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.