(North) Macedonia – the humiliated country?

Macedonia has been independent for 28 years now – and is under pressure since the first day of regaining freedom, held back with broken promises. It’s a miracle that the people there have not yet given up the dream of being part of the United Europe. A comment by Stefan Haböck, International Manager of the Pan-European Movement Austria.

Macron has decided, his answer is „non“. As long as 27 states will not follow his reform ideas, “non” will be the favourite word of the French president, to block any common geopolitically important position by the EU. This time the veto went against a country that has fewer inhabitants than Paris. But the people in that country are already used to it, because the existence of the independent Republic of Macedonia is accompanied by blockades, broken promises and external pressure.

In 1991, the Socialist Republic of Macedonia declared independence from the Yugoslav dungeon. Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the young republic. Greece, not against the Independence itself, protested against the name: Macedonia could be confused with the Greek region of Makedonia and Macedonia could bring up territorial claims. This absurdity became the fundament of a small country’s blockade by its larger neighbour. Since independence Macedonia was humiliated by the international use of F.Y.R.O.M. (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Imagine this usance, for example, by Allies for Austria in 1955.

Greece, itself a full and well embedded member since 1981 and 1952 with all rights in the European Union and the Defence Alliance and in times of crisis throbbing with European solidarity, blocked any attempt by Macedonia to join the EU and NATO. 1994/95 followed an economic embargo.

The international community did not oppose this blackmailing by the larger country except the classic reminders, that both sides should find a solution. Finally, on 12 June 2018, the Greek and Macedonian governments agreed on the Prespa Treaty, which established a change of name of the country to North Macedonia, while lifting the blockade by Greece. The agreement is highly controversial in Macedonia and Greece. Many forces in both countries sparked the rejection, but by a narrow majority it went through. The then Macedonian president refused his approval.

However, this solution gave legitimate hopes to Macedonia to have the opening of accession negotiations promised in Thessaloniki from 2003 onwards. The commitment of the EU states was up, European institutions such as the Commission and the Parliament as well as the Council had expressed themselves positively. But then France came on and vetoed the position of the EU Commission, the European Parliament and the 27 other states in the Council.

It’s important to remember that starting negotiations does not mean accession. In more than 30 chapters many topics are processed over many years (at least 10 years in the case of Macedonia). Only after successful completion of all given chapters and reforms it can be voted upon accession. This is the strongest lever for reform that the EU has towards the candidates.

As Paneuropa Austria, we agreed on the Prespa Agreement from a pragmatic perspective. Only this agreement could solve the blockade. At the same time, we have strongly criticized Greece’s pressure and the silence of other states against this blackmailing.

No country in the EU would ever change or deny its name. Macedonia had to do it twice under pressure from the outside – and from its neighbour. First in international use the humiliating F.Y.R.O.M, then on North Macedonia. Result: no negotiation talks.

One wonders which politician even will come up with the idea to confront headwinds and to do what he thinks is right, when the little word „non“ can prevent everything. Macedonia is a south-eastern European region with a varied history. An ethnically mixed country with beautiful scenery, friendly people and great culture. Ohrid, one of Europe’s oldest cities, is said to be home to 365 churches and is considered the „Jerusalem of Europe“.

Like every other transition country that shakes off real socialism, the country is experiencing crises. Be it corruption scandals by the dominant cliques, nationalist rhetoric, the attack by terrorists in 2001, blockades by the neighbours.

2 million Macedonians also know how to make compromises. Not only the Prespa agreement, but also the peace agreement between the Albanian minority and the Macedonians by President Boris Trajkovski, who stood for dialogue, inclusion and reconciliation like no other showed that. It was a politician like Trajkovski who gave the 2 million people hope that reforms, dialogue and reconciliation on the way to Europe would pay off. The hope that the country can be part of the united Europe. With the rule of law and free-market system of the EU, which will finally bring Macedonia the final leap from the transformation country.

This hope was once again stolen from them.