In light of the recent proposal to the United Nations by Greece’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Evangelos Turkoglu Venizelos, to change the name of Macedonia to “Slavo-Albanian Macedonia,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop should put an end to the current unjust Australian policy of referring to the nation as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.” Australia should immediately recognise Macedonia under its constitutional name Republic of Macedonia.
It is time for Australia to send a clear message to the Hellenic Republic to abandon its nationalist positions once and for all. The latest Greek proposal makes an entire mockery of the United Nations system, one that Australia has taken a keen interest in maintaining given its role at the UN Security Council.
In the ’90s, Venizelos was instrumental in advising the Greek government to put a three-year economic embargo on Macedonia. Current Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was the architect of Greece’s policy on Macedonia’s name, stating that Macedonia would one day be divided between a “Greater Albania” and “Greater Bulgaria.”
Leaders who insist on border changes within Europe cause instability and stagnation, creating a negative ripple effect on all surrounding countries. The detrimental effects of such policies echo back to Slobodan Milosevic’s “Greater Serbia,” a clear failure.
Greece does not hold a monopoly on the name Macedonia or Macedonian history. Macedonia continues to be blackmailed by Greece, and Macedonians in Australia and worldwide will not agree to change their name and identity. It is long overdue for Australia and the international community to call a spade a spade and publically recognise that in the interest of building a Europe that is whole, free and at peace, Greece must back down.
Greece takes over the EU Presidency next month, 10 years after it spearheaded the Thessaloniki agenda, which would see the entire Western Balkans (including Macedonia) in the EU and NATO by 2014. However, today, we are further away from realizing that dream.
As a prime example of democracy and freedom, Australia must ensure that Greece holds to its international legal UN obligations. Greece’s ethno-nationalist, centrist, populist position jeopardizes the future of Southeast Europe and puts Western democratic ideals and interests at risk.
In 2011, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Greece violated Article 11 of the 1995 United Nations Interim Accord by objecting to Macedonia’s membership into NATO at the 2008 Bucharest Summit. Instead of taking this ruling into consideration, NATO leaders yielding to Greek pressure have yet to extend a well-deserved invitation to Macedonia. Greece has an obligation not to veto Macedonia’s membership in international bodies under the 1995 United Nations Interim Accord.
Macedonia took in 400,000 refugees during the Kosovo war and sent troops to Iraq and peacekeepers to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon. Today, it is the fifth highest International Security Assistance Force troop contributor per capita patrolling the ISAF headquarters, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
As of today, 136 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Canada, have recognized Macedonia by its constitutional name. What is Australia waiting for?
Australia is home to one of the largest émigré populations of Macedonians outside of Macedonia. Having arrived in waves since the early 1900s, the Macedonian community in Australia is the bedrock for relations between Australia and their ancestral homeland, Macedonia. Notable Australians of Macedonian origin include Melbourne-based fashion designer Toni Maticevski, AFL Hall of Famer Peter Daicos, Sydney Swans’ Nick Malceski, Silverchair’s Chris Joannou, World Karate Champion Pece Naumovski, among others.
While Greece is faced with serious economic problems, it stands to gain nothing by obstructing and destabilizing Macedonia and the region. With the rise of extremism and xenophobia in Greece, migrants, Macedonians and other ethnic and faith-based minorities including Muslims, Catholics, and Jews are facing even more discrimination.
It is Australia’s duty to ensure that Macedonia enjoys all the freedoms it deserves in the world, including its freedom to use the name Macedonia, and for Macedonians to speak Macedonian and identify as Macedonians without prejudice. This is a human rights issue, and Macedonia needs strong allies like Australia to do the right thing.
Australia has and should play a constructive role. Australia’s support today is crucial for a better tomorrow for Macedonia and all of Southeast Europe.