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Confronted with Greek Obstructionism, Macedonia Appeals for International Justice

November 17, 2008


( Research Service)- At a special press conference at 4pm today in Skopje, Macedonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Milososki announced that the government has opened a case against Greece at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. At issue is Greece’s blocking of Macedonian NATO membership at the alliance’s April summit, which occurred due to the unresolved name dispute between the two countries.

According to the foreign minister, this act of obstructionism violated the September 13, 1995 Interim Accord, in which Greece pledged not to block its smaller and weaker northern neighbor from joining international organizations under the name it had forced the country to adopt for UN usage (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

There was no immediate Greek reaction to the announcement, which occurred just as Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and President Branko Crvenkovski, frequently critical of each other’s diplomatic acumen, were supposed to meet to hammer out a common position on the name issue.

Indeed, at least as harmful as Greek intransigence for Macedonia’s predicament has been the chronic disunity of its political leadership- a situation that Athens has been skillfully manipulating for years. Predictably enough, the president reacted to the government’s announcement by claiming he had not been consulted on the issue, and declared that “the Prime Minister (Nikola Gruevski) and his government are completely taking over the responsibility for the UN talks as well as for our European Union and NATO integration,” reported Balkan Insight.

Crvenkovski, whose approval ratings domestically are so low that he has assured the citizenry of his desire to abdicate (in the form of not running again in the March 2009 elections), recently raised eyebrows when he fired the long-time negotiator on the name issue, Nikola Dimitrov. The president and his yes-men in the media, politics and academia are frequently depicted in pro-government and independent media, including satirical spots, as being exceptionally eager to satisfy Greece.

As if on cue, Left-wing ally Ljubomir Frckovski, a professor and former interior minister, reacted by condemning the government’s action on Kanal 5, claiming it would lead to Macedonia’s ‘international isolation’- the favored threatening vocabulary of the Karamanlis regime. On the other hand, pro-government experts surveyed were quick to call the action a ‘historic decision’ that had been delayed far too long.

In fact, one of the first questions Minister Milososki received in his press conference was that of timing, or, why Macedonia had not raised this case in April, immediately after the Bucharest rejection. He replied by stating that even organizing the case was a process that took months, and required consulting numerous foreign legal advisors.

However, the verdict of the court case, which is expected to take from 2-3 years to be known, will not necessarily have any great effect. While a Macedonian victory at the Hague would certainly shame the Greeks, “the country’s decision on whether to comply with the court’s rulings or not is a political question,” stated Balkan Insight, quoting a court spokesman. If recent history is any indicator, few in Greece will lose sleep over the outside world’s opinion of them.

Further, Macedonia could not expect automatic NATO membership either, since there are any number of criteria which could be raised – rightly or wrongly – to keep it barred indefinitely.

In fact, there is growing talk in diplomatic circles in Skopje these days about some form of extra requirements being envisioned, or even sanctions that will be levied on Macedonia, should the name issue remain unresolved. Vexed about the chronic failure to resolve the dispute, the thinking goes, international diplomats are likely to take out their frustrations on the weakest party available- Macedonia.

If there are indeed any such extra reform stipulations raised, they will likely refer to an alleged lack of political maturity stemming from last June’s violence-plagued elections.

Considering that presidential and local elections are coming up – on the Ides of March, of all days – it is likely that any repeat of election-related violence will be immediately cited as a reason to keep Macedonia out of NATO, despite its major contributions to NATO missions and completed military reforms.

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