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„To negotiate or not to negotiate“

I agree with those who argue that the name of the Republic of Macedonia has never been the real issue in the dispute between Macedonia and Greece. However, I am still of mixed mind about whether refusing to take part in negotiations is the best course of action. Many people in the world think that it is always a good thing if enemies engage in negotiations or talks. This is based on a belief that communication is always better than silent hostility. And there is the belief that communication can possibly lead to understanding, while non-communication leads no where and probably increases the likelihood of misunderstandings that can lead to violence.
The reality is that Macedonia is engaged in a long-term struggle for its survival with its neighbor Greece. It is probably true that Greece does want to destroy all things Macedonian, and it is using every means it reasonably believes will bring about this result. If it can convince the world at the same time that it is a reasonable party that is quite willing to engage in negotiations in order to reach a fair compromise with its neighbor over their dislike of their neighbor’s name, it believes that this will serve its ends.
The question I would ask is: how do we know that the negotiations can only serve Greece well? Just because Greece seems to want such negotiations doesn’t prove anything. Consider the fact that it shouldn’t convince Macedonians that some other nation is their friend just because that nation also has some dispute with Greece, because it doesn’t follow that „the enemy of my enemy is my friend“. In the same way it doesn’t follow that negotiations are only in Greece’s interest because they keep claiming that they want negotiations with Macedonia over its name.
I would agree that the negotiations are not in Macedonia’s interest if they are truly over changes in the name in order to satisfy some Greek demand for a name change. However, I suspect that the Greeks believe that demanding negotiations over the name can only benefit their side since it shows the world how reasonable they are, and if Macedonia refuses to negotiate they can declare to the world, „Look how willing to discuss our differences we are, and look at how unwilling our neighbor is to discuss our differences.“
So I am wary about Macedonia refusing to negotiate with Greece. However, I would argue that negotiations must be broadened to include all of the real issues between the two states. Greece does not want these issues on the table, therefore, Macedonia must put them on the table. Let the Macedonian side turn the negotiations around, play it: „Okay, so you demand talks over issues that our nations have with each other, fine, let’s talk!“


I thoroughly agree with the belief that it is to Greece’s advantage to limit talks exclusively to the rewording of the name of their neighbor, eliminating the name Macedonia from the language, the people or their nation. It also seems that everything I read suggests that the vast majority of Macedonians agree that the name is non-negotiable. So I can see the logic in saying that negotiations over the name are pointless and even destructive to Macedonian interests. Macedonians can only lose in such negotiations. However, I am concerned that Greece gains some credibility in world opinion if Macedonia refuses to participate in negotiations. I would rather see each round of negotiations instead used to raise the real issues behind the name dispute.


If Greece rages against such a use of the negotiations, fine. They wanted talks, so let them live with the consequences of that insistence. Let Greece be the party that walks out on the negotiating process because it can’t control the scope or direction such talks will take. Don’t let Macedonia be the party that is seen as refusing to talk.


Like many people I am angry at the European Union and NATO, for accepting Greek blockage of Macedonian membership in those political organizations. It mainly exposes the defects in those organizations. The fact that Greece can block Macedonian entry without convincing the vast majority of the organization’s members that this is justified demonstrates a serious defect in the organization’s rules, not in the Macedonian bid for membership.


Perhaps Macedonia doesn’t need to join such organizations, but it does need to retain the cooperation and support of as many of the member states as possible. It remains vital for Macedonia to engage in active partnership with these states by participating in NATO activities and EU programs. This is so that it will continue to be regarded as a good neighbor that deserves preferred travel, trade or defense agreements. Greece would prefer for its fellow European states to see Macedonia as an isolated rogue state that deserve only to be dismantled and destroyed.


I recently read a new book by a respected political economist who listed what he thought were the most serious risk factors for a state, those things that lead to instability and war: low income, a high proportion of young men in the population, ethnic cultural divisions within the state, the ready availability of weapons, regions where gangs freely engage in such as things as drug and gun sales and prostitution activities, mountainous wooded terrain also helped in this, and a history of violence also makes future violence more likely, and the more recent the violence, the more likely it will lead to further violence. Without his mentioning Macedonia once in the entire book, he certainly described too many of the features of Albanian majority districts of the present day Republic of Macedonia.


I want to see the Republic of Macedonia survive and prosper despite all of the odds stacked against it. The recent lifting of some of the restrictions on travel and trade with the majority of European states in the EU is an important step in the right direction. I believe that this was only made possible because Macedonia has consistently participated in a process of engagement with its European neighbors. I am concerned that refusing to negotiate with Greece could easily be viewed by others as a sign of unwillingness to participate, engage with neighbors over issues of dispute. It could be taken as evidence of a preference for isolation and rogue nation status. This could mean no further invitations to be part of a European community of neighbors. Greece would likely see this as a very good thing, while Macedonians certainly would not.


Just some thoughts.

January 31, 2010,

By Michael Seraphinoff