The recent Greek veto of the Republic of Macedonia’s NATO membership during the NATO Bucharest Summit earlier this month was unfounded and contrary to the principles of NATO and its member states.
Macedonia fulfilled all of the membership criteria set forth by NATO and all other NATO members supported its admission into the alliance. Despite not yet being a member of the Alliance, Macedonia participates in NATO operations in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
Macedonia also recently assumed command of NATO’s former host nation support coordination center that provides logistical support for KFOR forces in Kosovo, and Macedonia is participating in combat operations alongside American forces in Iraq.
Greece’s claims that it seeks a “mutually acceptable” solution to the “name dispute” and that it wants “good and neighborly” relations with Macedonia were betrayed by its veto and its acts since the NATO Summit. These acts have been carried out with disturbing bravado following Greece’s self-proclaimed “success” at the Summit.
It was Greece, not Macedonia, that rejected the most recent proposal to resolve the “name dispute.” Moreover, Greece’s veto violated the 1995 Interim Accord that it signed with Macedonia, which binds Greece’s right to veto Macedonia’s NATO bid or any other international organization that Macedonia would like to join as long as it joins under the U.N. provisional reference term used to identify Macedonia.
It is now clear that Greece does not seek a “mutually acceptable” solution, but only a unilaterally imposed solution mandated to Macedonia by Greece. Having failed on all other fronts to prevail in the “name dispute,” Greece believes it can abuse its NATO and EU membership to extort further concessions from Macedonia. In pursuing its bully diplomacy against Macedonia, Greece has sacrificed NATO interests and prestige in the region and jeopardized regional peace and stability simply to satisfy its pedantic objection to Macedonia’s name.
Since the Bucharest Summit, Greece has distanced itself even further from the last proposal advanced by U.N. Ambassador Matthew Nimetz.
Additionally, in moves eerily reminiscent of the illegal Greek trade embargo against Macedonia from 1991 to 1995, Greece recently banned the import of meat from Macedonia into Greece and barred Macedonian Airlines Transport(MAT), a private company, from flying into or over Greece.
The rationale is that the meat is labeled as coming from the Republic of Macedonia and MAT includes the word “Macedonian” in its name. These are hardly the actions of a nation claiming it seeks “good and neighborly” relations with its neighbor.
In addition, most appalling, was Greece’s attempt to literally buy its way out of the “dispute” when the Greek foreign minister announced Greece would make substantial foreign aid available to Macedonia if Macedonia simply capitulated to Greece and allowed Greece to dictate a new name for Macedonia.
As ridiculous as Greece’s actions and posturing are, they are nothing new. Greece has pursued a policy of negating everything Macedonian and eradicating the Macedonian culture and national identity within its borders and in the wider region ever since Greece acquired a portion of geographic Macedonia because of the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest.
To this day, Greece denies the existence of a large Macedonian minority in northern Greece though numerous U.S. State Department Reports, Human Rights Watch Reports, and other independent nongovernmental organizations have confirmed its existence time after time.
Recent claims by the Political Party of Macedonian Minority in Greece, Rainbow, put the number of Macedonians in northern Greece at nearly 200,000. However, the Greek government continues to claim these people do not exist and indeed that Macedonians either inside or outside of Greece do not exist.
Greece’s objections to Macedonia’s name are not based on the Greek delusion of a direct link to an ancient Macedonian king nor on Greece’s false claims that Macedonia harbors an expansionist agenda, but only on Greece’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of the Macedonian people. Indeed, Greece hopes to impose a solution to the “dispute” under which Macedonians will be called something, anything, other than Macedonians.
One would hope Greece would not want to be considered complicit in a current long line of minority rights violations, human rights abrogations and political rights concerns.
The United States has been a beacon of light for democracy and human rights, and one would hope that just as the U.S. has taken the plight of Tibetans into consideration in regards to its relations with China, the same respect should be taken in its relations with Greek authorities of the rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece.
The United States should continue to support Macedonia’s name and NATO membership.
Metodija A. Koloski is president of United Macedonian Diaspora, an international nongovernmental organization addressing the interests and needs of Macedonians and Macedonian communities throughout the world. (https://www.umdiaspora.org)