Although it is ungrateful to speak of a complicated history in the Balkans, it is necessary to mention some important facts in order to understand a complicated situation, because the history of this region has different truths depending on who writes it.
As I have noted elsewhere, Macedonia is an administratively divided historical and geographical region: not only is there the northern part of Greece called Aegean Makedonia, there is also Vardar Makedonia in the Republic of Macedonia and Pirin Makedonia in Bulgaria, not to mention Thrace in the south-eastern part between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Ancient Macedonia even extended from the north of Greece, so the territory of the Republic of Macedonia is also a part of ancient Macedonia.
Since the fall of the ancient Macedonian empire has fallen all surrounding countries – Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia – have taken a piece of its territory.
The Greeks called their land Hellas and themselves Hellenes. Alexander the Great destroyed the Greek empire and annexed it to Macedonia. The ancient Macedonians were not Hellenes (not Greeks); they spoke a language, different from Greek and the Hellenes called Macedonians uncivilised barbarians and did not want to allow them to participate in the Olympic games.
Before being Hellenised, ancient Macedonia was Pelasgian. Macedonia’s earliest kingdom, home to the ancient Macedonians, was centred on the north-eastern part of the Greek peninsula, and bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south. So, Macedonia was never a region of Greece. On the contrary, ancient Greece was subjected to Macedonia.
After the fall of the toughest empire (Macedonia), Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia merged a part of its territory, and if a portion of Macedonia belongs to Greece, it is by virtue of an illegal partition of the whole and occupation of part of it.
Regardless of the fact of a history that was obviously irrelevant, it was only important to change the name of the Republic of Macedonia and, in order to make Greece happy – which has been unconditionally supported by member countries of the European Union in its senseless claims lasting 27 years – it was only demanded from Macedonia that it make exemptions, and even although that agreement requires compromises on both sides, there were no demands on Greece.
Once again the governments of the West European countries are making a great historical mistake in the Balkans.
Another mistake was recognition of the independence of Kosovo- Metohija, thus creating the two Albanian states on European soil and, before that, contributing to the disintegration of Yugoslavia by immediately aiding and recognising the separatist Slovenia and Croacia as democratic republics, not to mention the erroneous politics of the Western powers in Bosnia -Herzegovina, recognising only Muslim victims and ignoring the Serbians, Croatians and others.
Because of the lack of transparency of EU interests in the Balkans, the consequence is that Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo-Metohija have the highest proportion of foreign fighters in Europe.
It matters little that the Macedonian people did not vote on the referendum, the government has urged citizens to vote “yes” on the question: Do you support EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between Macedonia and Greece? They were not asked: Do you want to change the name of your sovereign country?
Besides that, 130 member states of the United Nations, and notably four of the permanent members of the UN Security Council – France, United Kingdom, United States, Russia and China – recognised the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name, and after so many goodwill visits and much persuasion from the highest American and European officials as true friends and supporters of Macedonia, they urged the setting aside of partisan interests, advancement of their shared strategic interests and the securing of a brighter future for Macedonian citizens within the European family.
Without the least respect for the history, democracy and will of the Macedonian people, we know the name of the Republic of Macedonia has been changed to North Macedonia through the signing of the so-called Prespa Agreement between the Greek and Macedonian prime ministers. The Republic of Macedonia has been humiliated like no other state in history, the dignity of the Macedonian people has been violated, the country’s national identity denied and its future jeopardised, in exchange for Athens lifting its veto on Macedonian EU and NATO ambitions.
Bulgaria and Greece had no objections when Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia, nor did they really push against codification of the Macedonian language and the recognition of a Macedonian nation after World War II. Even after the former Yugoslav republic by that name gained independence in 1991, the dispute with neighbouring Greece became a centrepiece of the region’s politics. It was only after independence that successive Greek governments raised alarm about irredentism – barely making its feeble neighbour safe out of the bloodshed of the ripping apart of Yugoslavia – as a top national threat.
But the real truth that Greece does not want the world to see concerns the ethnic cleansing of Macedonians and exiled Aegean Macedonians after the Balkan Wars of 1913, and during the civil war from 1946-1949 (Greece was the only country that had civil war after the Second World War). Macedonians were imprisoned, tortured, forced to change their names only for being Macedonians and forced out of their homes. More then 370,000 became refugees and today live in the Republic of Macedonia and claim Greek citizenship because they were born in Aegean Macedonia, or were ethnic Macedonians with Aegean Macedonian roots, and repatriation.
They want return of their confiscated properties for which they have the deeds (I personally know many of them, my friends from school, their parents and grandparents), and the most of those properties is around the city of Thessaloniki, where there is a broad area land with nothing, no constructions, no houses.
The only thing Greece has always wanted is to cancel the Macedonian nation. I wonder why this Macedonian history is never mentioned when talking about Greek history?
If readers want to know more about this, they can find the truthful confessions of exiled Aegean Macedonians, the original films from 1948, of the exodus of Aegean Macedonians from Greece to Macedonia and many documents, on the sites of:
World Macedonian Congress-Australia, Aegean Macedonian genocide, Canadian Macedonian Society. Many such acts have also been documented by the independent Greek Human Rights Watch, Helsinki Monitor.
