Greece Sees Win-And-Worry Over ICJ’s Macedonia Decision


By Andy Dabilis

The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) 15-1 finding that Greece was wrong to block Macedonia’s entry into NATO in 2008 in a long-running dispute over the country’s name has brought some howls of indignation from the Greeks, but also a claim of victory because the court said it would not bar Greece from doing it again.

The name battle, which has dragged on for more than 15 years, since Greece allowed its northern neighbour to adopt the name the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia — derisively known as FYROM in Greece — is far from being resolved. Although some Greeks fear the court ruling could lead to official recognition of the name Macedonia, to which they fiercely object because Greece’s northern abutting province bears the same name.

Greece’s legal counsel, Maria Telalian, told the court in March that Athens did not break the 1995 interim agreement between the two countries — which prevented it from blocking Skopje joining international organisations — but that Macedonia broke the deal when it asked to join under its Republic of Macedonia.

The ruling could add weight to Macedonia’s protests that Greece is unfairly blocking entry to international bodies, but the court steered clear of that.

George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said Macedonian leaders should not gloat yet.

“It could be conceived as a victory [for them], but if you read the decision you realise Greece can veto them again,” he told SETimes.

He said Greece made a mistake in allowing the word “Macedonia” to be included in the composite acronym, and that the court decision could open the door for total international recognition of that name over Greece’s objections.

While the EU and UN recognise FYROM as the official name, more than 100 countries accept Republic of Macedonia.

Tzogopoulos said that while the court ruling was a split decision that could let Greece bar Macedonia entry into the EU or NATO, it nevertheless creates a dilemma.

“Greece has already accepted the word ‘Macedonia’ to be part of a composite name … now that most countries have started to recognise the constitutional name de facto, they [Macedonia] believe that in a few years everyone will be using that term. They don’t want to compromise. There’s a lot of pressure on Greece because we don’t have many countries on our side now.”

Greece wants a geographical distinction, and UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz has been working with a series of Greek administrations and Macedonian officials to find a resolution.

Little progress, however, has been made, especially as Greece has been agitated by Macedonia naming its airport after Alexander the Great, whom Greece claims as its own.

Greece also fears that Macedonia harbours territorial ambitions, especially towards its second largest city, Thessaloniki, where about 150 members of an ultra-right group held a demonstration after the decision, shouting “Greece belongs to the Greeks”.

Nationalists, especially the far right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) led by George Karatzaferis that is part of a temporary coalition government ruling Greece until elections early next year, were angered by the decision. Karatzaferis said his party would leave the government if Macedonia ultimately wins the name battle.

Greek interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said that “reaching a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue is a condition for the full normalisation of relations,” but said what it called “continuing provocation” by Macedonia was an obstacle.

Outside the courtroom, Greece’s Dutch Ambassador Ioannis Economides urged Macedonia “to resist using today’s decision to subvert the negotiations”, and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels that Macedonia will not be admitted to the Alliance until the name issue is resolved, leaving some Greek analysts less anxious over what they called a technical knockout for Macedonia.

“Some people here seem happy in the sense that this is now done so we can work on the name issue because it wasn’t so bad for Greece,” Alex Giannoulias, a senior research fellow at the Athens-based Research Institute for European and American Studies, which specialises in security issues, told SETimes.

“There is no fear, although some political parties are afraid,” he said. “The only concern from this whole issue is that some people are concerned about the ability of the government to negotiate something,” he added.

There was little opposition from Athens to the former Yugoslav republic using the name Macedonia until it declared independence in 1991. The country occupies some of the territory in the region that was known as Macedonia after the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, and Greece is fiercely protective of him and what it claims is historical evidence proving Macedonia is Greek, a view vehemently disputed in Macedonia.

University of Athens International Relations Associate Professor Kostas Ifantis, a former Fulbright Scholar at Harvard who is associated with the Hellenic Centre for European Studies, said he was not surprised by the court’s outcome.

“It was a decision to be expected; it was balanced,” he told SETimes. “There is a political element in it. It’s a signal by the courts that the issue should be solved and shouldn’t be elevated to legal decisions.”

He said while the court did not prevent Greece from exercising its right to block Macedonia again, “I don’t think it’s an invitation to veto again; … the issue is ripe for a compromise.”


The Southeast European Times Web site is a central source of news and information about Southeastern Europe in ten languages: Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, English, Greek, Macedonian, Romanian, Serbian and Turkish. The Southeast European Times is sponsored by the US European Command, the joint military command responsible for US operations in 52 countries. EUCOM is committed to promoting stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region.

