Macedonia: Europe's Finger in the Dike

But Greece's nationalist threats are crippling the republic

PRESIDENT Clinton's meeting last month with Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou was a missed opportunity to address the looming catastrophe in Macedonia and the southern Balkans. The meeting did little more than legitimize Greek policies, including the recent imposition of an economic embargo on the Republic of Macedonia. Members of the European Union contend that the embargo, employed by Athens to force Macedonia to change its domestic policies, is illegal under the Maastricht Treaty and other international conventions.

During the joint press conference Mr. Clinton expressed hope that the Greek embargo will be lifted, but he tied this prospect to resolving Greece's ``serious'' and ``legitimate'' concerns about Macedonia's flag, constitution, and name. Mr. Papandreou reiterated that the embargo will be lifted when Macedonia abandons its ``aggressive'' and ``irredentist'' stance by changing its constitution and flag. He said that the issue of Macedonia's name should be addressed in a subsequent phase of ongoing United Nations negotiations mediated by Cyrus Vance, with the assistance of Matthew Nimetz, Clinton's special envoy to Macedonia and Greece.

The meeting should have focused on the Greek embargo's effects on Macedonia's fragile economy and government. Whether or not the Bosnian conflict degenerates into an all-European war depends on Macedonia's internal stability, which in turn depends Washington's resolve in persuading Athens to abandon economic coercion by lifting the embargo. After that happens, issues can be discussed on an equal footing, respecting the self-determination and independence of both countries.

Following Macedonia's independence in 1991, Athens demanded that this former Yugoslav republic change its name, its national flag, and its constitution - acts that would require a two-thirds vote of the Macedonian parliament. Greece has pressured Macedonia to comply with these demands through recurrent economic blockades, the most recent of which was imposed immediately after US recognition of Macedonia in February 1994.

The embargo, now before the European Court of Justice as a violation of the Rome, Maastricht, and North Atlantic treaties, has reduced Macedonia's export earnings by 85 percent, contributed to rising unemployment, strikes, and bankruptcies, and has curtailed food imports by 40 percent. Athens claims that essential food, medicine, and other ``humanitarian'' goods are exempt from the embargo, but the State Department reports that few if any humanitarian goods are reaching Macedonia.

Athens charges that Macedonia is a military threat, despite Macedonia's small standing army, the economic crisis facing the country, and a constitution amended in 1992 to conform to recommendations of the Badinter Commission, which concluded that Macedonia fulfilled all conditions for recognition.

The amended constitution explicitly excludes territorial ambitions (Article 3). While it states a concern for the status and rights of Macedonians in neighboring countries, it affirms the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of states (Article 49). Portions of Article 49 are virtually identical to Article 108 of the Greek constitution, which promises protection for Hellenes living abroad.

While a January 1994 State Department report concludes that Macedonia has established a good record in protecting national minorities and human rights, Greece has been found deficient in these areas. Reports issued by Amnesty International, Helsinki Watch, and the International Human Rights Society have documented Greece's current and historic violation of the rights of its large Macedonian and Albanian minorities. The problem's scope is shown by the title of a Helsinki Watch report just issued in Athens: ``One Million Macedonians in Aegean Macedonia.''

MACEDONIA has legitimate concerns about the threat posed by Greece. The embargo has weakened popular support for the Macedonian government and strengthened ultranationalist parties. As Serbia's sole Balkan ally, Athens has anticipated a Serb military drive into Kosovo (and consequent military strife in Macedonia and the region) by developing plans for a 20-kilometer ``security zone'' inside Macedonia and by mobilizing reservists for military maneuvers now under way on the border.

Although Greece reportedly declined a 1992 proposal by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to divide Macedonia, Athens has done nothing to discourage Serb ultranationalists in their quest for a ``Greater Serbia.'' And Greece's lone veto has kept Macedonia out of the Council for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Despite Macedonia's admission to the UN, and its recognition by 60 states, the United States initially deferred to Athens and the Greek-American lobby in refusing to recognize Macedonia. When in February 1994 the US officially recognized the country as ``The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,'' the new embargo was imposed immediately. Contrary to advice by the State Department, the US again deferred to Athens by withholding full diplomatic relations, notwithstanding the presence of a US Diplomatic Liaison Office and ambassador-designate in Skopje and an augmented force of 500 American troops serving under UNPROFOR Macedonia.

Greek policies toward Macedonia are understandable in light of the politics of cultural purity that dominates the country. The three major Greek parties are driven by policies based on a myth of continuity with classical antiquity and a notion of exclusive entitlement to symbols, conquerors, kingdoms, and territories of the ancient world. Yet Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great, did not consider themselves Greeks. Alexander conquered Athens, and today's Macedonia was never a part of Greece. Greece did not refer to any part of its territory as Macedonia until 1988, when Mr. Papandreou's government officially adopted the name ``Macedonia'' to replace that of ``Northern Greece.''

The Republic of Macedonia itself has no Greeks. But it does have, in addition to the majority of Macedonian-speaking and Orthodox Christian population, some 400,000 to 600,000 Albanians, as well as small Turkish, Vlach, Romi, and Serb minorities. In contrast to other Balkan states, Macedonia has a constitution based on citizenship rather than ethnic membership, an emerging market economy and democratic institutions, and a centrist government headed by president Kiro Gligorov, widely regarded as one of the most able heads of state in Europe. Under Mr. Gligorov's leadership Macedonia has emerged as the only republic of the former Yugoslavia to have avoided post-independence bloodshed and contributed to the security of the region.

Among Macedonia's urgent problems are the Greek embargo and the further destabilization that could occur if ultranationalist Serbs make a military drive into Kosovo. This possibility has been welcomed by the newly formed radical-separatist wing of the Party for Democratic Progress, whose members are ethnic Albanians, and by the Democratic Party of Serbs. Both of these Macedonian parties have threatened civil disobedience and demonstrations prior to elections in November. The Macedonian Albanian minority, and Albania itself, have threatened to intervene if Belgrade launches a crackdown on Kosovo. If such occurs, there is a strong likelihood that Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey would also intervene in the conflict.

Clinton should have made clear American opposition to Papandreou's policies and, by announcing the establishment of full diplomatic relations, that the US will not tolerate policies that threaten our interest in maintaining and strengthening Macedonia's independence and stability. Unfortunately, that responsibility was passed on to the UN and Mr. Vance.

Meanwhile, domestic special interests and the Greek-American lobby continue to drive US foreign policy at a time when Macedonia's stability and independence are critical for averting disaster in the Southern Balkans. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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