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Naum Panovski is Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Performance and Society, Rhode Island College. He spoke at an EES Noon Discussion on January 17, 2008. The following is a summary of his presentation. Meeting Report 344.

The integration of Macedonia into the European Union and NATO becomes a more complex issue every day. The reasons behind this complexity can be found both within Macedonia and outside its borders. However, at this moment the chief issue seems to be the fact that EU member states—vigilantly protecting their own interests first—tend to disagree on many issues related to Macedonia's readiness to accede to the EU. This has significantly slowed down the process of reaching an agreement on Macedonia's swift integration into the European Union.

Over the last year, Macedonia received an answer to the question of whether it should be given a date to start negotiations on EU membership. The EU progress report on Macedonia is clear: the answer was no. Among the many problems outlined in the report, the EU noted that the normal functioning of the parliament has been disrupted by a dispute between the government and the main ethnic Albanian opposition party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI). As a result, establishing an inclusive dialogue within the parliament remains very difficult and progress on several major items of legislation has been held up, notably on judicial reform. On 25 September, 2007, there was a confrontation in the Macedonian parliament between the ethnic Albanian parties, which escalated into physical violence. Clashes between MPs from different parties broke out during the debate on the amendments to the Electoral Code. Other people were also injured, including journalists. Cooperation between the government and the President, who belongs to an opposition party, has been difficult. And the large-scale dismissals of officials following the change of government in 2006 not only illustrated the high degree of politicization of appointments at all levels in the public administration but disrupted the government's functioning well into 2007.

However, what is not covered by this diplomatically written bureaucratic report is a long list of ideological, political, ethical, moral, economic, cultural and ethnic issues that have dominated the country's politics from the moment Macedonia became a sovereign state in 1991. At that time, Macedonia entered the process of political and economic transition to democracy and free market economy, having no historical democratic tradition, no democratic culture and no experience with free market economy. Under these unfavorable circumstances three major ideologically, ethnically and culturally antagonistic political forces—led by a very young and inexperienced political elite—appeared on the political scene and began their fight for dominance. These three opposing forces were represented by the new-old communists of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDUM); the Macedonian nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (IMRO-DPMNU); and the Albanian community, which rallied around the Albanian national cause and tightly controlled by their parties, Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), and Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP).

Internal Hurdles
The list of mischief that these narrow-minded parties produced is very long, and the damage they have caused has become an enormous obstacle on Macedonia's road to the EU and NATO. These three political forces have never found common ground on anything. They behave as irresponsible and instable bus drivers (as seen in Slobodan Sijan's film of the late 1980s "Who is Singing over There?") driving Macedonia's bus into an abyss. This irresponsibility can be seen in the fierce contests over the Macedonian Constitution, which as a result of its strong national sentiment rather than civic vision has been amended many times. The parties continue to aggressively contest the use of the Albanian language in the education and public sector institutions and fight over irregularities during the parliamentary elections and over territorial and administrative reorganization of Macedonia in 2005. The constant conflict over their radically different interpretations of the Ohrid Agreement, which ended the conflict there in 2001, illustrate that the Macedonian political elite is incapable of overcoming differences in order to pave the way to a truly multiethnic, civil and democratic society. For 17 years, the leaders of these three dominant political factions, without any will to work together or to compromise (because to compromise is a sign of weakness in the Balkans), have fought for power in order to forward their own personal interests. As a result, Macedonia has failed to transition to democracy.
Each of these three dominant political forces has played a significant role in this mischief in their own particular way. In the early 1990s, the so-called "transformed communists," along with their spoiled children, took over the former communist party. They changed the name of the party into SDUM, shed its skin, but did not change the authoritarian one-party ideology or behavior. For more than 16 years politics in Macedonia has been marked by the incompetent and immoral rule of SDUM rookies and grey-haired apparatchiks. Out of their fear of losing the privileges gained in the previous regime and of losing control over Macedonian politics, they created an environment dominated by fear and corruption. In that way and with its old fashioned and dogmatic manners, SDUM became a party that has promised a lot and delivered nothing.

The Macedonian nationalists are organized and represented by IMRO-DPMNU. Usually they consider themselves to be the best Macedonians of all Macedonians. This party is much like other nationalist parties in the region. IMRO-DPMNU and its leaders enthusiastically affirmed the romantic idea of nation, which confers rights to an ethnic group rather than the demos. For them, the dominance of class collectivism—communism—was replaced by the dominance of ethnic collectivism—nationalism, heavily peppered with populism and nepotism.

