AIM: start

TUE, 25 DEC 2001 12:00:54 GMT

A Greek Gift

No sooner one comes to believe that the somewhat irrational dispute between Macedonia and Greece has finally fallen into oblivion as it should, than someone brings it back to life once more. Instantly, the good old "conspiracy theories" start unwinding all over again

AIM Skopje, December 14, 2001

Of its own accord and entirely unwarrantedly, the International Crisis Group (ICG) based in Brussels presented its latest report on the state of things in Macedonia a few days ago in Skopje. The report instantly gained great publicity in the broad public not because of its lucid or naive observations (entirely a matter of taste) on the causes and possible consequences of the present crisis, but for reasons of an entirely different nature: the proposal it presented for resolving a decade-old dispute with Greece over the name of Macedonia.

The International Crisis Group believes its proposal safeguards the national identity of the Macedonian people while at the same time appeasing Greek fears that its tiny neighbor to the north might in some way abuse the name it aspires to. The proposal envisions the use of terms "Macedonian nation" and "Macedonian language" for the purposes of international communication. It also calls for the adoption of a declaration on the part of the Macedonian parliament (Sobranje) whereby it would pledge to protecting the Hellenistic heritage within the country's educational system. As an illustration, Macedonian school kids are being taught that Alexander the Great was a Macedonian and that they are the descendants of the ancient Macedonians. The report also suggests that the present mandate of NATO troops in Macedonia needs to be extended for an additional six- month period and recommends that OSCE observers remain in Macedonia for another year in order to oversee all the phases of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

While qualifying the report as "interesting", at first sight, the Macedonian governmental spokesman Djordje Trendafilov declared it emanated from within an "informal group". On second thought, he added that certain concrete proposals - of which some deserve consideration some not - "might well be taken into account". Irritated by widespread whispers that he had long since consented to the whole deal, in an interview to the TV network A1, Trendafilov's chief Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski stated that Macedonia "should consider itself lucky if such a proposal ever goes through". He reminded the hopelessly uniformed public that as late as of 1993, the then acting president of Macedonia Kiro Gligorov unsuccessfully strove for the right of Macedonia to use its constitutional name - that of the Republic of Macedonia - in communicating with the international community, while attempting to find a solution acceptable to Athens at the same time.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister expressed some reservation, stating his fear that the whole thing might be a Greek gift and a political trap of a sorts since the proposal calls for some ten odd major concessions on the part of the Macedonians: "Symptomatically enough, the report cites the Macedonian government and its institutions as the main culprits for the current crisis and perceives Macedonia as a source of instability that needs to be closely monitored in the future: it calls for further guarantees that the government will not use violence against ethnic Albanians, that law and order be restored to the crisis regions, police forces restrained from undue use of force and elections held - all this boiling down to a single issue: inter-ethnic relations between Macedonians and Albanians", concluded the Prime Minister who believes this also explains the intent of the international community to keep NATO forces, EU and OSCE observers in the region upon the expiration of their present mandate. But what upset Georgievski most about the ICG report was the fact that it ranked him among the "anti-reformists". He thus informed the public of a theory of his: "If judging by the report, the international community might well come to the conclusion that a coup d'etat was advisable if only to remove Georgievski, Andov (Speaker of the Macedonian parliament) and Boskovski (Interior Minister) from office".

Even before the Prime Minister made known his interpretation of the report, the media gave way to their favorite pass-time - the spinning of the wildest conceivable "conspiracy theories". As usual, the leading Skopje daily renown for sensationalism, Dnevnik, offered its reader most: the news of a possible international conference on Macedonia - some sort of a "new Versailles Peace Conference" - which is to decide the country's fate. As was to be expected, the whole story was substantiated by undisclosed diplomatic sources wishing to remain anonymous. The small fry of the media business contended themselves with more down-to-earth gossip such as that of: Ljubco having traded off the name of Macedonia to the Greeks (not for the first time), that of his premier- wife taking a nice long vacation on a Greek island in an apartment priced at DM 3500 per night and of the whole deal being negotiated on board luxurious Greek yachts, spiced by generous underhand fees... The temptation was simply too great for all the former heads of diplomacy not to have their say in the matter while managing to convey nothing. Their comments ran along the lines of well-meant advice amounting to recommendations that, on one hand, it would certainly be wise to accept the proposal of the international community while, on the other hand, ample evidence exists this would prove to be a major political miscalculation...

Stevo Crvenkovski, acting Macedonian ambassador to the United Kingdom and Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time the famous Provisional Agreement between Athens and Skopje was imposed on the two sides by Richard (nickmane: Turbo) Holbruck, now points to the linguistic fine points of the issue: "The suggested use of the name of is likely to cause great confusion. For example, many Britons might find it hard to recognize the country the name proposed refers to". As an illustration, ambassador Crvenkovski cited the examples of Finland (Suomi in the original) and Greece (Eleniki). Nevertheless, being an active participant of the events which took place six years ago, Crvenkovski turned out to be an invaluable witness: he made it clear that, even if adopted, the ICG report is not likely to placate the crisis in Macedonia once the Provisional Accord expires sometime next year. "The said agreement is due to expire only after a settlement satisfying both countries is reached."

If nothing else, the ICG report has certainly accomplished one thing: once more, it has brought to surface the avalanche of frustrations plaguing the Macedonian public mind. A possible, highly speculative conjecture would be that of the ICG report in effect being yet another "trial balloon" of the Greeks, this time of a more subtle kind. Beforehand, the task was left up to the media beneath Acropolis or, occasionally, up to certain western diplomats. This time as in many previous instances, the said "impostors" are treacherously keeping their silence and waiting to see what happens next.