Well managed conflicts are hard to resolve

This makes sense of course.  Why bother paying the high price resolution usually entails if the cost of continuing in conflict is relatively low?  We see this happening today in many places:  Israel/Palestine, Macedonia/Greece, Armenia/Azerbaijan, Cyprus/Turkey.  How should the international community behave in such instances?

Generally the approach has been to continue efforts at resolution, almost no matter what.  Depending on how you count, the Israel/Palestine conflict is 65 years old, Macedonia’s conflict with Greece over its name has been subject to mediation for more or less 20 years, the Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been working on Armenia and Azerbaijan’s dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh for as long, and UN peacekeepers have been in Cyprus for almost 40 years.  It makes economic sense to continue because the international community efforts are relatively cheap compared to the potential consequences of ending them.

But does it make sense in terms of getting to yes?  Is the international community’s willingness to continue mediation or peacekeeping efforts inhibiting a solution rather than encouraging one?

That is a difficult judgment to make, but I have my suspicions, especially in the Macedonia/Greece dispute.  On the surface, it is a fairly simple one:  Greece refuses to accept what it prefers to call “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (or the FYROM) by its constitutional name (Republic of Macedonia).  This wouldn’t make much difference except that Greece can (and does) block the FYROM from entering NATO or getting a date to begin negotiations on EU membership, in violation of a 1995 “interim agreement.”  The International Court of Justice has found Greece in violation of that agreement but it does not have the ability to enforce its decisions.

For almost 20 years, now UN envoy Matt Nimetz has tried to find a solution.  Greece has appeared at times ready to accept a modifier (for example, “North Macedonia”) but wants the agreed name used in all circumstances, including every time it is mentioned in the Macedonian constitution.  This isn’t very attractive to Skopje, which already enjoys a world in which everyone but Greece and international organizations call the country Macedonia.  Skopje doubts that even if it accepted the Greek parliament would ratify membership in NATO, much less the EU.

This is one spat the world could do without, but nothing the committed and inventive Nimetz has done in 20 years has gotten rid of it.  So the question is, should we get rid of the UN envoy, hoping that will give Athens and Skopje ample incentive to cut a deal directly with each other?

I don’t know.  There is little likelihood of a solution unless they do, but that is no guarantee they would.

Macedonia’s prime minister has enjoyed a great deal of popularity as a result of his nationalist rhetoric and building program.  The only people in Macedonia really unhappy with the current situation are ethnic Albanians, who regard NATO membership as the ultimate guarantee of security and would like to end a dispute that has nothing to do with their own ethnic identity.  But Albanians represent close to a quarter of the population.  Macedonia is a fragile state that cannot afford to alienate its largest minority.

The Greek prime minister, who was one of the originators of the dispute in the 1990s, has likewise little political incentive to settle it.  While there are certainly some Greeks who would like to see the issue resolved, if only to stabilize a neighborhood in which the country has significant investments, they are relatively few.  Most Greeks regard ancient Macedonia as quintessentially Greek and are unwilling to see the label hijacked by Slavs.

I don’t want to minimize the importance of this dispute to those most directly involved.  Macedonians and Greeks alike regard the issue as profoundly important, as it affects their identities.  But is this something the rest of the world should be investing to solve?  There is not risk of armed confrontation over this issue.  After 20 years, it seems to me the UN would be more than justified to pack in the effort and let the parties to the conflict try to resolve it themselves, or not.

More on other well managed conflicts in future posts.

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7 thoughts on “Well managed conflicts are hard to resolve”

  1. This is an interesting point. But what do you mean by a “well-managed” conflict? Is it about levels of violence, or the degree of international intervention?

  2. It is all about being constructive and inclusive. Something Americans know all about (or at least did). E.g. Serbia could be of help to Macedonia, taking into the account that once they were part of one country, and having in mind that Serbia keeps friendly relations with Greece if Serbia chooses to be on the constructive path. Everyone on Balkans has that choice. There is a threshold, or lowest common denominator below which there is no interest to be found except for short term destructive goals. goals that can only hurt the long term goal which is peace and prosperity in the region.

  3. All disputes mentioned in Daniel Serwer’s column relate to territorial disputes. Macedonia-Greece dispute is over identities and not territory de facto because neither Greece nor Republic of Macedonia has occupied each other.

    The Macedonian side tries to protect its own singular Macedonian identity, while the Greek side makes attempt to forge a second, Macedonian sub-identity, alongside the Greek one through exclusion of non-Greeks under the pretext that ancient relics show strong Greek language presence in Macedonia artefacts.

    Greece accuses Macedonia of monopolizing the term Macedonia and the entire region’s history, while at the same time it makes no humble effort to apologize to the rest of Europe for monopolizing entire historical periods and entities such as Hellenism, Roman/Byzantine Empire etc. although it is a proven fact that each one of them has faced severe prolonged periods of political and physical discontinuity. Now Greece attempts to incorporate Macedonian legacy and subject it to the Hellenistic view.

