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World Court Starts Hearing On Macedonia Lawsuit

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By Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki told the court that the suit was a straightforward case of Greece breaking the terms of a 1995 agreement by blocking Skopje’s accession to NATO.

“In the case before you we do not seek resolution of the name difference either directly or indirectly. This is and remains the object of the mediation process under the auspices of the UN,” Milososki said.

“What do we seek in bringing this case? This case has been brought to ensure that the respondent [Greece] upholds one of its key obligations under the 1995 Interim Accord. Nothing more and nothing less,” Milososki told the court in an opening speech.

Macedonia sued Greece at the ICJ in 2009 for blocking its accession to NATO in 2008 over Macedonia’s unresolved name dispute.

Macedonia argues that the blockade violates the 1995 UN-brokered Interim Accord, which regulates relations between the two states.

The accord obliges Greece not to block the accession of its neighbour to international organisations.

British barrister and law professor Phillipe Sands, speaking for the Macedonian team, told the court that its judgement in the case would have a major impact on Macedonia’s internal stability.

Macedonia
Macedonia

“Whilst the issue in the case may be discreet, the stakes are high. The case is about holding the respondent to its obligations under a bilateral treaty so that it is not allowed to object to the applicant [Macedonia] entry into NATO and other international organisations. The case is of evident significance for the country’s internal stability and for the regional well-being,” he said in court on Monday.

Professor Sean Murphy also spoke for the Macedonian side on Monday, offering background on Greece’s “aggressive” opposition to Macedonia’s membership in NATO.

“From 1995 to 2007 Macedonia undertook all the necesary steps on the road to admission to NATO. By 2007 it appeared likely that three countries would be invited to join NATO at the Bucharest Summit in 2008,” he explained.

“However in 2007 and 2008, Greece engaged in a vigorous and systematic campaign in opposition to Macedonia’s membership in NATO,” Murphy continued.

He told the court that “this campaign was not subtle or discrete, it was a battle waged openly and aggresively”.

Macedonia is to elaborate its arguments before the court on Monday and Tuesday, and Greece on Thursday and Friday.

The 15 ICJ judges, from all around the world, are expected to decide on this case within the next six months, or by the end of the year at the latest.

On March 28, Macedonia will respond to Greece’s defence and the hearing will conclude on March 30 with the final word from the Greek side.

“Macedonia will probably use statements from former Greek officials to back its case,” Vasko Popetrevski, editor of the daily Dnevnik newspaper, told Balkan Insight.

He said that statements of former Greek prime minister Kostas Karamanlis and former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis from before the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest will show they did not allow Macedonia to join NATO because of Greek objections to the country’s name.

“This may be taken by the ICJ as proof of the official stand of the country,” Popetrevski said.

Greece argues that Macedonia broke the 1995 accord by taking a hard line over the “name” issue and by “stealing” its history by renaming airports, highways and sport arenas after Ancient Greek heroes.

“Greece will try to prove that it is not exercising any veto against Macedonia joining NATO,” the Greek journalist and publicist Takis Michas told Balkan Insight.

He notes that the joint NATO communiqué issued after the 2008 Bucharest summit stated that the two countries had failed to reach a decision on Macedonia’s accession and did not mention a Greek veto.

Observers say they are unsure whether an ICJ verdict in favour of Macedonia would be applicable in reality. Macedonia wants Greece to withdraws its objections to Macedonia’s NATO membership so that the country can join.

Established in 1945, the ICJ’s main function is to settle legal disputes between states. ICJ rulings are final and cannot be appealed. However, the court has no instruments to make countries comply with rulings.

Macedonian diplomats close to the ICJ case say the outcome to the lawsuit should not be linked to the ongoing “name” talks between Macedonia and Greece, held under UN auspices.

The dispute is almost two decades’ old. Greece insists that the name “Republic of Macedonia” implies a territorial claim to the Greek northern province, also called Macedonia.

In late 2009, Greek objections to Macedonia’s name prevented the EU from extending a start date for Macedonia’s accession talks with the block, despite a previous recommendation from the European Commission for negotiations to start.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

