Why Greece Can't Be Trusted in the Name Negotiations
By Victor Bivell
16 January 2018
The United Nations has long brokered name negotiations' between
the Governments of Macedonia and Greece, but even if a compromise solution
is agreed between the two Governments, there is strong evidence to show
that the Greek Government has a history of being a dishonorable party
in international agreements and cannot be trusted to fulfil any obligations
it takes on. This brief paper explores some of that evidence in relation
to Macedonian issues, and in particular the dramatic events that occured
in Australia in 1994 when the Australian Government officially recognized
Macedonia as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The official remit of the UN-mediated negotiations is only about the
name of Macedonia, but it is well known that Greece would like any new
name to also include the Macedonian identity, the Macedonian language
and other adjectival descriptors. These descriptors of Macedonian identity
have been under attack by the Greek Government and Greek activists for
over a century. For example, Macedonians are well aware that there is
a large volunteer network of Greek activists around the world who are
constantly lobbying and in other ways trying to undermine the public
acceptance of the Macedonian identity and culture.
Macedonian-Australians have witnessed and suffered this intense activism
over a long period. A dramatic example was in early 1994 when the Australian
Government gave diplomatic recognition to the Former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia. Immediately following the recognition, there was over
a period of several weeks of violence and arson against Macedonian properties
- two churches were extensively burnt and there was damage to Macedonian
owned businesses and properties. To this day the police have not told
the Macedonian community if any charges were laid and if so against
In the belief that it would end the violence, the Federal Government
announced a directive to rename the Macedonians from the Republic of
Macedonia as "Slav-Macedonians", and to rename Macedonians
from Aegean Macedonia/ northern Greece as "individuals associated
with Slav-Macedonians". The Macedonian community was not consulted
about this change and learned about it from the media.
The governments of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, where
the immigrant Greek community is larger than the Macedonian community
and where the parliaments had members of Greek origin, supported this
directive in the belief it would win them votes. A little later the
Victorian Government also renamed the Macedonian language as "Macedonian
The Macedonian community was immediately and totally opposed to the
name changes. This meant it was suddenly in the position of simultaneously
fighting the Australian Government, the Victorian Government, the NSW
Government, and the South Australia Government.
Only the Western Australia Government spoke in support of the Macedonians.
Unlike the other States, Western Australia had more Macedonians than
Greeks and had seen no acts of violence. Macedonians also had the support
of the Australian public, who could see the racism and injustice in
the renamings; and also the support of the Australian media, who refused
to follow the directive and continued to refer to Macedonians as Macedonians.
With the announced renaming of the Macedonian identity, the Macedonian
community in Australia immediately began a program of sustained civil
disobedience to the directive, which after many years led to the Government
abandoning the directive and once again refering to Macedonians as Macedonians.
With the renaming of the Macedonian language, legal action was taken
in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission on the basis that
the change was discriminatory and racist. The matter also went to the
Federal Court, the Full Federal Court and the High Court of Australia
before the case was successfully resolved in the favour of the Macedonians
and the language in Victoria was again officially Macedonian. The matter
was resolved because the Victorian Government ran out of courts in which
to challenge the legal judgement that changing the name of the language
was discriminatory and racist.
While the Macedonians in Australia were ultimately successful in their
self defense, they remain deeply traumatized by the assault on their
identity and language, and remain deeply cynical of the Greek Government.
They are unwilling to believe the assurances of the United Nations and
other parties that any new name for the Republic will not be seen by
Greece as an opportunity to again assault the Macedonian identity.
The events in Australia, together with other examples, open a number
of questions about the ultimate success of any agreement between Macedonia
Even if the Greek Government were to agree that any agreement with the
Macedonian Government would not affect the Macedonian identity, do the
United Nations brokered talks include a mechanism to restrain the Greek
Government from working to use any new name to change the Macedonian
identity and the name of the Macedonian language?
The events in Australia illustrate the ability of the Greek community
to mobilize significant lobbying power and political influence against
the Macedonian community. As well as in Australia, it also has such
ability in the USA, Canada and some European countries. Do the UN brokered
talks include a mechanism to restrain Greek diaspora communities from
working to use any new name for Macedonia to change the Macedonian identity
and the name of the Macedonian language in their respective countries?
Even if Greece signs an agreement with Macedonia, Greece has a poor
record of upholding both the letter and the spirit of international
agreements. One such example is that at its inception the reference
"Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" was for internal United
Nations use only, yet Greece worked to spread the use of this reference
more widely including in the European Union and other countries and
Another example is the Interim Accord between Greece and Macedonia
where Greece said that it would support Macedonia's entry into NATO
under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - but in 2008 it
failed to do so and continues to not do so.
Nor would a United Nations guarantee to any agreement be of any value.
An example is when the UN's International Court of Justice confirmed
that Greece had violated the Interim Accord by not allowing Macedonia
to join NATO under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece
ignored the judgement and suffered no penalty, while Macedonia is still
not a member of NATO.
My 2012 article Greek Crisis Shows Weak International Ethics'
has many other examples of where the Greek Government has violated the
letter and spirit of international agreements and treaties. See http://www.pollitecon.com/html/essays/Greek_Crisis_Shows_Weak_International_Ethics.htm
Another question is do the United Nations brokered talks include a
mechanism for Greece not to rename Greek Macedonia and its three administrative
regions as simply Macedonia", and thus usurp the name Macedonia?
If Greece does this, what mechanisms are available to stop it? Are any
assurances it may give that it will not so of any value?
Do the United Nations brokered talks include a mechanism to stop Greece
monopolizing the adjective Macedonian'? Already it has started
to refer to the residents of Greek Macedonia as "Macedonians",
even though the great majority are "New Macedonians" who came
from Turkey less than a hundred years ago. The Greek Government shows
no inclination to stop this process of taking the Macedonian identity
from the ethnic Macedonians and giving it to the new, Greek residents
of Greek Macedonia.
The above short list is part of a very much longer list of dishonorable
behavior by the Greek Government. And that behavior is only one of a
number of reasons why so many Macedonians around the world want the
United Nations brokered name negotiations to cease immediately.
The United Nations may believe that by brokering these talks it is
assisting international relations. This is not so. In reality the United
Nations is allowing itself to be used to further a century-long campaign
of cultural genocide against the Macedonian people.
A solution to the name issue' is to have a country called Greece
and a country called Macedonia; a people called Greeks and a people
called Macedonians. No promises or agreements are needed for this to
work. The only requirement is common sense. Or, if that is too hard,
for Greece to fulfil its international treaty obligations, follow United
Nations covenants, protocols and reports, and recognize is ethnic and
linguistic minorities including its Macedonian minority.