Month: July 2012

What Romney forgot in Poland

The American press, always anxious to cover itself, is boiling over about the rudeness of a Mitt Romney press aide to the cordoned reporters during a visit to the war memorial in Poland.

Without wanting in any way to excuse the rudeness, the Romney-ites have a point on the merits:  this was not the time or place for aggressive (and pretty stupid) press questions.  Better for the journalists to write about how Romney is avoiding press questions during this trip than to embarrass themselves by trying to ask them at the wrong place and time.

More interesting was Romney’s “foreign policy speech” in Warsaw.  The foreign policy content is minimal and by now expected:  Romney once again relies on appeals to will and inspiration as the deciding factors in history.  He likes our friends and despises our enemies but gives no clear idea how he would handle the latter, except through military strength.   How that works with Belarus I have no idea.

The more important message is about domestic policy:

The world should pay close attention to the transformation of Poland’s economy. A march toward economic liberty and smaller government has meant a march toward higher living standards, a strong military that defends liberty at home and abroad, and an important and growing role on the international stage.

Rather than heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade, and live within its means. Your success today is a reminder that the principles of free enterprise can propel an economy and transform a society.

At a time of such difficulty and doubt throughout Europe, Poland’s economic transformation over these past 20 years is a fitting turn in the story of your country. In the 1980s, when other nations doubted that political tyranny could ever be faced down or overcome, the answer was, “Look to Poland.” And today, as some wonder about the way forward out of economic recession and fiscal crisis, the answer once again is “Look to Poland”.

Unfortunately for Romney, the Solidarity trade union that had the inspiration and will to challenge the Polish Communist regime does not agree with Romney’s anti-union stances or its former leader’s endorsement of him.

What we’ve got here is a blatant attempt to get the United States to follow a Polish model to prosperity, ignoring the obvious differences in starting points.  The United States has nowhere near the government-dominated economy that Poland had in the late 1980s.  Nor would Romney like to hear, I suppose, that Poland has a national health care system:

To obtain free health services you have to be insured by a health care provider that has contracts with the regional branch of the National Health Fund (Narodowy Fundusz Zdrowia, NFZ)….Polish citizens, permanent residents in Poland as well as employees of Polish companies need to be insured with a Polish health insurance.

I don’t regard having a national health care system as an infringement on freedom, but the post-Massachusetts Romney does.  Funny he didn’t mention Poland’s compulsory national insurance in his paean to the Polish model.

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Farewell Pristina

I traveled back to the U.S. yesterday, leaving behind this interview in English, published by Pristina’s Daily Express in Albanian:

Q.  Finally there is a government in place in Belgrade, a few months after the elections there. What are the chances now for a dialogue between Prishtina and Belgrade, and the possibility of achieving eventual results?

A.  It is too early to tell.  The new prime minister Ivica Dacic has said some good things:  he will give priority to Serbia’s economy, he is demoting the bureaucracy that is dedicated to Kosovo, and he says he will implement the agreements already reached with Pristina.  But we have not only to hear what the new government says, but see what it does.

Q.  On Friday there were contradictory signals in the Serbian Parliament during the government’s oath. Prime minister Ivica Dacic said that he will remain committed to keep Kosovo within the Serbian borders, but he appeared ready to continue the dialogue and to implement the agreements reached.

A.  The Serbian constitution requires that Kosovo remain part of Serbia, so really Dacic has no choice about that.  Serbia’s politicians created an enormous obstacle for themselves when in that the 2006 constitution.  Continuation of the dialogue is not an end but a means.  Let’s see if he fulfills the promise to implement the agreements already reached.

Q.  What do you expect in the following phases as regards the relations Kosovo-Serbia? Can they be normalized soon?

A. I expect very little, but I do hope Serbia will recognize that its own interests are best served by normalization.  Normalization means to me that Belgrade and Pristina should have representatives in each others’ capitals and accept each others’ territorial integrity.  Belgrade is still far from that.  I’m not sure Kosovo is quite ready for that either.

Q.  How do you view the Kosovar diplomacy compared to the Serb one?

A.  Serbian diplomacy is well-established and has been tactically very good: it has slowed recognitions and gained the presidency of the General Assembly.  It has convinced too many countries that independent Kosovo is a threat to regional peace and security.

