Ten years ago at pre-election party rallies of VMRO-DPMNE its supporters carried banners which portrayed Macedonia as an innocent lamb surrounded by four blood-thirsty wolfs. At the time many Macedonians perceived all Macedoniaís neighboring countries -- Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, and Greece -- as enemies. Were their worries sound? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is: yes, they were. Greece, a member of the EU and usually widely regarded as a democratic nation, has been the biggest adversary to Macedonia in the post-1989 period. Not only has the Greek state continued the practice of denying minority rights to ethnic Macedonians in Northern Greece, but it also went as far as to claim "copyright" on the term Macedonia, effectively blocking and delaying Macedoniaís international recognition and membership in organizations such as UN, CSCE, and the Council of Europe. The results of Greek pressure on Macedonia -- the UN accepted provisional reference to the country as of ÏThe Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,í and the altering of the national flag and constitution remain significant wounds on the collective memory of the Macedonians. In the same period, Bulgaria, like Greece, not only vehemently negated minority rights to its own Macedonian minority, but even worse, negated the sole existence of the Macedonian national identity. Serbia, on the other hand, kept open the issue of the border demarcation with Macedonia, while the Serbian Church continues to regard the Macedonian Orthodox Church as schismatic. Finally, Albania continuously spoke against the perceived assimilative policies of the Macedonian government towards the Macedonian Albanians, disputed the validity of the Macedonian census and warned of a possible escalation of the relations between the two countries. Evidently, the four Macedonian neighbors harshly acted against Macedonian interests. What bearings to the future of the Balkans these anti-Macedonian policies have, and what can the possible strategy for Macedonia to survive such a situation be?
At the turn of the century the so-called ÏMacedonian Questioní as part of the wider ÏEastern Question,í dominated the international European scene. Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia vied for the control over the three Ottoman vilayets that comprised the territory known as Macedonia. Macedonians at that time were only objects of the complicated web of intrigues and political meddlings of the neighboring states and the Great Powers. The interests of the Macedonian population were not accounted for when, after the Balkan wars 1912/1913, Macedonia was partitioned among Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria. Neither were the ethnic Macedonians in the inter-war period recognized as national minorities in these states. While all three pursued brutal assimilative strategies aimed at denationalizing ethnic Macedonians, the international community did nothing to alleviate this situation. Although in 1944 Macedonians achieved statehood within Titoís Yugoslav federation, they exercised sovereignty only over one part of the Macedonian territory, the one previously occupied by Serbia, i.e. the Vardar Banovina in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Given the past propensity of the neighboring states to compete for control over Macedonia, it does not come as a surprise that in the post-1989 period they attempted to undermine Republic of Macedoniaís statehood. By rejecting the attributes of the Macedonian nation such as its name, language, history, and ethnic make-up, all four Macedonian neighbors de facto forwarded claims on Macedonia, indirectly waiting its destruction. Interestingly enough, the international community, now as a century ago, did not take care about the interests of the Macedonians. Indeed, in the period between 1989 to 1999, the US and the EU did not support Macedonia when it was bullied by Greece and Bulgaria. Similarly, the international community showed indifference about the Macedonian problems in relations with Serbia and Albania. Hence, it seems that Macedonia is left to deal with its hostile neighborhood alone.
If the pressure on Macedonia continues and if the Macedonian state is left alone to defend its national interests, then the prospects for the future existence of this nation are grim. Moreover, similarly to the situation on the eve of the Balkan Wars, the disintegration of Republic of Macedonia would leave its territory up for grabs by Macedoniaís neighbors. This scenario would mean that the possibility for new conflicts on the Balkans would dramatically increase. Seemingly then, Macedoniaís future should be of prime interest to the US and the international community. But, since in the past ten years the international community has not been too supportive of Macedonia, then we must ask the crucial question of our inquiry: how can Macedonia survive in such circumstances?
Macedonia needs to transform some of its adversaries into allies. Bulgaria should be a priority in this respect. Macedonian-Bulgarian relations can be improved by careful and scholarly rapprochement in the fields of history and culture. Despite arrogant claims of the Bulgarian historiography over Macedonian history and absurd denials to any links with Bulgaria of the Macedonian counterpart, contemporary Macedonian history is closely related to the Bulgarian one. Clarifying the question over the ethnicity of the Macedonian and the Bulgarian revolutionary and cultural leaders in the XIX and the beginning of the XX century, as well as establishing stronger cultural, political and economic links between the two countries can also help the process. Mutual recognition of the Macedonian and Bulgarian minorities in these countries should be followed by the relaxing of the border regime. Macedonia must finally reorient its economic links from Serbia to Bulgaria.
Relations with Albania and in particularly with the Macedonian Albanians also need to be drastically improved. Macedonian internal stability is dependent on the position of the Macedonian Albanian minority. Corrections to the Macedonian constitution so as to avoid references to the ethnic character of the state are necessary. Macedonia should be positioned as a state of all its citizens. Education and media representation in Albanian should be updated. Furthermore, introduction of more ethnic Albanian personnel within the state bureaucracy as well as improvement of the economic and cultural ties with Albania proper should also follow. Macedonia should strive to make Macedonian Albanians feel more at home being citizens of this country. Especially crucial in this respect is the question of European integration: granted the EUís recent adoption of regional approach strategy in regards to the Western Balkans, Macedonia needs to concentrate on its relations with Albanians, both in Albania, and in Kosovo.
Macedonia should follow the European political strategy of isolation of Milosevicís Serbia. The continuation of the positive Macedonian-Serbian relations must be contingent on the character of the regime in Serbia. Macedonian government and firms should gradually alter economic ties to markets other than the Serbian, and wait to see changes in the political order of this country. Finally, Macedonia must not bend under the Greek burden, for what is the stake -- the name of the nation -- cannot be given up. Therefore, Macedonia should strive to build a common front with Albania, Turkey, and Bulgaria in raising the question of the Greek treatment of all its national minorities, including the Macedonian one. While business between Macedonian and Greek companies should be encouraged through different legal acts and provisions, Macedonia must concentrate on building the economic corridor East-West, and avoid the dependence of the routes that go through momentarily antagonistic Serbia and Greece. In conclusion, Macedoniaís only way out of the present situation is to make friends out of Bulgaria and Albania. Serbia as a ÏEuropean pariahí should be ignored, while Macedoniaís archenemy at the moment, Greece, should be confronted.
(The author is a Ph.D. candidate at the Political Science Department of the Central European University.)