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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19 thoughts on “The zombie that haunts the Balkans”

  1. But you are forgetting something. Ethnic partition of Serbia. That’s how it started. Allowing Albanians to have their own, ethnically ‘clean’ state. Why are they an exception, considering they already have one state of their own – Albania?

    1. I have not forgotten Kosovo, which is not ethnically “clean” and no exception. Serbia is trying to turn Kosovo independence into an ethnic partition by holding on to the mostly Serbian-populated north, a move that it figures would also lead to the evacuation of the Serbs from the south as well. But that is Serbia’s doing, not the international community’s.

      1. This should not happen, if Serbia gets north I am afraid they will strike for the south later financing parallel structures and destabilizing entire Kosovo. They’re a mentally sick state with a sick political agenda. Years later that will bring a new war another genocide against Albanians, pain, victims etc. You don’t know Serbs you really don’t all they care is Kosovo’s minerals territory and territory that’s all they don’t even care about Kosovo serbs. We lived with them for a century we can read them now. We no longer want to do anything with Serbia

      2. To not realize that Kosovo IS an ethnic partition would be a huge mistake. The most blunt and honest truth here is that one side wanted independence and the other did not. It does not matter how ‘clean’ Kosovo is of its Serbs or other minorities, its independence was based on ethnic motivations and even with North Kosovo, it is an ethnic partition. This entire act is not Serbia’s doing as well, the nations that approved this should have known the outcome and the repercussions of doing so. Also, it’s best to be careful when mentioning the phrase ‘international community’.

    2. It is important to recall that the geopolitical map of the Western Balkans today is a result of the fall of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia does not exist today and it would be a mistake to think of Serbia as the inheritor of such composition.

  2. There is only one permanent solution that is viable: all countries that have emanated from Yugoslavia ahould adopt constitutions which define them as civil secular states. This means that each single citizen living in a country is treated as an individual equal to all his or her fellow citizens, regardless of anybody’s ethnic, national, religious or any other sort of either personal or collective identity. But for that to be possible, mental barriers in people’s minds need to be removed once and for all. That is the toughest part of the job.

  3. “The FYROM?” I hope you are not serious. You must be aware that relegating this long and awkward phrase to a manageable acronym is a gateway to “Fyromian people” and “Fyromian language” which is what the Greeks ultimately want. Also, this is not the name under which Macedonia was admitted in the UN.

    1. Diana, I don’t see how Macedonia’s entry in NATO under FYROM would precipitate more degrading coinages in regards to the Macedonian people, language and identity. When a member of NATO Macedonia can work within the framework to delineate how its people and language are to be called in official documents and assemblies. This delineating is matter of seeking support with each individual NATO member under the auspices of NATO. I doubt many states would join in to cater to Greece in its unreasonable requests.

  4. Mr. Serwer,

    You state:
    “Why is the “name” issue important? Because it prevents Macedonia from entering NATO and getting a date to begin its EU negotiations.”

    Ok, but is that all?

    The name issue is about a Greek government desperate to forward the thesis that “Macedonia and its heritage is Greek”, which is a total and complete fiction – the Greek history in Macedonia begins in 1913.

    By making sure that the true history of the Balkan Wars/ Annexation and of the Greek Civil War’s genocide against the ethnic Macedonians of northern Greece, the Greek government does not have to pay reparations for their war crimes against the refugees of Aegean Macedonia and their descendents.

    Also, the Greek government can maintain their absolutely preposterous state policy of being “98 per cent ethnically homogeneous”, thereby continuing their state policy of human rights abuses against the ethnic Macedonians in northern Greece, and the millions of other people who live in Greece as unrecognized ethnic and religious minorities/ second-class citizens.

    Indeed, the issue does need re-framing, because the entire problem has essentially nothing to do with the Republic of Macedonia, it has to do with domestic Greek politics of denying human/civil, religious and minority rights. If it wasn’t for the ethnic Macedonians of northern Greece, this problem with the independent Republic wouldn’t exist. But, as it is, Greece is desperately trying to make those people to no longer exist, and to wipe their history and culture off of the map. It is a 100-year project that has still not succeeded.

    Meanwhile, organizations like the European Union are utterly uninterested in such matters of substance, because that would require integrity.


