July 13, 2009

Greek Carrots in the Macedonian Salad?

Dr. Sam Vaknin

03 Jul 2009

Greece is putting together a package of economic incentives to be included in any compromise regarding the name issue with the Republic of Macedonia (for an overview of this convoluted conflict, see note below). The measures are intended to restore Greece's tattered relationship with the United States by casting Macedonia as the intransigent, radical, and irrational party when the Macedonian leadership rejects the offer (as the Greeks fully expect them to do).

The Greeks have been aided and abetted in this task by pro-Greek US Senators and Congressmen, who have acquired a reputation this past year as tireless signatories on anti-Macedonian petitions and Greek lobby sponsored House Resolutions. Elements in the State Department have also been involved - albeit unofficially - in compiling this economic program.

The Plan is conditioned on Macedonia's acceptance of the constitutional name "Republic of North Macedonia" (or a variant thereof) and on a withdrawal of  its lawsuit in the International Court of Justice. The package is still being finalized. Right now, it consists of these elements:

(i) Greece will financially and politically support Macedonia's involvement in various, specified transportation projects (the infamous "corridors");

(ii) Greece will extend oil pipelines into Macedonian territory;

(iii) Greece will provide Macedonia with capital (in the form of low-interest loans) to match European Union regional and other pre-accession funds and pressure Brussels to speed up the release of such allocations;

(iv) Greece will guarantee the energy needs of Macedonia and will allow it to withdraw crude oil and liquid gas from Greece's own reserves in case of emergency;

(v) Greece will sign with Macedonia an emergency standby electricity supply (grid) facility;

(vi) Greece will establish a "North Macedonia Investment Fund" with between 100 and 140 million euros. These moneys will be invested as matching funds in joint Greek-Macedonian projects in tourism; agricultural biotechnology; the financial sector; crime fighting; healthcare; and higher education. The Fund will also provide Greek exporters and investors with country risk and political risk insurance as well as export guarantees and subsidies.

(vii) Greece will gradually liberalize its visa regime with Macedonia; provide 10,000 work permits annually to skilled Macedonian workers; facilitate student and cultural exchanges; and provide student visas on a mass scale.

It is not clear at this stage who will deliver these proposals to the government of Macedonia: Matthew Nimetz, the hapless and less than successful UN negotiator whose credibility is strained with both parties; the State Department in the form of an "American Initiative", which will then be "graciously accepted" by Greece; or Dora Bakoyannis in her forthcoming visit to Skopje.

Macedonia has hitherto been literally invisible on the Obama's Administration's list of priorities. But this is fast changing. Obama and Clinton still regard the Balkans as essentially a European problem. But, as they tackle the Middle-East head-on, the last thing they need is a "second front" with restive minorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Macedonia. Additionally, countries like Macedonia and Israel are now bound to pay the price for having been staunch supporters of Republican administrations in general, and George Bush in particular. 

The Obama Administration will shortly appoint a Balkans Envoy, a person well-known and little-liked in Macedonia for his coarse interference in its internal affairs. His job will be twofold: to calm passions down in Bosnia, if necessary through well-timed and much-publicized arrests and to force both Macedonia and Greece to accept the above-mentioned five-points plan. The USA will not take "no" for an answer and will set a strict timetable for the resolution of the name issue and a NATO invitation by yearend. 

Macedonia doesn't stand a chance of resisting such an onslaught. It will be forced into a humiliating retreat. Prime Minister Gruevski can use the country's new President, Gjorge Ivanov, as a scapegoat and "blame" him for any painful compromises Macedonia may be forced to make. But this gimmick won't work: Macedonians widely (and wrongly) perceive Ivanov to be Gruevski's puppet.

Gruevski will go to a referendum on any compromise struck with Greece. It would be an unwise move, though: If the citizenry rejects the suggested deal, Gruevski will be faced with two stark alternatives: (1) To be the Prime Minister of a disintegrating country (as the Albanians will surely seek to secede from Macedonia or to federalize it, one way or the other); or (2) To lose his job altogether (as the Americans will surely seek to change the regime and depose him, as they have done in 2001-2 when it actively and successfully sought to unseat Ljupco Georgievski).

Following the country's ill-advised early elections in June, 2008, the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE was coerced by the international community (read: the EU and the USA) into joining forces with DUI, the political incarnation of erstwhile Albanian insurgents in the northwest of Macedonia, hitherto an anathema as far as Gruevski was concerned.

Hopping to bed with DUI will likely restrain the government's freedom of action. Every concession to Greece will be portrayed by jingoistic nationalists in Macedonia as capitulation and the consequence of blackmail by the Albanian parties. To the great consternation of the Macedonians, Albania, Macedonia's neighbor, has been invited to join NATO and its economy is growing even in the face of the global crisis. The restive Albanians of Macedonia would like to accede to the Alliance as soon as practicable and at all costs. Understandably, they are less attached to the country's constitutional name than the non-Albanian (Macedonian) majority

Note: The "Name Issue" between Greece and Macedonia

The "name issue" involves a protracted dispute over the last 17 years between the two Balkan polities over Macedonia's right to use its constitutional name, "The Republic of Macedonia". The Greeks claim that Macedonia is a region in Greece and that, therefore, the country Macedonia has no right to monopolize the name and its derivatives ("Macedonian").

The Greeks feel that Macedonians have designs on the part of Greece that borders the tiny, landlocked country and that the use of Macedonia's constitutional name internationally will only serve to enhance irredentist and secessionist tendencies, thus adversely affecting the entire region's stability.

Macedonia retorts that it has publicly renounced any claims to any territory of any of its neighbors. Greece is Macedonia's second largest foreign investor. The disparities in size, military power and geopolitical and economic prowess between the two countries make Greek "fears" appear to be ridiculous. Macedonians have a right to decide how they are to be called, say exasperated Macedonian officials.

The Greek demands are without precedent either in history or in international law. Many countries bear variants of the same name (Yemen, Korea, Germany until 1990, Russia and Byelorussia, Mongolia). Others share their name with a region in another country (Brittany in France and Great Britain across the channel, for instance).

In the alliance's Bucharest Summit, in April 2008, Macedonia was not invited to join NATO. Macedonia was rejected because it would not succumb to Greek intransigence: Greece insisted that Macedonia should change its constitutional name to cater to Greek domestic political sensitivities.