14 thoughts on “Greece Sees Win-And-Worry Over ICJ’s Macedonia Decision

  • December 8, 2011 at 3:38 am

    Greece already offered a compromise. FYROM has clearly rejected any sort of compromise and instead decided to statr building giant Alexander statues and claiming large tracts of Greece as occupied.

    Greece’s critics on this issue(including the ICJ) lost moral credibility when they started pretend they didn’t notice their changing ethnic narrative into “ancient Macedonians”.

    I blame Greece for its fiances but for this the moral blame falls squarely on the shouldders of FYROM and its Greek-hating apologists.

  • December 8, 2011 at 3:53 am

    Dear Mr. Dabilis

    Greece did not block “Macedonia”. Macedonia is in Greece not ancient Paeonia.

    Unfortunately much like the Greek civil war once again some unprincipled leftist “comrades” seem poised to betray they country for IMRO thugs. Spyro Sofos, Nick Dimou, etc.. leftists all motivated by extreme nationalist views.. all reference FYROM as “macedonia”… all selectively paraded in front of Greeks by foreign nationalists that dishonestly pretend to not notice FYROM’s changing ethnic narrative.

    If such “Greeks” do not see Macedonia as part of their cultural patrimony, I would heartly suggest they move to FYROM and stop referencing themselves as Greeks before they trigger yet another civil war in Greece.

    If it comes down to choosing between our identity and supporting unprincipled collectivist cowards that do whatever they are told to not rock the boat…. the choice is clear for most Greeks.

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:59 pm

      It is funny,you don’t include the Macedonians of the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonians in Bulgarian occupied territory as being Greeks.
      Don’t you fools know that we are one and the same people?.Don’t you understand a simple difference between you so called”Greeks”and Macedonians?.
      Your country should be called Alvanoturkia,because thats what you are.You have no connection to the ancient Hellens,absolutly none!You think,just to cling onto Alexander will make you somebody?No way Hose,no way!

  • December 8, 2011 at 5:10 am

    “but also a claim of victory because the court said it would not bar Greece from doing it again.”


    If they actually READ the judgement it states that they did not instruct Greece not to do it again BECAUSE they stated that the interim accord itself states not to veto!

    The ICJ didn’t say ‘you broke the accord but you can veto again’ which makes no sense. They said ‘You broke the accord and the accord says you cannot veto, so we don’t have to tell you ourselves’.

    There is a big difference between how Greece is nursing their pride and what the ICJ actually stated.

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      Stam,read the interim agreement of 1995,chapter 11.No need to spell it out by the ICJ,it is already spelled out by directing Greece not to veto any international agreements Macedonia wants to enter into.I guess,Greeks can’t understand international agreements,same as historical truths.

  • December 8, 2011 at 8:50 am

    The finacial state of Greece is a bigger concern to me than this never ending story of who the name Macedonia belongs to.

    I have been a strong believer of Macedonia being Greek but recently I have come to terms with the idea that if your born on the land of historical Macedonia you should have the right to call yourself Macedonia or even “Macedonian” for god sake I call myself an Australian but my parents where born in Greece? I dont see the difference.

  • December 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Many of the Republic of Macedonia’s past and present-day leaders and heroes hail from Aegean Macedonia – the occupied part of Macedonia by the Greeks and yet Greeks pound their chest claiming Macedonia was and is Greece. Does it make any sense? Can an overzealous Greek national understand this paradigm? But it’s OK, let them plod along thinking that they can fly while their wings melt under the heavy burden they carry. Lies are an exhaustive and cumbersome burden to carry; suit yourselves, the end is near.

  • December 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Greece’s phony and contrived “name dispute” with Macedonia is a complete sham and is really a tricky diversion from Greece’s dark and sordid history in its treatment of the Macedonians after Macedonia was geographically divided in 1913. We all know the story: the forced assimiliation (including the changing of all personal names and toponyms to Greek ones), the forced expulsions and deportations (often to remote Greek islands), expropriation of Macedonian private property to Turkic-Christian settlers from Asia Minor, rapes and killings, harrassment and petty fines for speaking in Macedonian…these are all documented facts.

    Greece woefully lacks any priorities: it’s a bankrupt country that requires years of economic and structural reform, and yet it is perversely obsessed with the Macedonian name.

  • December 8, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    @!Apolodorus lambroideus

    What in hades is an “Aegean Macedonia”? Your use of Tito era propagandists terms to describe Macedonia only shows Greece has legitimate security concerns.