  5. “It should be noted that there is NO CONNECTION between the Macedonians of the time of Alexander the Great who were a GREEK tribe and today’s so-called ‘Macedonians’ of the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ or FYROM, who are of SLAVIC origin and related to BULGARIANS.” – David H Levinson, ‘The Encyclopedia of Ancient Cultures’

  6. • Greeks have lived in Anatolia for millennia, especially along the Aegean coast. For a while, under Alexander, they dominated the land. And for all intents and purposes, the Byzantine Empire was Greek.[.] The first Ottoman census, of 1477, counted half of Constantinople’s population as Greek, and four-hundred years later, even after the Greek War of Independence, it was still 21 percent Greek. – David Lowenthal, “The heritage crusade and the spoils of history, (1998)

  7. On November 4, 2004, two days after the re-election of President George W. Bush, his administration unilaterally recognized the “Republic of Macedonia.”  This action not only abrogated geographic and historic fact, but it also has unleashed a dangerous epidemic of historical revisionism, of which the most obvious symptom is the misappropriation by the government in Skopje of the most famous of Macedonians, Alexander the Great.

  8. “The political and military leaders of the Slavs of Macedonia at the turn of the century seem not to have heard Misirkov’s call for a separate Macedonian national identity; they continued to identify themselves in a national sense as Bulgarians rather than Macedonians.” – US Anthropologist Loring Danforth, “The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World”, Princeton Univ Press, December 1995

  9. “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.”

    Hogwash! Your “well established lines” were drawn up by Hitler and later adopted as merely administrative lines by Tito. Being of Croatian and slovenian descent, Tito favoured those Republics while allowing Kosovo to become a welfare state for Albanian immigrants as a means of neutralizing the Republic of Serbia.

    Germany led the charge in the dissolution of Yugoslavia by recognising it’s former WWII allies who had enthusiastically committed genocide against it’s Serbian neighbors some fifty years before. With a weak Russia and Nato at their disposal, Hitler’s Balkans has been reborn.

    1. For your information, never in its entire history has Serbia achieved higher levels of progress in every possible respect than in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Saying that Tito was acting against Serbia because he was of Croatian and Slovenian descent is a blatant lie, no matter if it was said due to lack of knowledge, prejudices, or out of pure nationalism. What Kemal Atarurk was for the Turks, Tito was for the Yugoslavians.

  10. There we go again. The old story that Balkanians are irrational people who have to reigned in with special rules like “no border changes”. Did you ever read the Helsinki Accords, Mr. Serwer?

    What the people in the Balkans really need are open talks about how to solve their minority situations. This should include the possibility of border changes. As the Helsinki Accords only allow border changes when both sides agree there is absolutely no reason to fear the kind of Armageddon that the article foretells.

    The Greek-Macedonian conflict is a good example. In its core it is about the fate of the Slav people that once lived in Northern Greece. Stating that borders may not be changed will do nothing to diminish the feeling of Gruevski and others who descend from people who left Greece that injustice was done to them. Only a honest discussion can do that. Foreign attempts to short circuit such discussions are harmful.

  11. Mr. Roffel, that is part of the problem- calling the Macedonians of Northern Greece, Slav people. What do you mean by “Slav people?” Does that include Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Bulgarians, some Greeks and Albanians, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Russians, Belorusians and so forth, all of whom have been influenced by the highly elusive Slav culture?
    Mr. Roffel, ensnaring many people under one determinant(such as Latinos in USA or Asians in UK) is a Mickey Mouse job for understanding the complexity of culture, diversity and language.
    The conflict between Macedonia and Greece is not for the fate of Macedonians in Northern Greece. It is about evading the necessity of recognizing minorities and allowing for the fulfillment of their human rights. It is about appropriating a distant culture exclusively for one’s own purpose. It is about furthering the disintegration of what remains of once vibrant and influential culture. By sternly not recognizing a Macedonian people (that is what we in Macedonia call a “science fiction scenario) Greece is postponing a crucial pivot point in its development and reinventing itself under more realistic parameters.

  12. Republic of Macedonia has complete right on the Name Macedonia,firstly because , despite the portioning in 1913, Macedonia is still in possession of a significant part of the Ancient Macedonian territory(Lynkestis-Hearcaleia- Nowday Bitola, Pelagonia, Demir Kapia, Geugeli, Lyknidos) which in antiquity were one of the most important Ancient Macedonian settlements.
    Indeed Ancient Macedonia originated from Paeonia, if we carefully read history :” Lyncestis, although originally a part of Paeonia, having become a separate kingdom, which was annexed to Macedonia as early as the reign of Philip, son of Amyntas, may, with reference to a later period, be ascribed to Upper Macedonia; at the same time that all beyond it, to the sources of the Erigon, was still a portion of Paeonia, the whole of which, however, was united to regal Macedonia before the Macedonic wars of Rome.”–UtT5DqWgyQP-6ICoAg&id=TFAMAAAAYAAJ&hl=it&ots=0bKLiROjjp&output=text
    According to John Geipel American antrhropologist and ethnologist, “Macedonians from Republic of Macedonia are not Slavs and have the same genes, physical futures and appearance as the ancient Macedonians who were there thousands of years ago. Macedonians were ethnically distinct from the Hellenes”

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