It just takes one Western country to stand up for common sense and denounce the nonsensical name negotiations between Macedonia and Greece as an attack on human rights and a country’s basic right to self-determination. The Greek-manufactured dispute based on its blatant xenophobia would instantly be over. Now which country will it be? For that matter, an international human rights organization would carry a lot of weight too. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, you’ve had twenty-plus years, what are you waiting for?
Let’s take the current Canadian election campaign. Macedonian-Canadians, like many other ethnic groups, are being wooed by all political parties and, in exchange for votes and countless hours of volunteering time helping local candidates, are being promised something that will surely not be delivered once the campaign is over. Well, let’s try something different this campaign. Deliver in advance. Political parties would show that they could actually be trusted, and they would win over a lot of dedicated supporters.
Consider the debacle that is the Macedonia and Greece name dispute. Canada joined the majority of the world in 2007 by recognizing the Republic of Macedonia using its proper name, and, in doing so, secured the Macedonian-Canadian vote. Stephen Harper remembers well the hero’s welcome that he received when attending a Macedonian-Canadian event in Toronto in 2009. Many were still loyal to the Conservatives for this reason alone. However, since then, the Conservatives haven’t taken the next logical step and denounced the ludicrous name negotiations. But not only has Conservative Party inaction on this issue concerned Macedonian-Canadians, their transparent attempt at trying to regain the Greek-Canadian vote has made the situation worse. For example, before Costas Menegakis became a Conservative MP, he had organized an anti-Conservative/anti-Macedonian rally after recognition of the Republic of Macedonia. Mr. Menegakis claimed that no Greek-Canadian would ever vote Conservative. Apparently, Conservatives saw this as a green light to woo him, and he’s now running in his second election as a Conservative. The Liberal Party though, took it to the extreme and pandered to the Greek-Canadian community by denouncing recognition of Macedonia at that time and allowing their MP, Jim Karygiannis, to make public racist comments against Macedonian-Canadians on several occasions. Mr. Karygiannis was even caught on video praising a lecture which glorified Greece’s bombing of Macedonian civilians during Greece’s Civil War. Maybe their stance has changed, or gotten worse. Well, Liberal Party, which is it? So far, the NDP and Green Party have remained silent. Not a great foreign policy strategy.
Greece initiated the name dispute in order to block recognition of the newly independent Republic of Macedonia in 1991 and as an excuse to keep denying the existence and persecution of its large Macedonian minority. It claims that Macedonia is trying to usurp an “historically Greek” name, but until 1988, Greece’s well-documented policy was that Macedonia never existed. After annexing half of Macedonia’s territory in 1913 it tried to eradicate its very existence, a policy which continues today. According to the first UN mediator for the name dispute, Robin O’Neil, “Macedonia must not and will not change its name in order to appease Greece. If Macedonia succumbs to pressures and changes its name, such events will only give more firepower to Greece until it reaches its final goal – Macedonia to vanish from the map.” It is, in fact, Greece that is trying to usurp Macedonia’s name.
Considering this, one might, rightfully so, wonder why Macedonia is negotiating its own name. The short answer is that it fears the wrath of the United States, which has threatened that if Macedonia withdraws from the name negotiations, the U.S. would pull economic and military support and claims that a civil war would erupt with Macedonia’s Albanian minority. Ironic, considering that the United States recognized Macedonia in 2004. A new low for the United States’ foreign policy hypocrisy.
This is where Canada, and all four major political parties, come in. They can show the rest of the world that we still stand up for traditional Canadian values and human rights. Canada has a chance to end this ridiculous debate, and it should take it.
*Bill Nicholov, President Macedonian Human Rights Movement International