    As for FYROM’s “mcedonian” national heroes, I recommend you open a history book before lecturing others on history.

    “The history of the construction of a Macedonian national identity does not begin with Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. or with Saints Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century A.D. as Macedonian nationalist historians often claim”

    “The political and military leaders of the Slavs of Macedonia at the turn of the century seem not to have heard Misirkov’s call for a separate Macedonian national identity; they continued to identify themselves in a national sense as Bulgarians rather than Macedonians.” – US Anthropologist Loring Danforth, “The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World”, Princeton Univ Press, December 1995

    • December 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm

      Are you implying the indigenouse Macedonians in Aegean Macedonia,Republic of Macedonia and those in Bulgaria have no continuity of Alexander the Great?
      Do the Greeks have continuity from the ancient Hellens?
      Let me put it this way;if Greece has the right to name themselves after the ancient Hellens,surely,the Macedonians have equal right to identify themselves as Macedonians.
      In 338 bc Ancient Macedonians were a nation,whereas the Hellens were city states(no Greek nation in existance.)
      Does it make sense for the Greeks to claim they are the sole owners of Macedonia,and the Macedonians have no right to claim their rights?In closing my comment,the truth is,Neigther the Macedonians nor the Hellens recognised each other as one people.
      Furtheremore,the Hellens were under Macedonian yoke,not the other way around.

  • December 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I would FYROM nationalist Apolodorus lambroideus refers to Macedonia Greece as

    “The occupied part of Macedonia by the Greeks:”

    This is why the ICJ judgment is not credible. How is it possible that the judges could not find widespread violations by FYROM of the agreement? (which only a few minutes of objective internet research would begin to reveal)

    The agreement was just about not blocking FYROM… it was on condition that FYROM not resort to hostile propaganda, not attempt to usurp our history, and not encourage its citizens to see Greece as “occupied’ territory.

    In all seriousness, given FYROM has violated all the provisions, that ICJ (and its apologists) pretending to not notice those blatantly obvious violations, Greece should consider withdrawing from the agreement. What use is an agreement which FYROM does not follow and has no serious intent on negotiating a unique identity/name for itself. Otherwise every time Greece does not agree to EU/NATO membership now FYROM/FYROM apologists will just point to the ridiculous iCJ verdict.

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm

      Are you implying all 15 judges are wrong and the Greek judge is right?.No wonder you Greeks have a hard time to understand international laws.
      Furthermore,the judgement does not have to be explicit,that is,to direct Greece not to veto Macedonias membership in international agreements,that is spelled out in the 1995 interim agreement.
      Greeks can’t even understand a simple written agreement.No wonder,their financial situation and history are so disturbed.In simple terms;Greeks are in denial.About two years ago,I said;Greece made an agreement with Germany and France on 14 billion dollars arms purchase even though have no money to buy shoes for the army.I was right,they are broke,not only for now,but for the long haul.
      Greece by building walls between Macedonia and Turkey,they will run the country further to the ground.Patsourakos and your friend Anon,mark my word,the more Greece is isolating its self the worst and harder will be to come out of the crisis it faces today,economicly and politically.
      On the issue of Alexander,surely you don’t believe what you are saying I hope,because it will make you one uneducated individuals.
      You continue interpreting the findings of ICJ as you do history.The World knows your lies,you are famous for fabrications throughout the continent and beyond.So,relax and gather your wits,ask yourselves the following;What is your real ancestry,you have two choices,one you are an Albanian,two,you are a Turk.Your 99% purity,who lost it that you found?

  • December 8, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    As long as FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) keeps the word “Macedonia” in its name, Greece has a right — and will continue — to block FYROM’s admission into the European Union and NATO.

    The primary reason FYROM wants to keep “Macedonia” in its name is so that it — instead of Greece — will be recognized as being the homeland of Alexander the Great. The fact that FYROM recently erected two huge statues — one of Alexander the Great and one of Alexander’s father, Philip — in its capital of Skopje clearly illustrate why it wants to keep “Macedonia” in its name.

    • December 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      Sorry, George, Greece already agreed to “Macedonia” being included in the provisional name under the Interim Accord, so there’s no turning back now. The Republic of Macedonia will absolutely never drop the name Macedonia.

      And where does Greece derive a “right” to block Macedonia’s accession to NATO and EU?

      Greece is used to acting like the overbearing, peremptory master toward the Macedonians but things are changing and Greece is losing.


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