Geographical Macedonia - Controversy Between The Republic of Macedonia and Greece

Controversy Between The Republic of Macedonia and Greece

A controversy exists in regard to whether or not any parts of the historic region of Macedonia are incorporated in the present-day Republic of Macedonia, as very little if any of the ancient Macedonian kingdom is. There is also controversy, however, with regard to the Slavic peoples who are concentrated in less than half of the region. They first arrived in the late 6th and early 7th centuries AD when Slavic-speaking populations overturned Macedonia's Greek ethnic composition. As a result, the appropriation by the "Republic of Macedonia" of what Greece held as its "Greek symbols", raised concerns in Greece as well as fuelling nationalist anger. This anger was reinforced by the legacy of the Civil War and the view in some quarters, that members of Greece's Slavic-speaking minority were pro-Yugoslavian and presented a danger to its borders. The status of the Republic of Macedonia became a heated political issue in Greece where demonstrations took place in Athens while one million Macedonian Greeks took to the streets in Thessaloniki in 1992, under the slogan: "Macedonia is Greek", referring to the name and ancient history of the region, not posing a territorial claim against their northern neighbor. Initially, the Greek government objected formally to any use of the name Macedonia (including any derivative names) and also to the use of symbols such as the Vergina Sun. On the other hand, also in 1992, demonstrations by more than 100,000 ethnic Slav Macedonians took place in Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, over the failure to receive recognition and supporting the constitutional name of the country.

The controversy was not just nationalist, but it also played out in Greece's internal politics. The two leading Greek political parties, the ruling conservative New Democracy under Constantine Mitsotakis and the socialist PASOK under Andreas Papandreou, sought to outbid each other in whipping up nationalist sentiment and the long-term (rather than immediate) threat posed by the apparent irredentist policies of Skopje. To complicate matters further, New Democracy itself was divided; the then prime minister, Mitsotakis, favored a compromise solution on the Macedonian question, while his foreign minister Adonis Samaras took a hard-line approach. The two eventually fell out and Samaras was sacked, with Mitsotakis reserving the foreign ministry for himself. He failed to reach an agreement on the Macedonian issue despite United Nations mediation; he fell from power in October 1993, largely as a result of Samaras causing the government's majority of one to fall in September 1993.

When Andreas Papandreou took power following the October 1993 elections, he established a "hard line" position on the issue. The United Nations recommended recognition of the "Republic of Macedonia" under the temporary name of the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (or FYROM for short), which would be used internationally while the country continued to use "Republic of Macedonia" as its constitutional name. The United States and European Union (therefore, including Greece) agreed to this proposal and duly recognized the Republic of Macedonia. This was followed by new, though smaller demonstrations in Greek cities against what was termed a "betrayal" by Greece's allies. Papandreou supported and encouraged the demonstrations, boosting his own popularity by taking the "hard line" against the Republic of Macedonia. In February 1994, he imposed a total trade embargo on the country, with the exception of food, medicines and humanitarian aid. The effect on the Republic of Macedonia's economy was limited, mainly because the real damage to its economy had been caused by the collapse of Yugoslavia and the loss of central European markets due to the war. Also, many Greeks broke the trade embargo by entering through Bulgaria. However, the embargo had bad impact on the Republic of Macedonia's economy as the country was cut-off from the port of Thessaloniki and became landlocked because of the UN embargo on Yugoslavia to the north, and the Greek embargo to the south. Later, the signing of the Interim accord between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia marked the increased cooperation between the two neighboring states. The blockade had a political cost for Greece, as there was little understanding or sympathy for the country's position, and exasperation over what was seen as Greek obstructionism from some of its European Union partners. Athens was criticized in some quarters for contributing to the rising tension in the Balkans, even though the wars in the former Yugoslavia were widely seen as having been triggered by the premature recognition of its successor republics, a move to which Greece had objected from the beginning. It later emerged that Greece had only agreed to the dissolution of Yugoslavia in return for EU solidarity on the Macedonian issue. In 1994, the European Commission took Greece to the European Court of Justice in an effort to overturn the embargo, but while the court provisionally ruled in Greece's favor, the embargo was lifted by Athens the following year before a final verdict was reached. This was for the "Republic of Macedonia" and Greece to enter into an "interim agreement" in which the Republic of Macedonia agreed to remove any implied territorial claims to the greater Macedonia region from its constitution and to drop the Vergina Sun from its flag. In return, Greece lifted the blockade.

Most of the countries have recognized the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name, notably the United States, the People's Republic of China and Russia, and also its neighbours Bulgaria, Serbia, although as the country is referred in the UN only under the provisional reference the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", the constitutional name is generally used only in bilateral relations and in relations where a state not recognizing the constitutional name is not a party.

Discussions continue over the Greek objection regarding the country's name, but without any resolution so far. The Greek government have linked progress on this issue to the Republic of Macedonia's accession to the European Union and NATO (for more on this, see Accession of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the European Union).

Republic of Macedonia, Croatia and Albania were qualified to join NATO and an invitation for those three countries was planned to be issued on the NATO summit in Bucharest (Romania), in April 2008. Before the beginning of the summit, the American president Bush said that NATO would make a historic decision on the admission of three Balkan nations: Croatia, Albania and Macedonia; and that the United States strongly supported inviting these nations to join NATO. However, during the summit NATO leaders decided not to extend a membership invitation to Macedonia because Greece vetoed the move after the dispute over the name issue. The Macedonian representative and negotiator with Greece in the name issue complained that the Republic of Macedonia was punished not because it had failed to fulfill NATO accession criteria, but because it had been trying to defend its national identity. The NATO leaders agreed to extend a membership invitation for Macedonia as soon as the name issue with Greece is resolved, but until now no progress has been made in the negotiations between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece to resolve the name issue.

In November 2008, Republic of Macedonia filed a lawsuit against Greece before the International Court of Justice in The Hague accusing Athens that it violated the Interim Accord by blocking its NATO membership. In 1995, the two countries signed an agreement by which Macedonia agreed to use the provisional reference in international organizations, while Greece pledged not to block Macedonia's integration into the European Union and NATO.

In March 2009 the European Parliament expressed support for the Republic of Macedonia's EU candidacy and asked the EU to grant the country a date for the start of accession talks by the end of 2009, regretting that the country is waiting three years after the country was granted a candidate status, which makes a demoralizing effect on Macedonia and brings risks of destabilizing the whole region. The parliament also recommended a speedy lifting of the visa regime for the country citizens.

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