze many of your erroneous points and back up my arguments with references and facts:
1) Your point:
“The Greek government refuses to recognize its neighbor’s constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, which it sees as a thinly veiled bid to lay claim to three of its northern districts, a region known as Greek Macedonia. After Macedonia declared independence in 1991, Greece prevented it from joining the United Nations and imposed an economic blockade that nearly strangled the fledgling country.”
This is correct however you seem not to know why Greece did this. Skopje’s original constitution mentioned its right to intervene on behalf of its people to protect “Macedonians” living in the general area of Macedonia. In the constitution, this land-locked country mentioned it has the right to a navy. This idea has continued to this day: http://macedoniaonline.eu/content/view/5747/45/.
May I also remind you that the new country’s first state flag showcased the star of Vergina, an ancient Greek emblem and the Ancient Macedonian royal family emblem?
Considering the recent historical conflict Greece had with Yugoslavia and Josip Tito’s plan to annex Greek Macedonia after World War 2, this was seen as continued irredentism by Skopje. There have been multiple examples of official maps published in this new country (especially after 1991) showing a fictitious “United Macedonia”. The US State Department recognized the threat to Greece by Skopje and Yugoslavia back in 1944 and warned all of its missions abroad to be aware of such irredentism against its Greek ally in the war against fascism and then communism . Why has this piece of information evaded you?
The United States tried to invade Cuba (another poor and defenseless country), and has imposed a decades long crippling economic blockade on it when it was found out that Havana courted the USSR militarily and politically. If it is OK for the United States to never forget Cuba’s irredentism, why do you not think it is OK for Greece to react to Skopje’s irredentism? Why did many Americans rightfully react to a 2008 advertising campaign by Absolut Vodka showing California as part of Mexico? I want to make this point clear: This ADVERTISING campaign angered Americans. Greece is dealing with Skopje’s GOVERNMENTAL campaigns [2, 3].
2) Your point:
“Greece also vetoed Macedonia’s bid to join NATO last year and is blocking its admission to the European Union until it changes its name to the Republic of Skopje, the Slavic Republic of Macedonia or something similar.”
Contrary to popular belief, Greece never had to use its veto against Skopje in Bucharest in 2008. In a closed room meeting of NATO members the night before the official announcement, the Greek government was able to convince member states like France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Luxemburg, Iceland, Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Netherlands that Skopje had not met the criteria for NATO membership because it had not fulfilled its obligations under the Interim Accord of 1995. As a result of this non-unanimity, a non-invitation was given to Skopje unless it resolves its dispute with Greece.
More importantly, Greece has never tabled the suggestions: “the Slavic Republic of Macedonia”, or the “Republic of Skopje”. Please research your facts before taking anything you are told at face value. Greece did suggest “Slavomacedonia” as a name but this was rejected by Skopje based on the ground that its large Albanian minority would reject it. Understandably so but if this new country is trying to find a name and identity for its people, should it not be a neutral name that encompasses all of its inhabitants without irredentism against its neighbours? In my opinion, The Central Balkan Republic is the most neutral name but I am not part of the negotiation process.
3) Your point:
“Macedonian officials said they cannot understand why Greece sees their country’s name as a threat or thinks they have a secret plan to annex northern Greece.”
I don’t know where to start with references here. However, I will offer some:
The above posts show how deeply engrained into Skopje’s society is the hatred against Greece. Moreover, they are just a few examples over the last 5 years. There are numerous others spanning decades.
4) Your point:
“It’s laughable,” said Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki, noting that the Macedonian military consists of 8,000 troops and a fleet of eight helicopters. “In America, you have a good phrase to describe a confusing situation. You say, ‘It’s all Greek to me.’ Sometimes we say it’s all Greek to us as well.” “
Funny indeed…the issue has nothing to do with the current state of affairs in the Balkans. One needs to look at the coming horizon and be able to avoid any potential conflicts: Skopje has courted Ankara openly both for military and political cooperation .
It should not be news to anyone that despite being NATO allies, Greece and Turkey have historical antagonism in the region, and are really not the best of allies to put this lightly. Turkey has served as a destabilizing power for the South East Mediterranean for many years: it invaded Cyprus in 1974, its warplanes violate Greek sovereign airspace daily, and it is a major source of transit for illegal immigrants from the East into Europe. Currently, the European Union has asked Turkey to cooperate by not allowing illegal immigration to occur at such alarming rates into Greece. When Skopje courts Ankara, Greece will react. Similarly, Washington reacted with even less restraint when Havana courted Moscow.
