Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In the aftermath of the NATO Bucharest Summit, a meeting of highest importance for regional and international security, as well as unprecedented in terms of attendance, a significant issue remains unresolved: that is, the invitation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to join the trans-Atlantic family.

All members of NATO, including Greece, look forward to the day that an invitation is extended to FYROM, as we believe this will further strengthen regional security. Such an outcome is particularly important to Greece, considering the geographic proximity, the traditional ties and the links between our peoples.

During this summit, however, the Alliance made it abundantly clear that accession is contingent upon respect for NATO shared values and principles; that alliances and partnerships can be forged among countries only when there is good will, mutual trust and good neighborly relations. So FYROM’s aspiration to join NATO came to an inevitable halt, as it failed to take steps toward normalizing relations with Greece — a neighbor, major foreign investor and future ally.

Greece has been a NATO member since 1952, ranking high in defense expenditure, reaching almost 2.67 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, participating with numerous personnel, means and capabilities in all major NATO missions and operations, and providing critical facilities. At the same time, it is committed to regional dialogue and stability, using soft and smart power to bring countries closer together. Greece is not only a major investor in its region, but it has also actively supported development in Southeastern Europe through developmental assistance, building of infrastructure and other projects financed by a special fund.

For many, a name expresses little more than a right to self-determination. This, I am afraid, is an oversimplification, as this is a complex issue, interwoven with a rich historical background — as is always the case in our part of the world — and with the sensitivities of the peoples living in the area.

The term “Macedonia” defines a wider geographic region, only a part of which is in FYROM. One might wonder whether FYROM has territorial claims to the entire region. Its leaders claim they have no such plans, and we want to believe them.

Yet, we wonder why official FYROM maps and other state documents depict the region of Macedonia in Greece — which they call “Aegean Macedonia” — as “occupied” territory belonging to FYROM that will one day be “liberated.”

And why are such maps and documents widely used? Why are these geographic and historical inaccuracies found in their school textbooks, propagating a distorted reality? At the very least, such actions — which emanate from the state — “poison” the political climate of our bilateral ties and, even worse, the ties between our peoples.

Let us remember that the name resonates not only for the people of FYROM, but for the Greek people as well.

Greece has taken bold steps toward a solution. In an unprecedented turn, we have come to negotiations prepared to accept a composite name, with a geographical qualifier for the term “Macedonia.” All we ask of the other side is that they meet us half way.

We are not alone in our expectations of FYROM. In the U.S. Congress, 116 members, both Republicans and Democrats, recently co-sponsored House Resolution 356, which expresses the “sense of the House of Representatives that FYROM should stop hostile activities and propaganda against Greece, and should work with the United Nations and Greece to find a mutually acceptable official name.” Sens. Robert Menendez, Olympia Snowe, Barack Obama, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow have introduced a similar resolution in the Senate.

On the fresh momentum of the NATO Summit aftermath, with our expressed readiness to resume negotiations immediately under United Nations auspices, I would like to send a clear and unequivocal message to FYROM: Our will to find a mutually acceptable solution is firm.

Greece invites FYROM anew to display the resolve and political spirit that will secure its accession to NATO and, if all requirements are met, to the European Union tomorrow. FYROM’s future lies in its own hands.

The name issue is not a game of skill. It is one of common sense, where fair is fair for all, and rules apply to all. This was made unanimously clear to both NATO members and aspirants in Bucharest.

Dora Bakoyannis is the foreign affairs minister of Greece.

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