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Evangelos Kofos

Greece' s Macedonian Adventure: The Controversy over FYROM’s Independence and Recognition

This is a revised version of an essay appearing in the newly-published book by Macmillan Press Ltd (UK, USA 1999), edited by James Pettifer.

The Thrust of the “Skopiano” in Greek politics

The Second Phase: Papandreou at the Helm, October 1993 to the end of 1995

The second phase of the Macedonian imbroglio in Greek politics commenced with the PASOK government strongly condemning its predecessor’s handling of the “Skopiano” as endotiki, (yielding). Rather ill informed about the mediation procedure in the UN, Prime Minister Papandreou hastened to declare, urbi et orbi, that Greece would remain firm in its maximalist position regarding the exclusion of the name “Macedonia” and its derivatives from the neighbouring state’s name. Furthermore, he saw little hope in the negotiations under the UN auspices, unless Kiro Gligorov abandoned his “intransigent” position and gave assurances he would abide by the three terms, that had in fact been included in the EC Foreign Ministers declaration of December 1991. In short, the new Greek government reprised in official documents as well as in public pronouncements, a rather crude performance of the dated slogans of an earlier (1992) vintage (29).

It was evident that, here again, internal political exigencies—i.e., the discrediting of the former government handling of the issue—was assuming top priority. This time, however, the government was not hostage to a few dissidents in its own party. It had a convenient majority of seats in parliament, a four-year term ahead of it, and a leader who enjoyed the unequivocal support and respect of his cadres. What went on unspoken, was PASOK’s own responsibility for the malignancy it had inherited. In retrospect, however, PASOK’s public denunciations, while in opposition whenever a compromise solution was in the offing, and its president’s position at the Council of Party Leaders in April 1992, do not exonerate neither the Party nor its leader of the responsibility—or “honour”, for the followers of nationalist orthodoxy—over the course of Greek policy on this issue during the preceding years (30).

Undoubtedly, Papandreou’s initial statements and initiatives as a prime minister were unexpected bonanza to Gligorov, who soon began to reap, instead of pressures from foreign governments, the official recognition of his state. True, most of them, including all the EU member states and the United States, extended recognition to the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. In doing so, they were signalling their support for the Security Council’s 1993 decision on the provisional name “FYROM” and on the U.N mandate for mediation.

When the recognition of FYROM by EU countries and the United States became known, the Greek public correctly assessed them as serious setbacks. It failed, however, to put the blame on the initial, reflex reactions of the new government, finding solace in the traditional scapegoat of “hostile foreign interests”. New massive demonstrations broke out in Thessalonica, Athens, and other cities in order to condemn the “desertion” of Greece by its partners and allies and to reiterate the sensitivity of the Greek people on matters touching upon its historical and cultural heritage. Once again, Papandreou proved to be a master of the psychology of the masses, choosing to ride along with the public sentiments, and to place the blame on foreign powers, bypassing his own role in the new twist of events (31). More serious, however, and fraught with unforeseen consequences was his decision in February 1994 to endorse the most extremist recommendation of certain of his advisers, certainly not of the Foreign Ministry, to slam, a total embargo on FYROM, with the exception of food and pharmaceuticals(32).

The embargo—euphemistically termed “counter measures” against Gligorov’s “intransigence”—fitted the strategy of raising the stakes. It ensured the support of an excited and injured public, it projected the image of a prime minister who was active in servicing the national interest and being responsive to the sensitivities of the Greek people, and it outmanoeuvred the tactics of the new head of the New Democracy party and leader of the opposition, Miltiadis Evert, who had veered his party back to the maximalist line on the name issue. Publicly, however, Papandreou appeared confident that his determined position would reactivate the interest of the United States and the European Union to resolve the issue. What it succeeded in doing, however, was to raise a world outcry against Greece and to place the country in the unenviable position of social pariah of Europe, reminiscent of the seven-year ostracism during the colonels’ regime. It was unfair for the Greeks, who for more than two years had striven to make their case to the international community not as a vendetta against their new, small, and weak neighbour, but in legal self-defence to preserve their heritage and ensure long-term peaceful and good-neighbourly relations within a troubled region. Be that as it may, the embargo made its mark on international perceptions as proof that Greece’s Macedonian policy was bullying and aggressive (33).

On the internal front, the Papandreou government focused its efforts on a unique manipulation of Greek public opinion, which was adroitly misled by government spokesmen, with a daily dose of nationalistic hyperbole. The government was portrayed as honouring its electoral pledge to steadfastly defend the maximalist position of “neither Macedonia, nor its derivatives”. Behind the scenes, however, the same government’s emissaries were labouring to bypass the name issue while negotiating an agreement more or less in the spirit of the 1993 Vance-Owen draft treaty, a text ironically castigated by PASOK both prior to and after coming to power in 1993.

Papandreou’s miscalculation on the impact of the embargo on Greece’s international standing created much concern inside Greece, to the point that influential segments of Greek society began to publicly voice their objections to the policy pursued.

