And then there’s Macedonia

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel has just said that Macedonia has “real chances” to become the next candidate for EU membership.

This would be no big deal — the Slovenes have long had a soft spot for the Macedonians — except that Rupel is wearing two hats right now; he’s also Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. And he’ll be hosting the OSCE Ministerial Council this December, in Ljublana. That means he speaks with a lot more gravitas than just another small-country foreign minister.

“I cannot say when Macedonia’s entry talks will be launched, but express hope that the country will soon acquire the candidate status,” Rupel said. “Slovenia will support Macedonia’s candidate status, which may happen in December.”

But wait! There’s more. We all know the British Labor Party is meeting in Blackpool, right? Well, Tony Blair took a few minutes off to meet with Macedonian Prime Minister Buckovski, who is visiting Britain this week.

The meeting was private, but afterwards Buckovski said that Blair assured him that the EU enlargement process will go on — and that Britain “pledged support” to Macedonia’s candidate status.

Macedonia. Small, poor, obscure. Two million people, of whom between a quarter and a third are mostly-Muslim Albanians.

I was going to write a middlin’ long post about Macedonia’s relations with its neighbors. Bulgarians see Macedonians as dopey but lovable country cousins. The Serbs see them as dopey and not so lovable; they feel the Macedonians left them in the lurch during the breakup of Yugoslavia, and then there’s this whole festering dispute about the autocephalous Macedonian church. Slovenia is a major investor there, and Slovenes see Macedonians as an interesting source of cheap labor, without the baggage that, say, Croats or Serbs might bring. The Greeks, of course, still have their knickers in a twist about the name “Macedonia”, and are still occasionally threatening to veto Macedonia’s NATO and EU aspirations. The Turks…

…never mind. I’m just too weirded out by the whole thing right now. Maybe later.

Macedonia. An EU candidate.

[shakes head, goes looking for some cold mineral water]

18 thoughts on “And then there’s Macedonia

  1. Macedonia
    Well, for short, anyway…. ; i.e. what will the Greeks have to say about that, I wonder?

  2. Great posts on EU enlargement, Doug. Don’t know why you’re not all over the Trib or the FT. Anyway, as you seem to implicitly acknowledge (sorry for putting words in your mouth), this is all a reflection of the fact that the EU is the only game in town, and that so many people seem to believe that membership of even just association will solve their problems. U.S. foreign policy is just too damn unpredictable to rely upon, even for folks who are basically pro-American. My worry is that Macedonia and Bosnia will languish in this EU ante-chamber for many, many years and EU integration will lose its luster. But all reform in Bosnia has just happened because of the internationals putting pressure on local governments, and more recently because of the pull of EU association and the prospect of membership. What will happen once it becomes clear that nothing will happen for many years?

  3. No worries, Teekay, I took out the extras.

    The EU is the only game in town. The key question is what kind of EU it will be in the 15 years or so that it will take much of southeastern Europe to get in.

    One important thing that the drive to membership does is to define autarkic (and possibly violent and/or irredentist) nationalism as outside the acceptable bounds of political discourse. For southeastern Europe, this will be no small achievement.

    Bosnia and Macedonia will languish in the antechamber for many, many years. It took, for example, the Hungarians a decade and a half to join, from the time they took down the Iron Curtain to their actual accession. If it takes less time for BiH and Macedonia (and whatever other countries will be in their round) to fulfill the criteria, that will be good news indeed.

    There will also certainly be times when EU membership will appear to have lost its luster and still be terribly far away. Central Europe had that experience as well. That, too, will be a measure of progress, for these are normal political problems.

    The road to membership is a long, unglamorous slog. That is almost precisely the point. The day the biggest things Macedonian political leaders have to worry about include unglamorous items like milk quotas, shipping regulations and shares of the research budget will be a very good day.

  4. Speaking of Greece, the substance of Nimitz’s latest name-change proposal to Greece and Macedonia (or FYROM, perhaps I should say) was all over the news last night. It seems it suggests that Greece will need to change the name of its region called Macedonia to something else — Greek Macedonia or the like. Expect a fresh round of “Macedonia is Greek!” indignancy.

  5. It is notable that, broadly speaking, support for EU expansion is greater among the 10 newest members than among the EU-15, and particularly more than among the original “Carolingian Club.” This should not be surprising, since nations on the edge of the union, geographically speaking, are closer to nations not yet in the union, and have more to gain if the union expands to include their neighbors.

    If the process of nations on the edge of the union successfully supporting the accession of their neighbors continues, the idea of the “natural borders” of the EU may be meaningless. Rather, expansion would continue until it runs up against Really Big Countries that are worlds unto themselves and can’t be readily assimilated. Russia is such a country. India is such a country. The Turkosceptic camp would say that Turkey is, too, but if it isn’t, is Egpyt? Iran?

