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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.

Diplomatic tug-of-war over the recognition issue

A brief presentation of the diplomatic initiatives in connection with the recognition of FYROM is pertinent at this point for a better understanding of the formulation and conduct of Greek policy on the subject.

The declaration on Yugoslavia issued by the EC/EU Foreign Ministers on December 17, 1991, was undoubtedly a turning point for the Macedonian issue. It drew up a framework of prerequisites for the international recognition of the former SRM that met the main points raised by Greece, to a considerable degree. It specifically asked “for constitutional and political guarantees ensuring that [the applicant state] has no territorial claims towards a neighbouring Community State (Greece)and that it will conduct no hostile propaganda activities versus a neighbouring Community State, including the use of a denomination which implies territorial claims” (15). In subsequent weeks, the government in Skopje did introduce certain minor amendments to its Constitution, but it bypassed the core issue of the name of the new state. The Badinter Arbitration Commission rendered an advisory opinion in favour of recognition, but Greece considered the commitments inadequate and the EU concurred, requesting the Portuguese Presidency (Foreign Minister Joao di Deus Pineiro) to approach the two sides in order to find a suitable solution to the problem. Pineiro, after consultations with both sides, drew up two draft documents on the basis of the December 1991 declaration. The first dealt with guarantees “against territorial claims”, and the second with further guarantees “against hostile propaganda”. Verbally, Pineiro suggested the name “New Macedonia” as a suitable state denomination. The Pineiro mission proved inconclusive. FYROM apparently was responsive to the two first points but remained noncommittal on the name, probably awaiting Greece’s response first. Greek Foreign Minister Andonis Samaras tentatively accepted the two draft documents, but turned down the proposal on the name (16). Prime Minister Mitsotakis reluctantly consented to it when faced by the endorsement of the maximalist line—”no Macedonia or its derivatives”—by the Council of Party Leaders (with only KKE’s Aleka Paparriga dissenting), held on April 13, under the chairmanship of the President of the Republic Constantine Karamanlis. At this point, Mitsotakis dismissed Samaras and took over the Foreign Minister’s portfolio himself.

Subsequently, despite mounting tensions and fighting in the northern tier of ex-Yugoslavia, the EU, still headed by Portugal, showed its solidarity with Greece on two more instances. In their meeting at Gimaraes, on May 2, 1992, the EU Foreign Ministers declared their readiness to recognize the former SRM as an independent and sovereign state, adding the precondition, however, “under a name which could be acceptable to all interested parties”. Thus, its partners granted Greece a quasi veto on the name (17). Two months later, with international pressures for recognition mounting (already the US had compelled the EU to expedite recognition to Bosnia-Herzegovina), the heads of EU states and governments went even a step further in meeting Greece’s requests, at their Lisbon meeting of June 26–27, 1992. While they reiterated their readiness to recognize the new state, this time they added, in no uncertain terms, that they would proceed in this direction “under a name which will not include the denomination Macedonia”(18). That was a phrasing that went beyond the December 17, 1991, declaration, which excluded specifically the name Macedonia. Much later it was revealed that the Greek Prime Minister had confidentially given his consent that such a denomination could be applied to international usage (19).

On the basis of these documents, it appears that against all odds, Greece had, by mid-1992, gained most of its points within the councils of the EC/EU. President Gligorov’s refusal, however, to abide by the EU’s rulings, delayed the recognition of his country for more than a year, but, in the end, he obtained it in a roundabout way by petitioning the UN for membership. The UN Security Council granted its consent, conditional on two important points: First, that raising the new member’s flag, bearing the Ancient Macedonian emblem of the so-called “Vergina sun”, was deferred to a future date as an important recognition of Greece’s right to protect and defend its cultural patrimony. The second point was the stipulation that the new member state be admitted under the provisional name of “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM), for as long as “the difference over the name [was] pending”. The Security Council justified its decision “in the interest of maintaining peace and good neighbourly relations in the region”, another concession to the Greek argument that the “constitutional” state denomination of FYROM could negatively affect the promotion of peaceful and good neighbourly relations among the peoples and the states in the region [ Decision 817/ 7.4.1993](20).

In subsequent months, through its mediators Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance and with strong US backing, the UN took over the burden from the EU of bringing the two parties to an agreement. By May 1993, it appeared that a solution was at hand. A draft treaty prepared by the mediators after exhaustive consultations with the two government delegations in New York, sought to synthesize the main considerations of both sides. The mediators were hopeful that even their proposed name “Nova Makedonija” (the old Pineiro proposal in its Slavic version) would be a breakthrough (21).

It was at that moment that the simmering pressures in Greece—and apparently in FYROM—blew up any chances for a compromise solution of the problem. Instead, the way was paved for a further escalation of the crisis at considerable cost to both sides. For Greece, this cost would be measured in political terms, while for FYROM it would be associated with economic and social burdens for years to come.

Specifically, in the case of Greece, the course of the diplomatic developments already cited, had weaved a canvass of multiple problems, upsetting and polarizing the internal political scene, derailing the country’s foreign policy orientations and priorities, and setting in motion new social cleavages inside the country and among the diaspora Greeks.


15. Texts of documents in Giannis Valinakis and Sotiris Dalis (editors), To Zitima ton Skopion; Episima Keimena, 1990–1996 [The Skopje Question. Official Documents, 1990–1996] 2nd edition, Athens, ELIAMEP, 1996, pp. 51–52.

16. Ibid., pp. 87–90. Thanos Veremis,Greece’s Balkan Entanglement, Athens, ELIAMEP, 1995, p.95 ft.12. Eleftherotypia, July 5, 1993. The minutes of the Pineiro-Samaras talks (April 1, 1993) in Alexandros Tarkas, Athina-Skopia: Piso apo tis Kleistes Portes, [Athens-Skopje: Behind Closed Doors], Athens, 1995, pp.332–336.

17. Valinakis-Dalis, op.cit., p.94.

18. Ibid., pp. 100–102.

19. Ibid., pp. 97–99. Text initially published in Epetirida 1993, ELIAMEP, pp. 343–344.

20. Ibid., pp. 147–148.

21. Details of the New York negotiations in Michalis Papaconstantinou, To Imerologio enos Politikou. I Emploki ton Skopion[The Diary of a Politician; The Skopje Entanglement], Athens, 1994, pp.243–412.

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