Strong economic and commercial interests, particularly in Northern Greece, which suffered losses and missed opportunities in the emerging new markets of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, were becoming restive and critical of new barriers to trade and economic initiatives. Undoubtedly, certain “embargo busters” did reap rich dividends; but they were no more than an insignificant minority. A “silent majority” was emerging, discreetly pressing on the government the need for a speedy reappraisal of policy that would include the lifting of the embargo (34). Similarly, serious academics, including historians, were by now able to present more sober analyses of the Macedonian issue, which, in the early stages of the dispute, had been maltreated at the hands of amateurs and ultra nationalist colleagues (35). The aim of their intervention was to rehabilitate the history and to set the facts concerning the Macedonian Question straight. Criticism now centred on the negative impact of the maximalist aims—and the means adopted in their pursuit—on international public opinion and on the relations of Greece with its EU partners.

By now, the Court of the European Communities had rejected the Commission’s initial petition for “temporary measures” against Greece for the embargo decision, and a year later, in the summer of 1995, the Advocate General of the Court accepted in substance Greece’s arguments.

The signing of the Interim Accord in September 1995 relieved the European Commission of a rejection of its case against Greece by the Court, although the Commission was compelled to pay the costs (36). Meanwhile, Cyrus Vance had reactivated the UN mediation efforts for a final settlement of the dispute.


29. Letter of Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias to the UN Secretary General Butros Butros-Ghali, November 5, 1993, in Valinakis-Dalis, op. cit.,pp. 175–176.

30. Mouzelis, O Ethnikismos, op.cit.,pp. 54–55.

31. Ibid., pp. 44, 46–47,56.

32. The idea is attributed to the Macedonian MP from Thessalonica, Evangelos Venizelos, then Minister of Press and Information. (Privileged information)

33. Veremis, Balkan Entanglement, op.cit., pp 90–92. Suzan Woodward, (Balkan Tragedy, Washington, D.C., The Brookings Institution, 1995, p. 387), was probably right when she observed that the embargo have made the victims more stubborn, and has “interrupted negotiations and quiet moves toward concessions on the part of Macedonia”. Two years later, FYROM’s Foreign Minister Hatzinski in a press briefing to Skopje’s weekly Forum stated that during the first two or three years over the recognition crisis, the government of FYROM examined the possibility of a compound name, but this idea has been abandoned. Reported in Eleftherotypia, January 19, 1998.

34. For a strong criticism of the government’s tactics, see a series of articles by Professor Nikos Mouzelis in the influential Sunday newspaper To Vima, (February 20, March 6, April 3 and 10 1994), reprinted in O Ethnikismos, op.cit., pp.53–70. Mouzelis shared the view that the denomination “Republic of Macedonia” was unacceptable as it fomented irredentism. Contrary to the government and the maximalist position he opted for the denomination “Republic of Vardar Macedonia”, p. 70. Similarly, critical of the “Skopianization” of Greece’s foreign policy during 1991–1994 was Professor Thodoros Kouloumbis in: D. Konstas, and P. Tsakonas, (editors), Elliniki Exoteriki Politiki, Esoterikes kai Diethneis Parametroi [Greek Foreign Policy.Internal and International Dimensions], Athens, Institute of International Relations, 1994, pp.92, 93. On the contrary, Papathemelis—by then Minister of Public Order—was declaring that the Macedonian name, “either alone or as a compound name”, would remain a vehicle of irredentism, ibid., p. 100. Also, Thanos Veremis, and Theodore Kouloumbis, Elliniki Exoteriki Politiki. Prooptikes kai Provlimatismoi[Greek Foreign Policy. Prospects and Concerns], Athens, ELIAMEP, 1994, pp. 35–36.

35. Among others: Modern and Contemporary Macedonia, op.cit., Vol II, pp. 104–137, 246–295. Also, Ioannis Koliopoulos, Leilasia Fronimaton, To Makedoniko Zitima stin Katehomeni Dytiki Makedonia 1941–1944 ,Vol I [Plundering Loyalties. The Macedonian Question in Occupied Western Macedonia, 1941–1944], Thessaloniki, 1994, 284pp. and To Makedoniko Zitima stin Periodo tou Emfyliou Polemou (1945–1949) sti Dytiki Makedonia Vol. II [The Macedonian Question during the Civil War in Western Macedonia], 1995, 351pp. Also, B. Gounaris, I. Michailidis, G. Angelopoulos (editors), Taftotites sti Makedonia [Identities in Macedonia], Athens, Papazisis, 1997, 262pp. Marilena Koppa, Mia Efthrafsti Dimokratia. I PGDM Anamesa sto Parelthon kai to Mellon [A Fragile Republic; FYROM amidst Past and Future], Athens 1994.

36. Documents on the case “Commission vs Greece, Case C-120/94” before the Court of Justice of the European Communities, including the final “Opinion of Advocate General Jacobs delivered on April 6, 1995, in Valinakis-Dalis, op.cit., pp. 239–360.

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