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Redefining the Name Issue
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On July 7 in Dubrovnik, US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon spoke at the Croatia Summit 2012. In his prepared remarks on Macedonia, Gordon began by stating “Macedonia’s name dispute with Greece continues to thwart its aspirations for NATO membership and the start of EU accession talks.”  Notice the way Gordon defines the issue: “Macedonia’s name dispute with Greece….”

Notice how Gordon labels it as a possessive issue for Macedonia – it is Macedonia’s dispute.  But that is completely incorrect.  Macedonia has no dispute.  It is the other way around: Greece has a dispute with Macedonia’s name….and Macedonia’s identity of course, the root of the problem.  Gordon should have said “Greece’s dispute with Macedonia’s name continues to thwart its aspirations for NATO membership and the start of EU accession talks.” (He could add “and identity” but that would be asking the US State Department to do too much.)

Here’s my point – we need to redefine this issue and call it what it is:  “Greece’s dispute with Macedonia’s name and identity is thwarting Macedonia’s ability to join NATO and the EU.” I would argue that it is always vital to add “identity” when speaking about the name issue.

Gordon goes on: “We were disappointed that NATO was unable to welcome Macedonia at the Chicago Summit. But as NATO is a consensus organization, Macedonia and Greece must first resolve their bilateral disagreement before the Alliance can fulfill the membership offer extended at the Bucharest Summit.”  On the first issue – that he was “disappointed” – frankly, I don’t believe him.  I think he simply doesn’t care anymore.  He is tired, like all unelected diplomats are, with this issue.

An example from Europe: Just last week, the foreign ministers of Austria and Slovakia – like so many before them – wrote in the EU Observer that “We are aware that a name dispute is a central and highly sensitive - but bilateral issue - between two countries.”

On this issue – that of this being a “bilateral disagreement/issue,” I must vehemently disagree.  It is “bilateral” only in the sense that one party, Greece, objects to another party, Macedonia.  The dispute is, in essence, unilateral.  Here’s my second point: we need to call it that.  It is a unilateral dispute which Greece has with Macedonia.

And as a refresher course, what is the source of this disagreement/issue?  I point back to UN Resolution 817 of April 7, 1993 which governs the entrance of Macedonia into the UN but under the fictitious “provisional and temporary reference.” In that resolution the UN notes that Macedonia has fulfilled all criteria for membership but also notes “Noting however that a difference has arisen over the name of the State, which needs to be resolved in the interest of the maintenance of peaceful and good-neighbourly relations in the region…”

The UN – in its infinite lack of wisdom or moral backbone – simply states that a “difference has arisen.”  But from where does this difference come?  The UN refuses to say.  It refuses to lay blame.  This is one reason why the UN is worth so little.  Because it cannot take a position.  The UN asks the world: follow me, for I stand for nothing.  

Moving on.  I went back and looked at previous US State Department statements and found a curious thing.  In previous statements – in the past year – Gordon has made reference to “the ongoing dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the latter’s name” (April 14), and said, on November 15 of last year, “The name dispute with Greece continues to thwart Macedonia’s aspirations for NATO membership and the start of EU.” Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s most recent statements on the issue do not lay blame with Macedonia.  Witness what she said at the Chicago NATO Summit: “We strongly support a resolution of the ongoing name dispute and urge the parties to reach an agreement so Macedonia can join the alliance as soon as possible.”

At this point, I’m confused.  Is Gordon postulating a new US position with his statement that Macedonia is at fault because Macedonia has a name dispute with Greece?  If he does not mean that, then I would call upon the US State Department to clarify his statement.  Quickly.

But it is what Gordon said after the summit that really shocked me.  In an interview with Al Jazeera Gordon said “And I think once it [the name issue] was agreed people would stop obsessing over precisely what the formal name of the country was and they would get on with it as in so many other cases around the world.”

Frankly, I’m shocked.  When I read it I could hardly believe what he said.  “Obsessing over precisely what the formal name of the country was?”  By deliberately using the loaded word “obsessing,” Gordon is attempting to belittle the Macedonians who hold their name and identity sacred. Another statement that needs to be clarified.  I can tell you that the day that Americans stop “obsessing” over our name and identity will be the day that blood flows in the streets.

The identity and the name of the people are intertwined, the two are one.  That is precisely why the name issue is so important and why the name of the country must remain what the people has chosen: the Republic of Macedonia.  It is high time we make sure the elected and unelected around the world know that as well.  No negotiation.

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Jason Miko
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