  6. Natural borders of the EU are the Sahara, The North pole and Siberia. For instance Algeria will again become part of the Union

  7. Actually my bet is that greece will support Macedonia. It is clearly in their interest. During the war in the balkans greece had to re-route all their exports to europe through italy which is not the cheapest option, so thats why greece would rather be connected to the rest of europe through stable member states serbia, croatia , macedonia.

    Greece is already the biggest investor in Macedonia and will be treading more carefully this time. As far as the ‘Macedonia is Greece’ disgrace as AJ calls it. Well, there are factions within macedonia who make greeks in the north of the country very nervous with their extremist views, their concerns are valid and should be addressed.

  8. Greece has been the largest investor in Macedonia for a while now. Which it should be,right? It’s the only First World economy adjacent to a rather small and backwards Second World economy.

    But that hasn’t much mitigated Greek irrationality on the name issue.

    Factions with extremist views: Macedonia is a country a quarter the size of Greece, with one fifth the population, and an economy about one twentieth as large. It’s sort of like the United States claiming to feel threatened by Honduras.

    Doug M.

  9. “Factions with extremist views: Macedonia is a country a quarter the size of Greece, with one fifth the population, and an economy about one twentieth as large. It’s sort of like the United States claiming to feel threatened by Honduras.”

    Well, how threatened was the US by Grenada ?

    And by the way I agree, i never claimed that greeks were worried about a full scale invasion from Macedonia. There is however the potential to create instability in which other parties might contribute. Of course it is theoretical at this point and only applies in case the whole area becomes unstable for some reason.

    How is it that the greeks are the ones who are irrational when a section in Macedonian politics, that actually does have some clout, believes Macedonia should expand its borders and have Thessaloniki as its capital?

    Greece never made any sort of territorial claim on Macedonia and from the outset of the war in the balkans it has maintained that the external borders should remain intact ie. Albania or Bulgaria and Sebia should not get involved and Albanian nationalists should not get their hopes up for getting a slice of Macedonia. That sounds sensible to me and it sounds like Greece is Macedonia’s best friend right now.

    What Greece is trying to avoid is that any claims are not enshrined in law or become long term policy with the potential to create instability.

  10. Fascinating post.

    Doug pretty much nailed Slovenia’s attitude. The country is very much gearing its economy to the emerging markets of the former Yugoslavia, and lately there have been more calls for Slovenian diplomacy to blindly support ex-Yugoslav republics in order to garner good will for the business community. There was even a recent editorial (I think it was in the business daily Finance, but am not sure) slamming Foreign Minister Rupel for not ignoring war crimes issues altogether, and using a bit more Realpolitik. The Slovenian government is definitely feeling the pressure of big businesses, who are putting a lot into the Balkans and countries like Macedonia.

  11. Doug, why are you so often critical about Greece?
    I am refering to this comment: “But that hasn’t much mitigated Greek irrationality on the name issue.

    Factions with extremist views: Macedonia is a country a quarter the size of Greece, with one fifth the population, and an economy about one twentieth as large. It’s sort of like the United States claiming to feel threatened by Honduras.”

    Wouldn’t you be pissed off if a helpless kid in the street used your name and claimed say your bicycle as his own? I think Kostas gave a nice answer as well. I honestly don’t understand your way of thinking some time..

  12. Wouldn’t you be pissed off if a helpless kid in the street used your name

    No.

    and claimed say your bicycle as his own?

    What’s the “bicycle” here? Macedonia isn’t claiming one square meter of Greek territory.

    i never claimed that greeks were worried about a full scale invasion from Macedonia. There is however the potential to create instability in which other parties might contribute.

    I’ve noticed that almost every Greek I talk to eventually comes up with this argument. What’s interesting is that you all formulate it the same way. That is, “someone” or “some other parties” might take advantage.

    Can’t y’all come right out and say that you’re worried about Macedonia lining up with the Turks?

    That’s not a completely insane argument. The problem here is that Greek hostility to Macedonia is turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Macedonia is sending officers to be trained in Turkey, and there’s regular consultation between the two countries’ militaries.

    Why? Because they feel threatened by their big neighbor Greece, just as Greece feels threatened by big neighbor Turkey. This would not be happening if Greece had pursued a more rational policy toward Skopje; Macedonia doesn’t share a boundary with Turkey, and has no particular reason to be in bed with them.

    section in Macedonian politics, that actually does have some clout, believes Macedonia should expand its borders and have Thessaloniki as its capital?

    A cite for this would be nice.

    Is there lingering irredentism among (Slav) Macedonians? Sure. Are there nutcase factions in Macedonian politics who try to encourage this? Yes.

