Change for the Sake of Change Promotes Stagnation

FILE - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, right and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev, raise their hands during a signing agreement for FYROM's new name in the village of Psarades, Prespes Greece, on Sunday, June 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

The year 2019 promises to usher in changes across many centers of Hellenism around the world. On the political and ecclesiastical front, leadership changes are expected to occur, but it is yet uncertain if the change in faces will bring in a change in attitudes as well. On the political scene, 2019 represents an election year for Greece, with the only uncertainty being whether the current administration will opt for snap elections in the spring or try to finish out …

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    The UN-sponsored negotiations aiming at finding a resolution for the so called “Name Issue” between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic / FYROM resulted, for the time being, in the singing of the June ’18 Prespa Agreement. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries, Kotzias and Dimitrov, of Greece and FYROM respectively, signed the bilateral and conditional Prespa Agreement on June 2018 (at Lake Prespa hence the name). One of the June ’18 Agreement requirements involve that the Skopje government to remove all false irredentisms towards the region of Macedonia Greece from its constitution. Upon the completion of the constitutional modifications, a mutual ratification will be required by both countries for agreement to be in affect. The Prespa proposal suggests the term “Republic of North Macedonia” be used as official name for the former Yugoslav Republic.
    The Name Issue came about after the breakup of Yugoslavia and involves the international Name of the southern region of the former Yugoslavia (FYROM) which primarily consisting of Slavic & Albanian ethnic groups. This region on one hand shares cultural and linguistic overlap with Bulgaria and Albania while desiring to be identified geographically with the region of Macedonia Greece. To some, the proposal may appear as offering some solution to the Name Issue, however, in reality it will likely further exacerbate the problems associated with the Issue. Overall it has the makings of a tenuous policy destined to fail for several reasons.

    The Agreement is Contradictory

    The formula that the Prespa proposal intended to follow in order to resolve the Name Issue, had to do with a composite term with a geographic designation, Erga Omnes. Does the suggested term “Republic of North Macedonia” achieve the above? In reality – No it does NOT!

    · The critical component in the long formal name “Macedonia” remains unchanged. Ultimately making this not a true composite term. Past examples that are true composite or hybrid terms are: Republic of Novamacedonijia, or Republic of Vardarmacedonija. etc.
    · The term “North” is NOT a Geographic Designation, but rather a Geographic Orientation. The term “North” has no regional specificity and thus fails to meet what is a Geographic Term.
    · It is NOT Erga Omnes given that it does not produce a corresponding Nationality and Language for its citizenship. In addition, Skopje has NOT reformed all articles of its constitution with the proposed Name, as per Prespa Agreement, thus the “second party”, Skopje is in violation of the agreement already. It is worth also mentioning, that the deadline for Constitutional reforms by Skopje was Dec. 31 2018.

    Further Problematic Issues

    The Prespa document comes short of a clear regional distinction between Macedonia Greece and the former Yugoslavia Republic. With the proposed name of “Republic of North Macedonia”, in effect, the issue of irredentism remains unsolved. In spite of a reference of a mutually respected boarder, according to the majority of scholars in Greece, the proposed Name generates false analogies such as that of to North vs. South Korea. However, unlike Korea we are not dealing with the same ethnic groups in this case as we are dealing with Greeks (Greece) and South Slavs/Albanians (FYROM). Furthermore, the use of the term “North” is disconcerting to the remaining regions north of FYROM such as the Kosovo and Serbia. Serbians have asked the question: How North is North?
    Instead of focusing on naming of a state with a neutral and simple term, the Prespa Agreement over complicates matters with unclear and impractical definitions of language and nationality. More specifically, the two official language groups of the former Yugoslav Republic are the following: Slavic based mostly on Bulgarian with some Serbian influences (due to Josep Tito’s legacy and efforts to differentiate from Bulgarian) and Albanian (which uses the Roman alphabet vs Cyrillic used in Serbian and Bulgarian). Any alteration to the naming of the above-mentioned languages conflicts with neighboring Bulgaria and Albania. In fact, Bulgaria will veto the Prespa Agreement in any international organizations it is a member of. To further illustrate the confusion associated with the agreement, let us try to project how the FYROM Albanians will need to describe their own identity. Such description would be as follows: “Macedonian” Citizens that is an ethnic “Albanians” but of North “Macedonia” different from “Macedonia Greece” and of Albania that speak Albanian language that is not of the Cyrillic family of languages. At the end this becomes too complicated to have any practical use!