In its attempt to create Macedonia as a state for ethnic Macedonians, rather than a state of citizens, IMRO-DPMNU fought for their land only and for "their nation only," and this is reflected in the Constitution. Blind to the country's inherent multiethnicity, Macedonian nationalists dug huge potholes on the Macedonian road to the EU. Looking awkwardly far back to ancient history, glorifying the myths and dreams of national unity and purity, they worked against the interests of Macedonia. Keeping nationalist's blinders fixed to their heads, defending Macedonia from both real and imagined enemies, these Macedonian patriots search for ethnic roots hidden in the conquests of Alexander the Great. At the same time, the IMRO-DPMNU economically devastated the country by initiating the worst managed privatization in Eastern Europe. Just as the SDUM government that preceded them, the IMRO-DPMNU government sold many companies that were of paramount strategic importance to Macedonia far below market value.

Most shockingly, the Macedonian nationalists, along with their Albanian counterparts, proposed exchanges of people and territories (essentially, forced internal migration) in the name of ethnic purity and stability in order to relieve interethnic tensions. The ethnic Albanian parties, also tightly controlled by their party elites, are almost the mirror image of both SDUM and IMRO-DPMNU. The lack of sincere trust between Albanians and Macedonians is at the core of the country's problems. The Albanian leadership has yet to demonstrate that they have the requisite knowledge and capacity to participate in a parliamentary democracy. Since 1992, they have continuously put Albanian interests above those of the state, and thus, above the interest of the other ethnic groups living in Macedonia. These interests involve the independence of Kosovo and the unification of the Albanian cultural space, rather than on building a common country for all citizens living in Macedonia. Behind their rhetoric of bringing human rights to the Albanians in Macedonia, it can be seen that they continuously promote the idea of Macedonia as a bi-national consensual confederation, which implicitly provides them with a future option for secession. The statement made by the outgoing president of Kosovo Fatmir Sejdiu, that if Kosovo is divided Macedonia can be divided as well, is one more confirmation of where the heart of Macedonian Albanians truly lies. Another important issue on the complex map of Macedonia is the relationship within the Albanian community itself, and the ferocious confrontation between the leading Albanian political leaders for their dominance within the Albanian community. This contest over the souls—and the money—of the Albanians in Macedonia brought rivals to physical blows in the parliament last year.

Each party in power installed young and inexperienced people in top positions, training politicians on the job, enforcing party strength and nurturing nepotism as a system of selection and judgment. Through this process, Macedonian leaders of every stripe sidestepped the rule of law to initiate the worst process of transition to a market economy, refashioned corruption as a life-style choice and destroyed the moral and economic fabric of the country.

In that context, Macedonian politicians pose the most serious obstacle to the country on the road to the EU and NATO. There is a desperate need to reverse this unproductive situation in Macedonia. And, on the first step in the process of change, politicians should be required to learn the basic elements of democracy and how the process works. They should be required to learn what every child learns in the first grade: to listen, respect each other, apologize, work together, collaborate and compromise. And to say thank you as well. Because, as president Lincoln believed, the main task of a statesman is to negotiate and seek compromise, to forgive and look towards the future. In order to meet EU standards, Macedonian politicians must do their homework without any excuses, lest Macedonia continue to be its own worst obstacle.

External Hurdles
Over the years, the question of whether Macedonia is on the right path to democracy, and whether it should become a full member of the European Union has been overshadowed by the inability of the EU member states to justly see and understand the problems in and around Macedonia, and to reach a diplomatic consensus on these issues. On a wide range of issues, from the rule of law, to human rights and the dangers of nationalism, the development of a market economy, the issues of tolerance in the region, the international community has not always been able to engage with Macedonia in a just and unbiased way. Because of its inconsistency, the prevailing sentiment among Macedonians is that the EU and its flip-flopping bureaucracy is part of the problem in the country.

The lack of cohesion within the EU caused instability by allowing surrounding countries to continue their contests over Macedonian territory, language and identity. In that irrational Balkan contest over Macedonia, all neighbors have shown that they are savvy players. Albania, which through its rhetoric supports good relations with all it neighbors, has not recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name and has not settled a border agreement with it. Bulgaria, which prides itself on being the first to recognize Macedonia as a sovereign state and under its constitutional name, does not recognize the Macedonian language or nation and continuously violates the human rights of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Serbia, particularly the Serbian Orthodox Church, would probably intensify its aspirations towards Macedonia if it was not so busy with Kosovo. Greece rejects the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia, lays claim of exclusive ownership of the name Macedonia, and denies the existence of a Macedonian ethnic identity that is not Greek.