It seems that the new name of North Republic of Macedonia should indicate the term for a new strategic state in the so-called Western Balkans (the term has been an option since 1997, used by the regional working group of EU and US ministers, proclaimed as an international community for the Western Balkans, after they finished their mission in ex-Yugoslavia).
The North Macedonia name deal has inspired far-right offshoots in Greece and the territorial pretensions of countries neighbouring Macedonia.
The president of now North Macedonia, Georgi Ivanov, is a strong opponent of the name agreement and has been the only official who has not accepted it. He has refused to sign 11 laws that were recently adopted by parliament. President Ivanov sent the unsigned laws back to the parliament and said that he would always act according to the pledge he made five years ago to protect the Constitution and defend the interests of the Republic of Macedonia..
The new name will cause enormous trouble and costs for little and poor Macedonia. From the changes in the everyday life of the citizens to their culture and language (Greek linguists are already shamelessly asking for Macedonian not to be recognised as a language but as a dialect of Bulgarian and Serbian language in history textbooks). Changes to the names of government bodies, websites, road signs and inscriptions on public buildings that will incur significant costs are still pending.
Then there are personal documents of citizens and administrative, political, economic and diplomatic names – it will be certainly be an expensive procedure to implement the change of the name in the documents of other countries and international organisations.
The new international license plate abbreviation will no longer be MK, but NM or NMK. Before the signing of Macedonia’s name change agreement, the Greek authorities were putting stickers on the cars of Macedonian citizens entering Greece, which was considered a humiliating provocation by the Macedonian authorities and tourists. And it will certainly be a headache for Macedonia to issue new documents such as driving licenses, stamps and money, over the five-year period. Meanwhile, the public will not take kindly to the ban on an earlier version of the national flag, which was based on the Vergina Sun, a symbol associated with ancient Macedonia.
Speaking about joining the EU turns out to be more complicated. The EU has lost a great deal of its influence and standing in the Western Balkan region. EU strategy states that the EU must remain credible, firm and fair, while upgrading its policies to better support the transformation process in the region, because the current approach is insufficient for helping the Western Balkans along the way to full democratisation. Well before the global economic and the financial crisis, the Greek bailout, Brexit and the refugee crisis, citizens of the Western Balkans widely saw joining the European Union as a guarantee of prosperity and stability. Today it is seen somewhat differently.
Macedonia was a front-runner for EU accession and was granted the status of candidate country for EU membership in early 2005, but its membership application got stuck due to Greek objections and blocks encouraged by the previous government. Today, Macedonia’s uncertain future has
inevitably led to immense frustration among the younger generation as well as among the political elites. This lack of perspective has also slowed economic and political reforms. In short, Macedonia is in crisis, and this is a tremendous for its young and ambitious people.
The current government led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and dominated by his Social Democratic Union party, came to power after massive protests, new elections, criminal proceedings and international mediation. The new government believes that membership in EU and NATO will revitalise and lock in place the country’s reform efforts and restore investor confidence.
European countries are the main investors in the region, but Russia, China, Turkey and the Gulf states are establishing their political, economic and cultural influence in the region with a variety of resources, intentions and interests because – from the Netherlands to France and Austria – various EU member states have turned against enlargement.
The EU has not been able to reassess and adopt its transformation agenda, nor has it ensured that enlargement remains a priority policy. As a result, the EU has lost a great deal of its influence and standing in the region. The EU is also occupied with internal problems, such as populism, Euroscepticism, the future of the monetary union, migration crises and Brexit. Integration of the Western Balkans into the EU is essential for its stability and prosperity. North Macedonia and Albania both are being given June 2019 as a start date for opening membership negotiations with the EU.
As far as NATO is concerned, before a country can be invited to join the organisation, it must be geographically located within Europe and must have the capacity and willingness to contribute to the security of the Euro-Atlantic area. If these prerequisites are met, the country is then invited to join the Membership Action Plan (MAP). MAP provides tailored advice and support. And at the end it issues its own bill of ratification for joining NATO.
The NATO membership of North Macedonia could be a long process and it will come with major costs, including necessary changes in the army and the military strategy. It would also involve Macedonia more deeply in the dispute between Russia and the West, an uncomfortable place for the small Balkans country. Meanwhile, supporters emphasise the stabilising effects of membership and a possible reduction of Russian influence.
In Krivoolak in North Macedonia, there is the newest NATO base (after the biggest American Bondstil base in Kosovo- Metohija), where last year NATO carried out major military activities, including soldiers exercising shooting and artillery and testing of the newest modern weapons. There is also a biomass and chemical arms decontamination centre, and much more… so, goodbye to an unpolluted environment in the still clean nature of Macedonia.
With Macedonian membership, NATO will build its Balkan puzzle and move further in the direction of encircling the whole eastern part of Russia with its member states.
EU and NATO ambitions in the Balkans are nothing but strategic engagement in their own sphere of influence and the prevent of a Russian presence in the Balkans.April 25, 2019
* Nadia Batok, is a specialist in international congresses