But I don’t really see what good any of that will do in the end.  Recognitions are coming and will continue to come.  The General Assembly presidency will end in a year, when I hope to see Kosovo with well over 100 recognitions.

Serbia lost its case at the International Court of Justice when it asked for an advisory opinion on Kosovo’s declaration of independence, and its policies in northern Kosovo have created serious problems with organized crime and political violence that have already delayed the opening of Serbia’s negotiations for EU membership.

Slowing things down really doesn’t help Belgrade if it hurts Serbia’s EU prospects and the eventual outcome in Kosovo is the same.

Q.  There was criticism that Kosovo diplomacy has not functioned properly. How do you see this?

A.  You are up against a tough and experienced opponent with longstanding ties around the world and backing from Moscow. Kosovo’s diplomatic apparatus is still young and under construction–you are little known in many parts of the world.  The European Union has split on Kosovo, with five members not recognizing.  You have often had to rely a good deal on the Americans, especially in Latin America and Asia.  You have made good progress in Africa lately.  You are not going to win every battle.  But ultimately Kosovo will be a UN member and well accepted in the international community.  It already is in many places.

Q.  Should Kosovo change something as regards diplomacy, in order to increase the number of recognitions, as well as improve the image of the country?

A.  Kosovo needs to use every resource available to project its reality abroad.  Its women are proving a particularly strong asset.  Arta Dobroshin and Majlinda Kelmendi are helping you tell the world that Kosovo is a creative and talented country.  Vlora Citaku is providing leadership in preparation for the European Union.  The “Empowering Women” conference that President Jahjaga will sponsor in Pristina in early October is another good example.

My own family is surprised when I tell them how peaceful, safe and normal my visits to Pristina are.  The end of international supervision gives you an excellent opportunity to tell the world that this is a country that meets its international obligations and will continue to do so even after formal international supervision comes to an end.

One of the most important things you need to do is project Kosovo’s reality to people in Serbia, where the press never ceases to portray circumstances here as chaotic, violent and unfriendly to Serbs.  That image is also harmful to you in other countries.

Reaching out to ordinary Serbs and showing them that Kosovo knows how to treat people of all ethnic backgrounds fairly is a patriotic thing to do.

All countries in the democratic world are judged in part by how they treat their most disadvantaged minorities.  America handicapped itself for many years on the world stage by not treating minorities correctly at home.

The human rights of Serbs, Roma and other citizens of Kosovo have to be fully protected if Kosovo is to be seen as a serious democracy worthy of international recognition.   Implementation of the Ahtisaari plan has helped you a great deal.  Continuing efforts in this direction will also pay off.

Q.  You are in contact with Kosovo officials. Do you think that there are competent people in the Kosovo diplomacy?

A.  Yes, I do believe your diplomatic officials are a wonderful, talented group of well-trained and highly committed people working under the strong leadership of Enver Hoxhaj.  I am pleased to collaborate with them.  The resources they have to work with are necessarily very limited, so they need to be clever and creative in generating opportunities to showcase Kosovo abroad and pursue its interests effectively.  You are never going to have embassies like the American one I ran in Rome 20 years ago, which had 800 employees.  But a few good Kosovars can work wonders if they are willing to work together and apply their limited resources in well-focused ways.

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This week’s peace picks

Summer doldrums, but some interesting events nevertheless:

1. An Assessment of the Obama Administration’s Africa Strategy, Heritage Foundation, 10-11:30 am July 31

Venue: Lehrman Auditorium

When President Obama entered the White House in 2009, many in the U.S. and in sub-Saharan Africa believed his arrival heralded a major departure in U.S. policy toward the region. Expectations for America’s first African American president ran high. When President Obama visited Ghana, he delivered a message of faith and confidence in the African people. He also, delivered a message of tough love, encouraging Africans to take responsibility for the successes and failures of the continent.

Despite the anticipation for new a US-Africa strategy, the Administration required more than three years to deliver its U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa (June 2012). Customary policies – supporting trade and development, rendering security and humanitarian assistance, and combating poverty and HIV/AIDS – all mainstays of previous Administrations predominated, rendering an appearance of continuity rather than change in U.S. policy. To assess factors of continuity, change and shifting priorities towards an emerging Africa, please join The Heritage Foundation and its distinguished panel of experts for a lively presentation and discussion.