One thought on “World Court Starts Hearing On Macedonia Lawsuit

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    March 23, 2011 at 3:36 pm
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    Here we have three different identities,the Macedonian,Greek and Bulgarian.There is a problem,not for the Macedonians,but for the Greeks and Bulgarians who both are claiming the Macedonians belong to them,and therefore,Greece claims,the Macedonians are Greek since antiquity,but the Bulgarians do the same.The question is,why are they making such absurd claims?The reality is this,the Macedonians in antiquity and present day are not Greek nor Bulgarian,nor Serbs as it has been recognised by the Greek government in 1925 at the League of Nations.But first,lets get back to antiquity where the Hellens made clear distincion between the ancient Hellens and Macedonians.We need to refresh our memories about Isocrates letter to Philip where he Isocrates,makes clear that;
    a)Philips ancestors understood that Greeks cannot submit to the rule of a monarch,while non Greeks actually cannot live without such a regime.
    b)People of non-kindred race-was the term used by Isocrates to describe the Macedonians.Obviously,and with added emphasis, he is highlighting the distinction between the Macedonians and the Greeks.
    E.Bloedow adds:The so called”Lamian War”alias”Hellenic War”speaks no less eloquent a language”.
    In the Lamian War,the Hellens were fighting againts Macedonia.
    This was known as “Hellenic War”
    One more time,he brings the distinction between Macedonians and the Hellens.Similar/parallel implications are evident from 337 bc,after the battle of Chaeronea between the Hellens and the Macedonians.The epitaph composed by Demosthenes for the common grave of the fallen Hellens at Chaeronea reads as follows;

    Time whose oerseeng eye records all human action,bear word to mankind what fate was suffered,how striving to safeguard the holy soil of Hellas.Upon Boeotias plain we died.
    The distinction between Hellens and Macedonians is explicit;”how striving to safeguard the holy soil of Hellas-we died.”
    They were striving to safeguard the holy soil of Hellas from the attack of the Macedonians.

    Ancient Macedonians did not consider themselves to be Greeks,nore were they so considered by the ancient Hellens.

    Now lets get to more recent history.
    Greek PM boasts in”New York Times”in 1903″Greece helps Turkey to suffocate the Ilinden Uprising”
    On September 3,1903 in the “New York Times”archives the Greek PM using insolent rhetoric to boast about how Greece helped Turkey suffocate the Ilinden Uprising.”The response is simple,he said.Before us we have a pack of wolves which attacked Macedonia to destroy them not only will we join forces with Turkey but we are prepaored to do anything to protect our interests.We are not prepaired to take into consideration those who resist our cooperation with Turkey for commercial reasons,but we will follow the course of our arranged politics”concluded Greek PM Ralis.
    Lets go forward;
    The treaty of Serves which Greece signed earlier on August 10th, 1920.According to conditions of the treaty,under Articles 7,8 and 9,the Greek government was to undertake certain obligations regarding”the protection of the non-Greek national minorities in Greece”These Articles specifically stated free use of languages and education.Initially Greece sought to neglect its obligations,however in March 1925 the League of Nations directed Greece to fulfill its obligations.By May 1925 an elementary school reader was published in the Macedonian language,it was known as the Abecedar.
    This Abecedar was to be used by Macedonian children in Macedonian schools which were yet to open in Aegean Macedonia.
    Strong reaction immediatly came from Serbia and Bulgaria.Bulgaria threatend to go to war over this.
    What occured next is truly a rare example,the Greek representative at the League of Nations Vasilis Dendramis responded by defending the Macedonian language as being”Neither Bulgarian,nor Serbian but an independent language”He listed various linguists and linguistic maps as evidence to support his claim of the independence of the Macedonian language.
    The high ranking Greek official representing the Greek state not only recognised the existance of the Macedonian identity,but openly defended and supported it.
    Ex-premier of Greece Constantinos Nitsotakis in 1995 recognised that the problem with Macedonia was not the name but the Macedonian minority in Greece.”From the moment I first saw it I recognised Skopjes theme in its true dimensions.What made me uneasy from the begining was not the name of this country…the problem for me was how to avoid creating a second minority problem in Western Macedonia.If the problem of the”Slavo-Macedonian”minority in Western Macedonia is added to the Muslim minority,which sadly,with our errors is a dangerous development,the situation will become unsustanable for Greek external politics…”emphasised the former Greek Premier in the introduction of T.Skinalis book”For the name of Macedonia”.The ex-premiers aim was to have Macedonia denounce the Macedonian minority in Greece and to force the Republic of Macedonia to accept international binding agreements that a Macedonian minority in Greece does not exist and to cease all propaganda aimed at Greece.

    But,outside to official Athens,there are some Greek intelectuals who have entirely different views on the name dispute.Athena Skoulariki a sociology professor at the University of Crete,for example says that Greece is tangled in a strategic dead end”In the course of the last 16 years we have lost one battle after another and still have not seriously considered what we are doing wrong.Why is the outside world not supporting the Greek thesis on this issue?Why after so many years of trying has Greece not succeded in convincing the international public?asks professor Skoulariki.According to Skoulariki the Greek arguments are not convincing because it is a fundamental right of all people to freely choose their name.We insist that our neighbor has no right to use the name Macedonia,ignoring the fact that during the 19th and 20th century there was a wider region called Macedonia.

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