    Do they have any influence on Macedonian policy? No. Is this likely to change? No.

    [shrug] The Macedonian Menace seems to be firmly entrenched in Greek thinking at this point. It may change with time. Meanwhile, well, we go on.

    Doug M.

  13. It seems it suggests that Greece will need to change the name of its region called Macedonia to something else — Greek Macedonia or the like. Expect a fresh round of “Macedonia is Greek!” indignancy.

    Indeed if one reads the Macedonian press this is the postion of Macdonia: Greece cannot call its northern province Macedonia. I believe it has been the name of the Greek province for almost 100 years (twice as long as the current state).

    But that hasn’t much mitigated Greek irrationality on the name issue.

    The Greeks have both irrational and highly rational views on this issue: 1) see the US UN appointed negotiator’s postion that Greece needs to change the name of its own Macedonia. 2) consirder not the past, not Alexander, not ethnic pride, but future inherent problems with one state insisting on taking a name for itself which comprises a region which covers several states as its own. Take a hypothetical, if after the disolution of the USSR one of the states in the Caucasus had attempted to take the name “Caucasus” would another, stabel, status quo state there have been “irrational” if they said: “well wait this is not good for future stability.”?

    Macedonia is sending officers to be trained in Turkey, and there’s regular consultation between the two countries’ militaries.

    They also send officers and have consultation with Greece and Bulgaria.

    Is there lingering irredentism among (Slav) Macedonians? Sure. Are there nutcase factions in Macedonian politics who try to encourage this? Yes.
    Do they have any influence on Macedonian policy? No. Is this likely to change? No.

    This is profoudnly uninformed. The Macedonians insisted on keeping unabashedly irrendentist language in their new consitution until forced to remove it.

    You must know it was the United States that specified that Tito changing the name of the Yugoslav province to Macedonia was a per se irrentedntist threat.

    When I was in Macedonia last, about 30 months ago the school maps stil showed Salonika as the capital. That is hardly marginal.

    I did my masters thesis on the issue back seven years ago. When I began I had the typcial American view on the right to self nomination and that Greece’s position was entirely irrational.

    There is not doubt there is a lot of self defeating and nationalsit jargon mixed up with the Greek position. But the irrendentism of the Macedonian side was and is real and a much bigger problem.

    In short, Greece was chavuanistic and unsophisticated with the way it made its points. But it did and does have points to be taken very seriously in the face of mess presented after Yugolsavia broke up. Lately the entire discussion of the Macedonian minority in Greece shows this. After all it is smaller than the Greek minority in Macedonia.

  14. This is profoudnly uninformed.

    No, it’s exactly correct. If you have a cite that shows otherwise, I’d be interested to see it.

    The Macedonians insisted on keeping unabashedly irrendentist language in their new consitution until forced to remove it.

    — IMS they changed that in 1994, upon Greek request.

    “They had irredentist language in their constitution years ago” doesn’t seem like a strong basis for policy today.

    Lately the entire discussion of the Macedonian minority in Greece shows this. After all it is smaller than the Greek minority in Macedonia.

    This is almost certainly untrue. The numbers of various Greek ethnic minorities have been consistently undercounted, and this is particularly true for, ah, “Slavophone Greeks”. Human Rights Watch estimates 10,000, but acknowledges that this is low-end; they’re counting only people who use Macedonian as a first language and who voluntarily self-identify as non-ethnic Greek.

    When I was in Macedonia last, about 30 months ago the school maps stil showed Salonika as the capital.

    As the capitol of what, exactly?

    Historical Macedonia? Well, it was.

    “Macedonia” the geographical area? That would be inaccurate — it’s like having a capital of “North America” or “the Caucasus” — but not exactly cause for embargos and vetos.

    An imagined “Greater Macedonia”? That seems unlikely.

    the irrendentism of the Macedonian side was and is real and a much bigger problem.

    Since the Macedonian state has exactly zero capacity to implement irredentism, I have trouble seeing this.

    Note that public statements of irredentism by Macedonian politicians in power have completey disappeared in the last decade or so. Whatever wingnut minority Parliamentarians may say, you’ll search in vain for an irredentist statement by a President, Prime Minister, or Cabinet member. It’s just not on the agenda any more.

    The Greeks are still getting worked up about this. The Macedonians, by and large, have moved on.

    Doug M.

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  16. Re. the issue of a new state taking a name that implicitly lays claim to the province of a neighbouring country.

    No one has brought this up here but isn’t this (at least slightly) similar to Bosnian Muslims claiming to be “Bosniaks” or Kosovo Albanians claiming to be “Kosovars”? In both cases they’re using the name to lay claim to a whole country/province.

    It might even be a little bit like people in living in the US calling themselves Americans while everyone else has to contend with Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, and so on.

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