More About the Speakers

Ambassador Tibor Nagy
Vice Provost for International Affairs, Texas Tech University

Ambassador Mark Bellamy
Director, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University

Ambassador Richard Roth
Senior Advisor for the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Hosted By

Ray Walser, Ph.D. Ray Walser, Ph.D.Senior Policy Analyst Read More


2. The Obama Administration’s Economic Strategy for Africa, Center for Global Development, 11 am-12 pm July 31

Michael Froman
Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs

Hosted by
Nancy Birdsall
President, Center for Global Development

The Center for Global Development is pleased to host Michael Froman, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor and Assistant for International Economics, for a discussion of the Obama Administration’s strategy to achieve poverty alleviation and sustained economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Froman recently led an interagency delegation to Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria to meet with a cross section of government officials, private sector leaders and young entrepreneurs on a range of issues and initiatives including the East African Community trade and investment partnership, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition; energy; and infrastructure.

Location: Center for Global Development, First Floor Conference Center, 1800 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC


3. Syria in Crisis: Refugees and the Challenges of the Humanitarian Response, Islamic Relief USA, 12-1 pm July 31


B-354 Rayburn House Office Building, U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515


Abed Ayoub, Islamic Relief USA CEO | Michael Kocher, International Rescue Committee Vice President | Michael Gabaudan, Refugees International President | Dr. Zaher Sahloul, Syrian American Medical Society President




Join Islamic Relief USA, the International Rescue Committee, Refugees International and the Syrian American Medical Society for a luncheon panel discussion about the on-going humanitarian crisis facing Syrian refugees.

More information about the situation for Syrian refugees
The crisis in Syria has escalated dramatically since it began sixteen months ago and has resulted in the displacement of an estimated one million Syrians. While the majority of Syrians are internally displaced within Syria, more than 114,000 have registered as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. Many are fearful of formally registering as refugees, meaning the actual number of refugees may be significantly higher than reported. As the violence and death toll continue to rise in Syria, the Syrian people remain displaced and unable to return to their homes. Essential aid and services are needed for both internally displaced Syrians and Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. Learn more about how Islamic Relief USA by visiting

Syrian refugees arrive to neighboring countries suffering emotional and physical trauma with little savings and often nothing more than the clothes on their backs. While host countries have been generous and welcoming to the refugees, their resources are becoming increasingly stretched. They need increased international assistance in order to most effectively respond to the influx of refugees.

Syrian refugees are in urgent need of increased access to shelter, water and food, livelihood opportunities, and medical services. While a number of Syrian refugees are living with host families, these families’ resources are being drained. For others, high rent prices mean they have to share accommodation leading to cramped, overcrowded conditions. Syrian refugee women and girls have identified gender-based violence as one of the primary reasons they had to flee. Ensuring that proper psychosocial and other health services reach victims of gender-based violence is a vital need.


4. The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran, Washington Institute, 12:30-2 pm July 31

Beneath the thirty-year war of words between Iran and the United States have been parallel campaigns of espionage, covert action, and military activities that have rarely come into public view. In his latest book, Dr. David Crist details the dramatic secret history of this undeclared conflict, from the weeks immediately following Iran’s 1979 revolution through today’s tensions. A Marine reservist and senior historian with the U.S. government, Crist had unprecedented access to senior officials and key documents. The product of ten years of research, Twilight War reveals the undercover activities and policy debates that have roiled U.S.-Iranian relations.
To discuss the book’s findings, The Washington Institute cordially invited Dr. Crist to address a Policy Forum luncheon on July 31, 2012, from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. Ambassador James Jeffrey, who retired from the Foreign Service in June, will add personal observations from three decades in the State Department, most recently as ambassador to Iraq and Turkey.

David Crist is a senior historian for the U.S. government and a special advisor to the head of U.S. Central Command. As an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve, he served two tours with Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Author of the 2009 Washington Institute report Gulf of Conflict: A History of U.S.-Iranian Confrontation at Sea, he holds a doctorate in Middle Eastern history from Florida State University.

James Jeffrey recently retired from the Foreign Service after a thirty-three-year career in which he attained the highest rank of career ambassador. His assignments included deputy national security advisor in the White House, three years in Iraq as ambassador and deputy chief of mission, and ambassador to Turkey and Albania. From 1969 to 1976, he served as a U.S. army officer in Germany and Vietnam.


