Macedonia has the chance to become a regional pioneer in 21st-century pragmatism

Interviews 3-07-2018, 02:55

After the decade-long dispute over the toponym Macedonia, the prime ministers of Greece and Macedonia have finally reached an official agreement. The settlement that has offered a new name, Republic of North Macedonia, was simultaneously hailed as “historic” and criticized. Kristjan Fidanovski, political science graduate and editor-in-chief of The Vostokian, will share his opinion on the recent developments around Macedonia. 

 

Rusif Huseynov: The renaming agreement reached by Prime Ministers Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras has a historic significance. What happens next? Will the barriers set by Greece be removed for Macedonia`s further development?

Kristjan Fidanovski: As a young Macedonian, I was born with the naming dispute obstructing every aspect of the development of my country. I then spent my childhood in frustration over the fact that Greece’s irrational and unprecedented insistence that Macedonia’s name implies territorial aspirations was dooming Macedonia to international isolation. After decades of missed opportunities and generations of young people leaving Macedonia in pursuit of a better future, the recent agreement truly feels like the end of an era.

With the agreement, Greece firmly commits to removing all barriers to Macedonia’s integration into Western institutions. This will result in Macedonia’s long-overdue accession into NATO, which was prevented in 2008 due to Greece’s veto. It also dramatically increases the likelihood of Macedonia opening accession talks with the EU sometime in 2019.

 

Rusif Huseynov: The renaming agreement has drawn criticism in both Greece and Macedonia. What are the main objections shared by some of the citizens and politicians in the two countries?

Kristjan Fidanovski: The critics of the agreement in Macedonia rightly observe that there are some major concessions on Macedonia’s part, most notably on the usage of the new name, which will be used both internationally and domestically. However, what they fail to consider is that Macedonia was always bound to be the side that would make more concessions, given its direct dependence on Greece for achieving its main strategic objective of integrating into Western institutions. They also fail to acknowledge that one crucial aspect of the agreement is actually asymmetrical in Macedonia’s favor, which is impressive given Macedonia’s severely limited negotiating position. Namely, Macedonia will be the only party to the agreement to hold a popular referendum on it, while Greece only gets to subject it to a parliamentary vote, which can in turn pass with a simple majority.

Which brings me to my crucial point: if the Greek government had wanted to sabotage the agreement, which they absolutely could have done, given that Greece has no palpable interest in resolving the issue (regardless of how favorable the solution may be to its demands), they would have insisted on holding their own referendum. This referendum would have failed with near-absolute certainty, since two thirds of the Greek people are even against the inclusion of the word “Macedonia” as part of the solution. Thus, the fact that the Greek government acted in such blatant disregard of domestic public opinion can only be viewed as an extraordinary victory for the Macedonian diplomacy and for the international community.  

 

Rusif Huseynov: What type of changes can the agreement bring to the overall region? How can the neighboring countries react to this development?

Kristjan Fidanovski: It is difficult to speculate about the reaction of the neighboring countries, especially after Serbia’s inexplicable failure to congratulate the two countries on the agreement. Normatively, however, what is clear is that they ought to welcome it as an important step in strengthening the stability and prosperity of the region, and some countries have recognized this. Bulgaria, for instance, has been a vocal supporter of Macedonia’s EU integration and has facilitated this integration tremendously during its six-month presidency over the European Council.

The true regional impact, however, will be felt on a more abstract and long-term basis. In a region fraught with disputes and animosity, Macedonia has the chance of becoming a pioneer in 21st-century pragmatism. The world can only hope that this pragmatism will spread to the rest of the region sooner rather than later.