    Recently, Bulgarians began jumping into the picture and the dispute itself. They too want Macedonia to deny itself its own historical reasoning and sign on paper in the form of a bilateral agreement (under the pretext of good neighbourly relations), declaring common history sharing with Bulgaria (only!) and that all events related to Macedonia prior to WWII are in fact integral part of the Bulgarian history. This is sheer nonsense as it is a well-known fact that over the last 600 years until 1944, officially only it were the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Serbia / Yugoslavia who were the “legitimate rulers” of Macedonia, while Bulgaria was known to have occupied parts of Macedonia unlawfully during World Wars I and II, with the help of its Axis and Fascist allies. The statements coming from the Bulgarian side are in direct contradiction with the Greek view, although these two countries are more than capable of finding common language quite easily at the expense of Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration processes. Remember, it was Bulgaria which occupied Greece during these times and not Macedonia. So much for the good neighbourly relations! Oh and by the way you will still hear Bulgarians making statements about the Bulgarian character of Macedonia. Still no Greek objects or is seriously disturbed by them!

    Finally Mr. Serwer makes a point that “The only people in Macedonia really unhappy with the current situation are ethnic Albanians, who regard NATO membership as the ultimate guarantee of security and would like to end a dispute that has nothing to do with their own ethnic identity.” Identities issues Mr. Serwer, are subject to regulation by the highest international laws and protection mechanisms affecting basic individual and collective human rights and as such they are not subject to political bargaining. In other words, identities and names are not for sale. Not for NATO, not for EU, not for any other form of organization. Not for impatient ethnic minorities (whose native countries are also lagging in the political integration processes). The fact that Albanians represent close to a quarter of the population and that Macedonia is a fragile state “that cannot afford to alienate its largest minority” make no difference. Macedonia also cannot afford to alienate its largest majority as it already did once in 2001, during the Albanian insurgency which was orchestrated by the same forces and centres which conducted the UCK offensive on Kosovo. Ultimately, it is amazing to see how you manage to measure the levels of unhappiness in Macedonia related to its Euro Atlantic integration process and qualify the level of unhappiness among the Macedonians lower to that of Albanians? I do not remember you conducted a scientific survey on this.

    Finally, you ask the following question “…Is this (the Macedonia-Greece dispute) something the rest of the world should be investing to solve?” My counter question to you would be: “was Kosovo’s status something the rest of the world should have bothered and invested so much to re-solve?” Why would Kosovo get all the world’s attention and NATO protection while Macedonia gets left outside alone by the democratic “West” which behaves as if Macedonia’s sheer existence is in fact the problem and that a whole nation of 2 million is almost blackmailed to sign a collective kleptomaniac statement and succumb to Greece’s demands? What makes you think that the name is on the table up for grabs?

    I fully agree with you that the UN should back out of this name issue nonsense. However the only logical path for Macedonia is to employ all the mechanisms which will allow it to introduce its constitutional name in the UN (as the UN Charter provides and allows) and put the name plate in front of its ambassadors at the UN with the name of its own choice, (not Greece’s not USA’s not anyone else’s)…

  4. A very good article and analysis. I am an Albanian living in Macedonia and I don’t really know how long will this dispute with Greece last. For almost 20 years the Albanians haven’t been involved in this dispute because we have shown respect towards the Macedonians, since it is a delicate issue, but till when??? For nearly 20 years the foreign Diplomats have given advice and have shown their interest to resolve the name issue, but no results at all. Our Prime Minister is preoccupied with the new elections, because he can not even run the country for 4 years, we have elections in every 2 years.I can’t understand the Macedonians, they travel a lot to Greece, for their holidays or shopping and on the other hand they don’t want to change the country’s name. The name must be changed because Greece wants so. And naturally always the strong wins. And then we can join NATO and EU, I hope.

  5. All greece asks is that fyrom puts a geographic prefix before “macedonia” ie North and that it be used for all uses.plain and simple.

    1. Peter, why should the free world allow Greece to be forcing upon ANY country solutions and recipes for their official names by adding various geographic prefixes or suffixes. Who gave the Government of Modern day Greece, a country with historic continuity since 1822 only, the right to even dare dream about this kind of absurdity?!

      By the way Peter, there is no such country as “fyrom” and you know it very well. If for some unknown reason you don’t, better check UN resolutions on Macedonia well, before launching another misinformation on this blog! I can see you are very well versed in Greek “erga omnes” idiocies so you should have known these things by now well!

  6. FYRoM caused the West to take a long hard look at itself – So culture history heritage are important factors not to be messed with. Mess with them and you risk upsetting the peace they bring. Peace brings harmony. Harmony brings hope. Hope brings for better future. The future is bright when culture history and heritage are respected for what they really are – endowments recieved. Cultural inheritance we receive from our immediate forebears who received theirs from older ones. Lest we forget, the older ones recieved theirs from long-chain of proto-ancestors. Development of sophisticated culture is testament to their creative endeavours.

    Tracing ancestral evolution, incrementally, in backwards compatible steps, seeing how they created, developed and recorded their existence is cultural-historical inheritance to be cherished, to keep and to pass-on to future generations. So the focus is on preserving the Western worlds cultural historical narrative because if you disturb that, you upset the peace that it brings. Upsetting the peace cause uneasiness. Uneasiness upsets social-cohesion. The cycle repeats.

    Preserving the Western worlds cultural historical cohesion is important because, if disturbed creates ripples. Ripples create shockwaves. Shockwaves upset tectonic-balance. Balance tilted one-way causes avalanche. Avalanche untamed, seen through prism of psuedo-historical revisionism comes down like a ton of bricks on mainstream history. Smashing Western worlds understanding of cultural-inheritance breaks continuity to endowments recieved, from common cultural ancestors. Confusing Paeonia for Macedonia is one example. Mistaking ex-Yugoslavs for Macedonians is another example.

    So the focus is on FYRoM…upsetting the Western worlds cultural historical cohesion.

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