5. Next Steps on Syria, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 10 am August 1


Senator Kerry


Senate Dirksen 419

The Honorable Martin Indyk
Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy
Brookings Institution
Washington, DC
The Honorable James Dobbins
Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center
RAND Corporation
Washington, DC
Mr. Andrew Tabler
Senior Fellow, Program on Arab Politics
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Washington, DC
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The zombie that haunts the Balkans

I promised yesterday a solution to Macedonia’s problems today, but to get there I am going to have to detour.   The Macedonia “name” issue is unique.  I can’t think of another situation, current or historical, in which a country wants a neighbor to change its name. It is also a zero sum problem:  if Athens gains, Skopje loses, and vice versa.

It would be really nice if Athens came to the conclusion that rule of law requires it to give in on NATO membership for The FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), even if it believes the December 2011 International Court of Justice decision finding it in violation of a 1995 agreement is wrong.  A few potential investors might even be favorably impressed and open their wallets.

But I am not holding my breath for that.  Zero sum problems without solutions require reframing.  Why is the “name” issue important?  Because it prevents Macedonia from entering NATO and getting a date to begin its EU negotiations.  Why is that important?  Because those are the paths on which Macedonia has to make progress to avoid aggravating its inter-ethnic tensions, which in their most extreme form might lead to claims of exclusive territorial control over parts of the country or calls for Greater Albania or Greater Kosovo.

Ah!  That is a problem I recognize from elsewhere in the Balkans.  It exists almost everywhere:  Serbs and Croats in Bosnia want to govern themselves on their own territory, Albanians in Kosovo feel the same way (as do Serbs in the north), some Macedonians would like to establish exclusive control over a homeland.  We’ve had analogous problems in Croatia in the past (Serbs in the krajina, or borderlands) and there are latent problems inside Serbia (Bosniaks in Sandjak and Albanians in Presevo, not to mention Hungarians, Slovaks and Croats in Vojvodina).

Many of the ethnic problems of the Balkans boil down to this:  why should I live as a minority in your territory, when you can live as a minority in mine?

This question could lead to an unending series of partitions along ethnic lines, something some of my colleagues in Washington do not fear.  I do.  Ethnic partition is a proven formula for precipitating violence, death and destruction on a grand scale.  All those folks who agree on governing themselves find it difficult to decide where to draw the territorial lines, which is what leads to ethnic cleansing and war.  The question is how to stop it, because once it starts it will spread from Kosovo and Macedonia at least as far as Bosnia and even Cyprus, with de jure division of the northern Turkish Republic from the rest of the island.

That is what Greeks should be worrying about, not the name of its northern neighbor.

The international community has been wise to use existing boundaries in the Balkans and try to avoid drawing new ones.  While some would like to portray the independence of Kosovo as an ethnic partition of Serbia, it was not.  No ethnic adjustment of Kosovo’s boundary was made when it was upgraded to a border.  The same is true throughout the Balkans:  Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro all gained independence within well-established lines.  There is no reason to depart from this course.

We’ve reached the point that a concerted and explicit international campaign to stop ethno-territorial division of the Balkans is in order.  Rather than each country fighting these battles on its own, I’d like to see Europeans and Americans joining with partners in the Balkans to declare unequivocally that no territorial adjustments in the Balkans will be made on an ethnic basis, that the widely known and accepted borders are permanent and will be demarcated bilaterally, and that all concerned will join in an effort to take the measures necessary to prevent any changes.

These measures should be explicit and far-reaching, including:

  • implementation of the Ahtisaari plan in northern Kosovo, with additional details required worked out in talks between Pristina and Belgrade
  • admission of Macedonia into NATO as “The FYROM” in accordance with the 1995 interim accord, with explicit guarantees to Greece on its border if Athens wants them
  • negotiation of EU membership only within a framework determined by central governments (in particular in Bosnia and Kosovo),
  • a fixed time frame for a negotiated end to the de facto division of Cyprus,
  • a region-wide agreement that each state will ensure the highest human rights standards for its minorities, with periodic verification by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It is time that Macedonia and Bosnia as well as their friends in Albania, Montenegro and Croatia (that group is known in diplomatic parlance as the Adriatic 5) as well as Kosovo make common cause against ethnic partition in the Balkans, instead of struggling against it each country on its own.

