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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 Third Phase: The New York “Interim Accord” (September 1995) and its Aftermath

Whereas it is true that Cyrus Vance did, indeed, take the initiative in March 1994 for a new round of negotiations with the two parties, this was the result not of the embargo, but of the Greek government’s silent consent to take as the basis of the negotiations, without preconditions, a slightly modified version of the 1993 Vance-Owen draft treaty (37). It took a year-and-a-half before the two parties finally signed in New York, in September 1995, an “Interim Accord”. The agreement provided for Greece’s recognition of FYROM, under its provisional name, and the lifting of the embargo, whereas Skopje consented to remove the Greek Macedonian emblem from its flag, and accepted the interpretation of certain clauses of its Constitution which, in Greece’s view, were likely to foment irredentist claims and justify interference in Greek internal affairs, under the pretext of “caring for the status and rights” of Macedonian minorities in neighbouring countries. Furthermore, the two countries endorsed a number of clauses dealing with economic relations and establishing quasi diplomatic relations by opening up “Liaison Offices” headed by ambassadors in the respective capitals. In fact, both sides had successfully ridded themselves of their additional burdens—Greece of the embargo and FYROM of the flag—which they had added in the course of their four-year-old feud, and proceeded to normalize working neighbourly relations. What was left in abeyance, allegedly to be resolved in a new round of negotiations was the key issue of the state’s name, the real culprit of the dispute. Judging from statements by Greek government officials, including Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias,that issue was also expected to be resolved soon (38).

The Interim Accord and its implementation ushered in a new approach both to the name dispute and to bilateral relations between the two neighbouring states. Few, if any, had noticed, even prior to the conclusion of the agreement, a nuance in the Greek government’s public statements, which proclaimed that “the Greek government will never recognize a state bearing the name Macedonia or its derivatives”—a phrasing that had substituted the traditional line that “the new state should not bear the name Macedonia or derivatives of that name”. Those who noticed it could not avoid recalling Papandreou’s similar tactics in the early 1980s. Then, while in opposition, the socialist leader had vowed to remove the US bases from Greece (a popular issue with the leftist masses at the time), but once in power he negotiated a new arrangement which, in fact, ensured their continued presence on Greek soil. The signing of that agreement with the US government was heralded with the hoisting of banners proclaiming that “the bases are on the way out” (“oi vaseis fevgoun”). In 1995, Papandreou, by now an aged and infirm prime minister, continued reassuring the masses that he stood firm by the maximalist line “no to the name Macedonia and its derivatives”, while the “Interim Accord” with FYROM had, indeed, divested his country of any plausible leverage for a fair compromise solution on the Macedonian name.

In January 1996, because of the deterioration of his health, Papandreou resigned and was replaced by Kostas Simitis a modernist who was not associated with the so-called “patriotic”—or “maximalist”—wing of the party. Neither had his Foreign Minister, Theodoros Pangalos. From the outset, both appeared determined to “close” the sour issue of the name, by reaching an accommodating compromise with Skopje, on the basis of a compound name, not the best, under the circumstances (39). Likewise, they proceeded to resolve certain outstanding issues with Albania, in order to set in motion a reappraisal of Greece’s role as a stabilizing element in the Balkan sub-region and as a link between the European Union and the emerging new democracies.

Their mending of relations with the Albanians—which had been initiated a year earlier by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Karolos Papoulias- were successful and a cordial relationship appeared in the making. However, the case of FYROM was different. While there was a marked improvement in bilateral economic and personal relations (in 1996, more than a half million of FYROM citizens visited Greece, particularly the shores of Macedonia and Thrace), the Greeks soon realized that the “Interim Accord” had left them with no substantial bargaining chips to put on the table. Moreover, in their pursuit of erecting a new Balkan edifice of cooperation, they were in no mood to turn to confrontational measures in pressing for a solution.

On his part, Gligorov did not fail to exploit the favourable circumstances. Despite the mandate of the Security Council and the relevant reference in the Interim Accord that the two parties should seek a solution to the name dispute, he temporized with the UN talks, for almost two years. During this period, Gligorov made no secret of his belief that the name dispute gradually would be diffused, with no concessions on his part, as the two countries proceeded to strengthen their economic relations and their borders were opened to the free movement of peoples. Finally, in the summer of 1997, FYROM submitted to Cyrus Vance its official position on the name, which simply was the country’s constitutional name, “Republic of Macedonia” (40). In Greece, even the most ardent supporters of the “de-Skopianization” of Greece’s policy, were beginning to realize that this time the label “intransigent”, so frequently attached to Gligorov by Greek hard-liners, appeared justified. Only this time, the aged politician in Skopje felt he could afford it, at no visible cost.

Meanwhile, the “hawks” in the ruling PASOK party, responding to Simitis’ and Pangalos’ attempts to prepare the Greek public for a compromised solution, stepped up their criticism for their alleged “yielding” attitude. It was a belated reaction addressed to the wrong recipients, as the real “culprit” was no more alive (41).

In retrospect, it appears that a unique opportunity was lost for a lasting settlement of the problem, when, on the eve of the Dayton agreement, in August 1995, American diplomacy, anxious to bring about the pacification of the warring regions in the north, urgently intervened to mediate the settlement of the Athens-Skopje dispute. Papandreou, however, chose the so-called “small package” solution—with Gligorov consenting—which evaded the issue of the name, referring the substance of the dispute ad graecas calendas. That opportunist approach by the two elder leaders was no doubt due to their concern that a balanced adjudication of the name issue would undoubtedly raise the violent criticism of ardent nationalists, supporters of the maximalist view in both countries and their corresponding “diasporas”. Such criticism, it was feared, would bring upon their parties the burden of “political cost”. More so, at the twilight of their political careers and lives, they ran the risk of having their personal ethnarchic image —so painstakingly weaved over the years in the service of the “patriotic” causes of their countries—tarnished. The ramifications, however, of their decision on the long-term relations between the two countries and, indeed, their peoples, were left aside for the judgment of future historians.


37. Privileged information.

38. An analysis supporting the New York agreement, in: Christos Rozakis, Politikes kai Nomikes Diastaseis tis Metavatikis Symfonias tis Neas Yorkis metaxy Elladas kai PGDM [Political and Legal Dimensions of the Interim Agreement between Greece and FYROM], Athens, Sideris, 1996, 77pp.(text of agreement annexed).

39. Speaking in Parliament (February 2, 1997 ), Foreign Minister Thodoros Pangalos termed the Interim Accord “one sided” and revealed that the Simitis Government was working toward a compromise. This statement caused havoc among PASOK deputies and offered opposition deputies a unique opportunity to attack the government’s “yielding” attitude. Greek Press reports, February 3, 1997.

40. In a long interview to Skopje State TV, Channel One(July 22, 1997), President Gligorov revealed that FYROM had proposed to the UN mediator that in their bilateral relations his country should be recognized by its constitutional name, “Republic of Macedonia”, by all except for Greece. Late in December 1997, Foreign Minister Hatzinski announced that his government intended to ask the UN Security Council to admit his country with its constitutional name. Eleftherotypia, December 31, 1977.

41. Stylianos Papathemelis, by now just a PASOK MP, better informed on Macedonian affairs than most of his colleagues, appeared to assume the leadership of a group within his own party strongly criticizing any attempts toward an agreed solution which would retain, in one way or another, the Macedonian name. Numerous press articles and interviews in 1996–1997.

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