Athens and Skopje – Reply to Mr. Craig Whitlock by Dr Christos Karatzios

Dear Mr. Whitlock,                                                                    Friday, July 31, 2009

            I thank you for taking the time to respond to my e-mail. It was courteous of you to do so in view of your busy schedule, and since many readers on this issue have probably contacted you.

            However, and unfortunately I continue to disagree with your views. You state that you would prefer not to argue each of the points I outline in my letter to you. In my view, these points that you dismiss are testament to the bias in your article. How can you state that the article has no bias when you interviewed no less than 6 individuals from Skopje and its Diaspora, and quote them without verifying the facts, all the while presenting their opinions as if they are the Gospel truth? In the meantime, you only quote the Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece and in a very conscious way, you state that Greece’s views stem only from the government. You state that it is not the job of the journalist to censor anyone. I agree with you however, it is the job of the journalist to report truthfully. Otherwise you reduce your newspaper to the level of a supermarket tabloid. Would you have devoted word after word to a Holocaust denier or the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan? Would you have written a story about how the CIA flew airplanes into the World Trade Center in 2001? I can provide you with examples of overt racism uttered by elite members of organizations like the World Macedonian Congress (WMC), and United Macedonian Diaspora [1, 2, 3]. Yet you give Todor Petrov a platform.Mr. Whitlock, despite the freedom of expression, and the right of journalistic freedom, hate and fringe ideas do need to be censored or at least presented with counterarguments. Statements like: “The Athens government says there is no question that he [Alexander the Great] was Greek” reflect your view as well. You seem to collude with pseudohistorian Pasko Kuzman. How then are you not putting The Washington Post’s reputation on the line?
I will now focus on your counterpoints to me. In your first counterpoint, you claim that I am disingenuous when I discuss the first constitution written in Skopje. I know very well that Skopje changed its constitution and flag in 1995. You state that Skopje has stopped all irredentist activity (including land claims) and I am not truthful when I state (with supporting references and pictures) that Skopje still harbours such feelings. Did you not see the picture of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski laying a wreath on [Bulgarian] hero Goče Delčev’s grave under a poster of a “United Macedonia”? Despite changing their flag, the Diaspora and even members of Skopje’s government still use the old irredentist flag in their offices and in public [4, 5, 6, 7]. There are even official calls to revert back to the old flag. Did you not see the video of Antonio Milososki that I linked in my original letter? If he denies that a Macedonia existed in Greece before 1988, how then is his government to be trusted? If Skopje would have adhered to the Interim Accord, its government would not promote the idea of an unredeemed “Aegean Macedonia” in the school curriculum [8], and its government would not encourage the plight of land claims in Greece by “Aegean Macedonians”[9, 10, 11]. Last summer, in a pre-election strategy, instead of focusing on his country’s economic and social problems, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski started chasing waterfalls by writing to the Greek Prime Minister, to the United Nations, and to the European Union, requesting human rights for the “Macedonian” minority in Greece. Did he not violate the Interim Accord by doing this? Why has the country, whose official name is the cumbersome but accepted FYROM until a mutually acceptable name is agreed upon, gone around and marketed itself as “Republika Makedonija”? Why have they brought suit against Greece at the International Court of Justice in The Hague claiming that Athens violated the Interim Accord when she objected in Bucharest in 2008? They will likely lose the suit (which will probably be heard in 3 to 5 years) but again this was a pre-election coup by the VMRO for internal consumption only.
Mr. Whitlock, the constitution and (arguably) the flag may have changed but the ATTITUDE in Skopje has not changed. We know very well that a constitution and flag can easily be reverted back to the original by parliamentary decree if there is enough will and power by the government, the Assembly, and the people (Articles 68, 74, and 129 of the country’s new constitution discuss how “changes in the [Republic’s] borders” can be achieved): The governing VMRO overwhelmingly holds the Presidency, the Prime Minister’s office, and controls the parliament. There are laws that make it a crime to research ethnicity and to question ultra-Macedonism (Article 179 of the country’s Criminal and Penal Code). [12, 13]. For goodness sake Mr. Whitlock, God appeared on TV and spoke to the nation, edging them on in their struggle against Greece and reaffirming their view that they are the progenitors of the white race [14]!
As for the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest: I am not distorting any facts. Greece did not use any veto. As I have mentioned before, Skopje was not invited to join NATO (to the personal dismay of then-President George W. Bush) because there were many countries concerned with the lack of democratic and good-neighbourly progress by Skopje. As NATO Secretary General Jan de Hoop officially stated, “There has never been a veto” [15, 16 (see par. 20), 17]. Despite your claims to not really have an opinion on the matter, you state that if Greece had not objected, “Macedonia” would be in NATO right now. Is this the crux of the problem as you see it?  Is this the bone you have to pick with Greece? Is FYROM ready to be a NATO or EU country before countries like Croatia? If you support NATO expansion at any cost, then yes you and your newspaper are reflecting ex-President George W. Bush’s US Foreign Policy. By the way, Skopje’s bid was sponsored by the United States as “Republic of Macedonia”, and not FYROM. Greece has no obligation to accept the country as anything but FYROM as per the Interim Accord of 1995. As a result, I did not distort any facts on the matter.
Finally, I fail to see how you fail to see the analogy I give with US-Cuban relations. It is a very clear analogy of a larger country rightfully reacting to the irredentism of a smaller one and yet you criticize Greece. This is an obvious double standard.
Mr. Whitlock, we are both educated people and you can’t deny the influence the media has on public opinion and on a country’s internal and foreign policy. US senators and congressmen/women frequently quote newspapers when making their arguments in the Senate and the House of Representatives. As a recent example, the media was very much responsible for propagating the idea that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction” and had direct links to Al Qaeda. However, in the view of many people around the world, the US went to war against a ruthless dictator but under false pretense as was evident later. I hope you can see the analogy of how the media influences public and governmental opinion and the responsibility you have as a journalist to present balanced news.
I would be more than happy to continue a discourse with you. In closing, I invite you to write a balanced article on the Athens-Skopje debate. I invite you to give some of the worldwide classicists who deride pseudohistory [18] a voice, I invite you to interview members of the PanMacedonian Association [19] and bilingual Greeks, and I invite you to visit Vergina, Pella, Philippoi, and Dion and see the real Macedonia.
Christos Karatzios MD

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