    Falsehoods Associated with the Agreement

    The supporters of the Prespa Agreement in Greece have used falsehoods to justifications matters of Language and Geography in Prespa agreement:
    · On the issue of Language. Using a past UN transliteration conference as language recognition is false. The fact is that Greece has never recognized the Slavic language of Southern Yugoslavia as “Macedonian”.
    · On Geography. Stating of other geographic “Macedonians” The region above Monastiri (Bitola) was never historic Macedonia backed up by Archaeology. The Bucharest Treaty, as has been implied, makes no references the region of Skopje being Macedonia. Furthermore, as per the Bucharest Treaty, the northern border of Greece is with Serbia at the line of Ochrid, Monastir, Gevgeli!

    Public Outcry in Greece

    The main sponsor of the Prespa Agreement is Prime Minister Tsipras’ Administration. Mr. Tsipras head of the S.Y.R.I.Z.A. formed a coalition Government in 2015 with Mr. , Kammenos leader of the An.El. Party who is against the Prespa Agreement. Mr. Tsipras’, had to face massive protects from the Greek public that is mostly against the use of the term Macedonia to be an official State name outside Greece, given there is a region in Greece called Macedonia. During the past year, there have been about 150 protest only in Greece, all that in spite of efforts by the Administration to discourage public outcry with tactics that include police violence and use of chemicals toward protesters, as has been reported. Protesters claim that the two major protest in Thessaloniki and Athens adding up to about a million and a half people. Mr. Thus far, the Tsipras Admin. has been accused of secret diplomacy, lack of effort for consensus and community dialogue, skipped over a foreign policy committee review, parliamentary authorization, and thus exposing the administration for being undemocratic. At the same time, on the Skopje side, there have been reports of coercion in the Skopje Parliament during voting procedures for authorizing “Constitutional Reforms” pertaining to the Prespa Agreement.

    The Prespa Proposal for the most part remains very undesirable to say the least by more than 70% of Greek public. The voices in Greece that are against Prespa include not only those voices that find that the Prespa doc it is unfair to Greece as it falsifies the geography & history in Greece in favor of the ethnic Slavs and Albanians Skopje, but also other voices such as:

    ·Those that fear of the over-militarization of the Balkans with what is perceived as NATO imperialism. It has been reported Skopje is a candidate area for a major military base that will “hover” over the area including Greece. Such development may come in the process of advancing or ratifying the Prespa Agreement.

    ·Those that have concerns over businesses logos use the term Macedonia as brand name and business identity. An estimated 4,000 product labels in Greece associate with the term Macedonia. Some brands date back generations and have been a family tradition as old as the modern Greek state. It is anticipated that such matters will result in court cases with unpredictable outcomes.

    ·There are also concerns that have to do with the relationship status of a land-lock country, such as the former Yugoslav Republic, to the Greek sea. Elements of Cold War / Communist Policies of aggression still exist in Skopje today causing a major concern to Greeks.

    ·The Greek Orthodox Church, as a community of faith, is mostly against the Prespa Agreement. The synod of the Church of Greece confirm the absence of a historically consistent Macedonian Church and that by Church standards is Non Canonical. In the minds of Church affiliated Greeks and a lot of Greeks, the memories of the highly revered late Archbishop Christodoulos of Greece are still vivid. Archbishop Christodoulos, who in the past spearheaded major rallies, spoke against any unhistorical compromise on the Name Issue.

    Request for a Referendum in Greece

    It has been the long time request by some Political Parties, Macedonian Associations, Municipalities, Scholars, and individuals to turn the Prespa Agreement over to the people and let them decide with a referendum. Such step is needed now more than ever. Such step is the honorable thing to do and will legitimize the outcome far more than a minimum parliamentary vote, of a minority ruling party with a questionable mandate. The Tsipras administration, by trying to force the Prespa Agreement on the nation, will be perceived as manipulative, undemocratic in spirit, and treasonous.

    In Conclusion

    The Prespa Agreement is contradictory, confusing, does not have popular support, will trigger lawsuits, and more importantly opens up the door for ethnic conflicts. The Prespa Agreement, if it becomes policy it will be dysfunctional and will fail during implementation. Furthermore, the underlying countries sponsoring the Prespa Proposal will inherit a conglomerate of confusion and simply put – they will inherit a painful and unnecessary mess! Do they really want that? Rather than risking such development, it will be prudent to bring the parties back to the negotiating table, with a new UN Envoy, that is willing to address the issue at new, and work towards a solution that focus on a neutral State Name disassociated from the pitfalls of Ethnicity and Language.

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