By Zhidas Daskalovski
Contrary to other successor states of the former Yugoslavia, Macedonia has achieved independent statehood and democratic consolidation without major warfare. As with a number of other countries in Eastern Europe, Macedonia’s reforms in the last 15 years have been focused simultaneously on two issues—state building and setting up the legal base for a functioning market economy. When Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1991, Macedonia declared independence on November 21, 1991, and today is a democratic multiparty state. During the 1990s, Macedonian political elites clashed with their ethnic Albanian counterparts over the basic idea behind the concept of the state. Following a short conflict in 2001, these elites in Ohrid agreed on a legislative reform that would clarify the rights of the members of minorities in the country. A key concern addressed in the Ohrid Agreement has been the underrepresentation of Macedonian Albanians in the public administration. In 1993, Macedonia became a member of the U.N., although obliged to use the provisional reference the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, and hold negotiations with Greece over the differences regarding the name of the country. In 2005, the country became a European Union candidate and applied for NATO membership.
Although Macedonian society is still split along ethnic lines, conflicts have been subdued and interethnic consolidation strengthened with the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement. Despite achieving much progress, Macedonian elites are now faced with the challenges of Euro-Atlantic integration and the Greek objections to its name. Today, Macedonia is once again facing turbulent times in a far from stabilized region. Concerns over the impact of Kosovo’s independence on Macedonia have been raised. Developments in Kosovo might negatively affect the interethnic relations in the country. The government will also be under pressure to continue economic reforms and achieve stronger growth levels. Remittances are to further decline in 2009, and many export-oriented companies, especially in the metallurgical and the clothing manufacturing sector, will face lower production levels due to decline in demand in Western economies. The economic crisis and the blockade of Euro-Atlantic integration are likely to increase political instability in Macedonia. In 2009, Macedonia will face increasing tensions in the functioning of the government coalition as the ethnic Albanian coalition partner will be under pressure to leave the government, which is not able to further pursue Macedonia’s integration into NATO and the EU.
Following the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, where NATO leaders refused Macedonia an invitation to join the alliance after Greece de facto vetoed the decision in a dispute over the republic’s name, Macedonia is faced with insurmountable obstacles in its quest for Euro-Atlantic integration. The NATO blockade was made although Greece was obliged by the Interim Agreement signed with Macedonia under the auspices of the U.N. in 1995 not to block the admission of its northern neighbor to international organizations if it was to apply under the temporary reference “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” used within the U.N., and it threatened to veto Macedonia’s nato membership application if a ‘mutually acceptable solution to the name dispute’ was not found. Athens insists Macedonia add a ‘qualifier’ to its constitutional name to differentiate the country from the northern province of Greece bearing the same name.
Since 2008, Greece has continued its pressure on NATO and EU allies to stall or reject the Macedonian integration drive until the country changes its name. While the European Council underlined that further steps in the Macedonian progress towards the EU are possible by the end of this year, maintaining good neighborly relations, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution on the name issue, remains essential. However, pushing Macedonia to negotiate the non-negotiable, its name and identity, amounts to posing additional and undemocratic criteria for membership to the EU and NATO, a policy that delegitimizes the principle of “conditionality”, one of the main instruments of the EU in the enlargeiment process. Forcing Macedonia to choose between its name and identity and NATO membership amounts to the choice David (Woody Harrelson) and Diana Murphy (Demi Moore) had in Indecent Proposal, a 1993 drama directed by Adrian Lyne, when billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford) offered them one million dollars to spend a night with Diana. You can also compare Macedonia’s possibility of a choice with that of Faust, the protagonist of a classic German legend, the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works, in which he makes a pact with the Devil. Macedonian citizens instinctively know what is at stake, a majority consistently opting against changes of the name even if nato membership is at stake in various polls conducted since 2008. Macedonia is a European country and this needs to be acknowledged.
Tampering with citizens’ rights to their own identity in a democratic nation is not a good principle. Doing it at this stage in the Balkans is inviting more troubles in the region. Only a settlement that recognizes the Macedonians and respects their national rights will be of lasting value and contribute to stability and tranquility in Southeastern Europe. We should not forget that Encyclopedia Britannica notes that literally, “Europa” is thought to have meant “Mainland”—as an appropriate designation of the broadening, extensive northerly lands that lay beyond, lands with characteristics but vaguely known—clearly different from those inherent in the concepts of Asia and Libya, both of which, relatively prosperous and civilized, were associated closely with the culture of the Greeks and their predecessors. Among the lands north of Greece today is also the Republic of Macedonia. A date for the start of EU accession negotiations and NATO membership would support domestic reformers and stabilize Macedonia’s democracy. Democratic presidential and local elections, scheduled for the spring of 2009, will be crucial for the European perspectives of the country. A decision by the EU on a full visa liberalization is expected for Macedonia in 2009.
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