Greece's irrational politics in the region may become the biggest obstacle to Macedonia's road to the European Union and NATO. And it is not the name that is the problem. Greece continues to intimidate Macedonia by insisting on referring to at by the acronym FYROM (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Peter Hill, professor of Slavonic studies at the University of Hamburg in Germany, has noted that: "Funnily enough, northern Greece was for many years called just that, "Northern Greece"... and the name Macedonia was considered somehow suspect.... But three years ago that all changed. Now that name, Macedonia, is at the heart of a dispute that has paralyzed the foreign policy of the European Community and brought thousands of people onto the streets of Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brussels." The name, therefore, is only a very superficial issue.

The problem between Greece and Macedonia goes deeper, and is more complex and dangerous. Since the Bucharest treaty was signed in 1912, Macedonia was divided between Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece. This treaty initiated a mass migration between the countries. By 1913, more than 100,000 Macedonians from Kukus [Kilkis in Greek] and Seres fled those regions. Between 1924 and 1925, more than 348,000 Turks left from the part of Macedonia given to Greece and moved to Turkey, while more than 600,000 Greeks—called prosfigi or madziri—from the Black Sea area and Asia Minor were resettled in that part of Macedonia. Macedonians who were born on what is today considered Greek soil, fought on the side of Democratic Army of Greece in the Greek civil war from 1946 to 1948. Yet, after the defeat of the Democratic Army of Greece, they were expelled from Greece and became refugees, were deprived of their citizenship and their property was confiscated. Still today, they and their families, including more than 30,000 children, are denied entry into Greece and as a consequence are denied their basic human right to return to their homes and to reclaim their property.
In 1981, Andreas Papandreou's Panhellenic Socialist Party won elections and announced that all political refugees who had been expelled from Greece after the Civil War would be able to return to Greece after more than 32 years of exile and to reclaim their citizenship, civil rights and property. However, this new law, introduced 1982, only applied to those who would claim Greek ethnicity, leaving 100,000 Macedonians and their families without a legal remedy.

Ethnic Macedonians living in Greece—a country that claims to be the cradle of democracy—are denied the right to study in their own language, nurture their culture, or to establish their own associations and religious institutions. Macedonians who have raised voices against this harassment, such as the Macedonian organization Rainbow, have been intimidated, imprisoned and have had their properties confiscated. Human Rights Watch-Helsinki, in its report "Denying Ethnic Identity: The Macedonians of Greece," writes: "The Greek government denies that a Macedonian minority exists in Greece. It refers to ethnic Macedonians as ‘Slavophones' or ‘Slav-speakers.'" The official Greek position is that the Greek state is ethnically homogeneous, the only exception being the Muslim minority in western Thrace—which is in reality a Turkish minority. The Greek Government's denial of the existence of the Macedonian minority violates international human rights agreements to which the Greece is a party, which clearly states that ethnic identity is a matter to be determined by the individual, not by the state.
Greece holds the EU hostage by imposing its self-serving interests over those of the EU. And the fact that Greek nationalist politics are still tolerated by the EU acts as a litmus test for the EU's foreign policy, its sense of justice, and its ability to integrate Macedonia in a fair and just way. To that end, everyone in the Balkans talks about looking to the future but no one is taking the first step to get out from their entrapment in the past. If politics is an art of imagining what is possible, then I would like to paraphrase the words of President Ronald Reagan: Your excellences, foreign Minister Bakoyanni, Prime Minister Karamanlis, President Carolos Papulas, tear down those walls, open the borders between Greece and Macedonia. Lets go together to the future.


About the Author

Naum Panovski

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The Global Europe Program addresses vital issues affecting the European continent, U.S.-European relations, and Europe’s ties with the rest of the world. It does this through scholars-in-residence, seminars, policy study groups, media commentary, international conferences and publications. Activities cover a wide range of topics, from the role of NATO, the European Union and the OSCE to European energy security, trade disputes, challenges to democracy, and counter-terrorism. The program investigates European approaches to policy issues of importance to the United States, including globalization, digital transformation, climate, migration, global governance, and relations with Russia and Eurasia, China and the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.  Read more