For your information, Antonio Milososki (Skopje’s Foreign Minister) has officially propagated the propagandistic and false idea that there existed no Macedonia in Greece before 1988 [5, 6].
If such an official man of Skopje can publicly state such claims without shame, how can anything he says be taken seriously and believed? As an investigative journalist, these questions should be coming from you and not from your readers.
5) Your point:
“The Athens government says there is no question that he [Alexander the Great] was Greek.”
This is an unfortunate statement and reflects your lack of knowledge on the subject. You could not be further from the truth. Yes, the Greek government states this but it is because of history (and Alexander himself). It is not a government inspired propaganda campaign; the whole nation and the whole world know who the ancient Macedonians were. Was Abraham Lincoln American because the White House says so? If you feel that this question is absurd, then you should automatically realize how absurd your statement about Alexander is. I would like to respectfully refer you to the letter of protest written to US President Barack Obama by over 300 classic scholars of worldwide repute against Skopje’s historical revisionism. You may find the link here:
6) Your point:
“Under a truce brokered in 1995 by former U.S. secretary of state Cyrus Vance, Macedonia was allowed to join the United Nations on the Greek condition that it refer to itself in multinational institutions as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM. It was also required to change its flag and rewrite its constitution to include a promise never to violate Greek territory or interfere in Greece’s internal affairs.”
You have not asked the question: “Why did the United Nations require of FYROM to do this?” A famous cliché states that where there is smoke there usually is fire. Think about it: Why indeed? If Greece was simply being a silly bully, why would this still be true of the United Nations, NATO, and European Union conditions? The 1995 Accord also required of Skopje to stop its irredentist activities against Athens. It is obvious that this has not happened.
7) Your point:
“Leaders in Macedonia, a poor, landlocked country about the size of New Hampshire, warned they may have trouble holding the nation together if Greece does not relent soon. Internal unrest, they said, could easily spread to other fragile nations in the Balkans, such as neighboring Kosovo, where 1,500 U.S. troops serve as part of a peacekeeping force.
“The problem is threatening the fabric of our society,” Gjorge Ivanov, the president of Macedonia, said in an interview. “The pressure that Greece is making is destabilizing the whole region.” “
The issue of the stability in the Balkans has nothing to do with Athens and everything to do with Skopje’s irredentism. In a famous diatribe, Skopje contributes to its own instability: http://panmacedonian.info/skopje_contributes.htm
Skopje has many internal problems: upwards of 35% unemployment, and a large Albanian minority (25 – 30% of the population) that is growing very impatient with Skopje’s irredentism and the megalomania of the ruling nationalist VMRO party. In 2001, the country nearly broke apart after Albanians revolted against governmental and societal oppression. This is the crux of the instability in the region and not Greece’s objection to the name issue. However, the ultranationalist government in Skopje is trying to scapegoat Greece for its internal problems. This coupled with irredentist claims of a “United Macedonia” by official and unofficial sources, claims of racial purity and continuity, an official ban on researching its citizens’ roots in the Penal Code articles 178 and 179, and its disregard of its neighbours have contributed to instability in that country and reminds one of another regime that flourished in Europe around 1938-1945 [7, 8, 9, 10]. I suppose if God Himself spoke to the people of FYROM on national TV, then all is correct with the government’s course .
8) Your point:
“Historically, territory inhabited by ethnic Macedonians has belonged to other nations: Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. Those countries have been reluctant to recognize ethnic Macedonians as a separate people, to recognize their Slavic language as a distinct tongue or even to recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church.”
From what reliable sources have you seen or heard that Greece rejects their national consciousness as a separate people, who have a separate language? Despite the world’s awareness of Skopje’s artificial nation building campaign , Greece does not reject the country’s right to self determination. Greece rejects the term “Macedonian” for their identity and language simply because there are 3 million Macedonians in Greece who have been using this regional qualifier as self-identification for over 3000 years. They are Greek and in the regional sense they are Macedonians. Similarly, Texans are Americans, and Bavarians are Germans aren’t they?
The self-proclaimed “Macedonian Orthodox Church” is not recognized by any Christian denomination (Orthodox and Catholic) anywhere in the world. An oxymoronic cold war creation, this schismatic Christian sect broke off its previous affiliation, as part of a conscious nation building campaign in 1967 and has since asked for recognition by its fellow Christians. It supports irredentist claims and thus has been rejected by other Christians since [10, 12]. Close attention should be paid to its support of the false theory that the Rosetta Stone shows the “Ancient Macedonian” language .