The A5 and Kosovo will need some strong European allies against ethnic partition.  The best bets are Germany, whose chancellor has been vigorous in her opposition to Serbian state structures in northern Kosovo, and the United Kingdom, where the idea of ethnic partition of Bosnia is rightly despised.  If Greece joins the effort, to inoculate itself against irredentist claims from Macedonia, so much the better.  A vigorous diplomatic initiative that engages the United States in addition would stand a chance of driving a wooden stake through the ethnic partition zombie that still haunts too much of the Balkans.

They taught me in school that if I didn’t know the answer to a question, I should ask a better one and answer that.  Killing the ethnic partition zombie that haunts the Balkans seems to me far more important than finding a name Athens and Skopje can agree on.

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Serbia faces tough choices

Milan Marinković writes from Niš:

After some two months of postelection negotiations, the new Serbian government is finally formed and officially sworn in. With 142 out of 250 seats in the parliament, the ruling coalition enjoys a comfortable majority. That majority consists of the coalitions rallied around three main parties – the Serbian progressive party (SNS), the Socialist party of Serbia (SPS) and the United regions of Serbia (URS) – plus two parties that were part of the coalition led by the Democratic party (DS) and whose leaders (Rasim Ljajić and Sulejman Ugljanin) were ministers in the previous government, as well.  Except for SNS, which has replaced DS, the composition of the new government is virtually the same as that of the old one.

Even so, many people fear the country’s pro-EU course might be reversed over the coming years.

All eyes are on prime minister Ivica Dačić (SPS), who in addition has retained the position of interior minister. Dačić can be best described as a combination of great political intelligence and immense personal ambition. How successful Dačić will be in his new role depends to a considerable degree on his ability to balance these two facets of his personality.

Dačić’s statements, especially those concerning his economic doctrine, are often mutually contradictory. Economists are warning that Serbia is going to experience bankruptcy should Dačić insist on fulfilling his promises from the election campaign.

Troubles are already at hand. The government will have to borrow about 3 billion euros by the end of the year lest it fail to pay its financial obligations. Negotiations with the IMF over a stand-by agreement were suspended a few months ago due to Serbia’s inability – or, rather, unwillingness – to satisfy required conditions.

For the negotiations to resume, the government will likely have to freeze pensions and public sector salaries. Even more opposed to such a measure than Dačić are his coalition partners from the Party of United Pensioners (PUPS), whose name speaks for itself.

Belgrade may try to find the money elsewhere but presumably under less favorable financial – and, perhaps, political – conditions than the IMF would demand. In a recent attempt Serbia managed to sell only about one fifth of the government bonds it had offered, even with an interest rate higher than 15%.

Serbia’s economic woes could present Russia with a unique opportunity to further strengthen its position in the Balkans. Russia’s trade surpluses allow the Kremlin to offer financial aid and loans at relatively acceptable interest rates to countries it looks to drag into its sphere of influence.

A potential risk to the debtors lies in the price of such arrangements. The Russians have openly expressed an interest in buying two Serbian state monopolies:  the electric power industry (EPS) and Telekom. Russian behemoth Gazprom already owns Serbian oil company NIS, and many believe that the opening of a Russo-Serbian emergency center in Niš, a town in southeatern Serbia, a couple of years ago was just a subterfuge for a future military base. Ivica Dačić visited Russia – once according to him, twice according to some other sources – during the interregnum between the elections and government formation. Details of the visit(s) have so far remained largely mysterious.

Alongside the economy, concerns have emerged over management of the security sector.  Aleksandar Vučić – who is now the defense minister, a deputy premier and the leader of SNS – is set to become the coordinator – de facto the chief – of all security and intelligence agencies. Pro-democracy opposition and nongovernmental organizations fear that too much authority concentrated in the hands of an individual – especially of a prominent politician – could easily lead to abuse of power.

Serbia’s economic situation may generate ample work for the security forces, who already face growing challenges from soccer hooligans, organized crime and political extremists.  Whether Mr. Vučić is the right person for the job is another question. We’ll see.