9) Your point:
“In an interview, he accused Greece of “practicing ethnic cleansing and genocide on the Macedonian nation” for the past 100 years. “They’re denying our nationality and culture and church and history and our borders,” he said. “
This is probably the most unfortunate paragraph in your article. You can now rest assured that outside ultranationalist websites and circles, the Washington Post has brought this ugly lie to the eyes if many readers by quoting an ultranationalist propagandist. History has recorded that Greece fought with Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War when Bulgaria tried to annex “Greater Macedonia” to “Greater Bulgaria”. The Carnegie Commission Report of 1914 attests to this [13 14]. History has also recorded that Greece fought against Yugoslavia when Belgrade (through Skopje) tried to annex “Greater Macedonia” to the Yugoslav nation after World War 2. Where may I ask is it recorded that Greece committed genocide on a “Macedonian nation”? Based on historical fact the question then as to who is denying borders in the area does not require a journalistic degree to answer.
10) Your point:
“It is not just Macedonia’s national identity that is at stake. The Greek government does not recognize ethnic minorities within its own borders, including Macedonian-speaking residents of northern Greece.”
Mr. Whitlock, Greece has not denied that a small bilingual community exists in Greek Macedonia. They speak Greek and a local Bulgarian-based dialect (a throw back from the time Greek Macedonia was under Ottoman Turkish rule) with many Greek, and Turkish words, which is completely removed from the language codified in Skopje under communist influence in 1944 . The vast majority of this Greek community though rejects any claim that they are not Greek.
Self-determination is defined as the free choice of a person’s own acts and desires without external compulsion. This is the real reason why Greeks object to what Macedonism is attempting to accomplish in Greek Macedonia. Macedonism is acting as a pounding external agitator driven by a State-sponsored ethnocentric nationalist creed with 21st century irredentist visions. The Greek people see a spade and call the spade.
Let me make this clear: There is no pervasive support coming from Slavophone bilingual Greeks for self-determination as “Macedonians” with the connotation of the word that Skopje wants to give. Nor is there an overt expression of yearning by the local inhabitants to learn the Slavonic language of FYROM (in its standard form) – contrary to what Skopje and its Diaspora activists would like the international community to believe. “Macedonian” is not a language that we want to call our dialects, which we have been calling “Bulgarian (Voulgarika)”
In you article, you quote Mr. Pavlos Voskopoulos, the representative of the self proclaimed “Macedonian Political Party of Greece” or Vinozhito (Ouranio Tokso/Rainbow Party). It is worth mentioning here that Vinozhito received a total of 4524 votes in all of Greece during last month’s European Parliamentary elections. Only 2594 votes came from Greek Macedonia itself. That Vinozhito is free to hold associations, and promote their agenda throughout Greece is evident. However, their website is run by ultranationalist Macedonist circles from overseas (the people behind Maknews.com) who repeatedly engage in malicious expressions of rampant hatred and racist slurs while demonstrating virulent hostility against the modern Greek state. There are more people who believe in UFOs in Greece. The Hunters’ Party received more votes. However, you make no mention of this anywhere.
11) Your point:
“Pasko Kuzman, the government’s director of cultural heritage, is a driving force behind Macedonia’s surge of interest in the past. With flowing white hair, three heavy-duty watches strapped to his thick wrists and a National Geographic fanny pack, he has been described as a cross between Indiana Jones and Santa Claus.
In an interview in his office, sitting next to a wall-size copy of a 13th-century icon of Alexander, Kuzman insisted that Greece had stolen the conqueror’s legacy from Macedonia, not the other way around.
“The Greeks are sorry that they are called Greece and not Macedonia,” he said. “What else can I tell you?” “
This is the same Pasko Kuzman who on FYROM’s national television admitted that if they can’t prove that they are the descendants of the ancient Macedonians, they would lose the political game with Greece .
Mr. Whitlock, there are so many biased and erroneous statements in your article that one fails to comprehend how a journalist who writes for an esteemed newspaper could write something like this. I am very sorry to inform you that either you have been duped by Skopje’s propaganda, or you have deliberately written a propaganda piece. A little more professionalism on your part would have avoided this unfortunate circumstance. History and human morality demand this of journalists. You are writing for The Washington Post.
Christos Karatzios MD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
McGill University Health Centre
We would like to express our gratitude to Dr. Karatzios for sending us his reply.
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