Another fault line might occur in Serbia’s northern autonomous province of Vojvodina. The last election results in Vojvodina were notably different than in the rest of the country.  In addition, the Serbian constitutional court declared a number of articles in the law on Vojvodina’s executive powers to be unconstitutional, thereby further depriving the province of its already negligible autonomy. People in Vojvodina suspect the court’s decision was politically motivated, especially as it came only a day after SNS and SPS announced they were going to form the governing coalition. All this has given rise to political tensions between Vojvodina’s capital Novi Sad and Belgrade.

Where some positive signs can be observed is in the area of media freedoms. The two most powerful figures in the new government, Ivica Dačić and Aleksandar Vučić, have pledged to repeal a highly repressive media law enforced by the previous government, whereas President Nikolić called on journalists to criticize his actions whenever they see fit in order to help him avoid as many mistakes as possible during the presidency. Meanwhile, some of former president Boris Tadić’s close aides seem to be trying to retain effective control over most influential mainstream media outlets.

What is beyond doubt is that tough times are ahead of Serbia. The resumption of the talks with Kosovo, fiscal consolidation and pension system reform account for just a small part of the tasks awaiting the government.  The usual September political season might arrive earlier than usual.

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Whose glory?

I took a quick jaunt to Skopje from Pristina this morning. It was an easy hour and a quarter on the way down before 8 am.  Considerably longer on the way back, with interminable lines of less than 50 kph traffic crawling past equally interminable stores selling construction materials, bathroom fixtures, appliances and ceramic tile. Not to mention the ubiquitous (but all too obviously futile) auto larje, car wash.

Downtown Skopje

I hadn’t seen Skopje since its still incomplete facelift, which installed a grand pedestrian plaza along the Vardar River, where ruined asphalt and weeds used to preside.  It’s a dramatic improvement, marred by the grotesquely outsized equestrian statue of we guess Alexander the Great (as well as several other grand luminaries), not to mention a triumphal arch.


The triumphal arch in downtown Skopje

It is hard not laugh at the pretention. I imagine the Brits giggled when they captured (and burned down) Washington in 1812.  What were the colonists thinking when they built such a grand Capitol and President’s House in the midst of a swamp?  Pretencious dolts like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington thought they were building “New Rome.”

The Greeks aren’t laughing.  They view Macedonia as expropriating their cultural heritage and have hardened their opposition to their northern neighbor calling itself “the Republic Macedonia,” the name by which most countries (including the United States) recognize it.

The political entity that boasts Skopje as its capital (but was not independent until 1991) has had that name in one form or another since before the end of World War II, which is longer than the living memory of most of its residents.  The Greek objection is more or less the equivalent of the United States of America contesting Mexico’s right to call itself the United Mexican States, which happens to be the country’s formal name in English, or vice versa.

No one would, or should, take this issue seriously, were it not for the fact that Greece is blocking Skopje’s entry into NATO and the formal start of its negotiations for EU membership.

That’s no laughing matter, not least because of Macedonia’s ethnic composition.  The one quarter of the population that is ethnic Albanian is a lot less attached to claims of ancient glory than many of their ethnic Macedonian fellow citizens.  While they are not above claiming to be the descendants of the ancient Dardanians, Albanians have little use for the grand statues of the new downtown Skopje and wonder out loud how much they cost. They are far more interested in the small, relatively new, museum and chapel dedicated to Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu, aka Mother Therese (who was born nearby):

Mother Therese’s statue and museum, downtown Skopje

Many Albanians in Macedonia regard NATO membership as vital:  it is the ultimate guarantee of Macedonia’s territorial integrity and their own security.  It is something their politicians have promised, and are now finding it impossible to deliver.  They would gladly compromise on the “name” issue if it gave them entry into the Alliance, whose headquarters in Kabul are, ironically, guarded by the Macedonian army.

Macedonia’s name has been an issue under negotiation for the past 20 years.  A settlement is nowhere in sight.  The new Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, built his career by opening the issue in the early 1990s, when he was foreign minister.  The current Macedonian prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, has likewise built his career on claiming Macedonian glory for Skopje.

So what can be done to resolve the issue?

Skopje has wisely offered Athens a broad cooperative arrangement, with the Greeks entitled to pick and choose among many menu items.  This is intended to enlarge the pie, always a good idea when faced with a zero sum negotiation.  But Macedonia is far from being able to offer what Greeks might really want:  many billions to bail them out of their debit.

Tomorrow I’ll consider a more realistic way forward.


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