MORE BALKAN ETHNIC CONFLICTS?

With the beginning of the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, south-eastern Europe has re-emerged as the ‘powder-keg’ of Europe. Despite large-scale dislocation and death, the region continues to be threatened by extremist politics, ethnocentric movements that demand the re-drawing of borders of ‘lost’ territories. The coalition government in FYROM, led by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, financed and actively supported by a small vocal number of individuals and organisations in Australia, is one of these groups.

 

     In essence, the issue revolves around control of the strategic region of Macedonia. For Greeks, Macedonia has formed their northern frontier province for the last 4,000 years. Today it is the largest and most populous region of Greece, and incorporates the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, including Pella (the birthplace of Alexander the Great) and Vergina (a world heritage site as the burial place of the Macedonian kings). Academics agree that the Ancient Macedonians were (as they are today), a Greek people. This view is supported by the archaeological and literary evidence found in the region.

 

     The government in FYROM is worked-up for its state to be recognised by the international community as the “Republic of Macedonia”. While on the surface appearing to be a dispute over a historic name, FYROM’s claims mask aspirations to territory and resources in Greece and other neighbouring states. When the Communist Government of Yugoslavia decided to change the name of its southern province in 1944 from ‘Vardar Banovina’ to the ‘Socialist Republic of Macedonia’, it did so for two reasons: to justify its claims to northern Greece, and to dispel the long held claims by Bulgaria over “the region” and its people as ethnic Bulgarians. This communist policy continues to set the framework for the ambitions of the FYROM government today, a policy that continues to destabilise the Balkans more than sixty years later.

   

     Setting history aside, it is very important that the international community (Australia included), understand what they are supporting when they recognise a new state. Supporting self-determination must never be at the expense of the rights of another state. As with the recent ‘declaration of independence’ by Kosovo, subverting the rights of one group to support another only causes greater instability. Providing diplomatic recognition to the southernmost former Yugoslav Republic under the name demanded by FYROM would, constitute just such a case; undermining the rights of the Greek-Macedonians to their language, history, culture and heritage.

 

    As regularly proclaimed on Australian streets during demonstrations by the FYROM community, their long term goal is the creation of a so called “united Macedonia”. This “new” made-up state would incorporate the Greek province of Macedonia, as well as parts of Bulgaria, Albania and Serbia. Without massive population movements and thus potential unrest and conflicts, Greek-Macedonians would constitute a clear majority of the population of the new state, with people from FYROM from the former Yugoslavia being a small minority.

 

     The logical conclusion is that should such an expanded Slavonic-Macedonian state ever be formed, it would be forced to undertake an artificial ethnic re-programming of a scale not seen since World War Two in order to secure its control. As evidenced by the banners displayed at the FYROM rallies around the world (including Melbourne), there would be no room for Greek-Macedonians in this new state.

 

    The instability that such a radical change in international borders and the accompanying massive population movements would cause in the European Union, can only be imagined.

 

    Since 1994, successive Australian governments have encouraged Skopje to find a negotiated solution in its disputes with Athens. The Keating, Howard and Rudd governments have pursued this policy in recognition of the dangers inherent in any move that encourages the expansionist policies of the FYROM government in Skopje, and its Australian expatriates.

 

    All Australians should fully endorse the policy of the Australian and Greek governments in their support for a negotiated solution to the ‘name dispute’. This includes an end to all propaganda that threatens the territorial integrity of the Hellenic Republic and the security of its citizens.

 

    With such support, Greece and FYROM can move towards a solution that encompasses protection of the human rights of Slavs from FYROM and indigenous Greek-Macedonians alike.

have the same human rights to self-identification and self-determination as any other group. FYROM’s claims deny the 2.6 million inhabitants of the Greek province of Macedonia the right to security and, as part of the larger strategy of the annexation of Northern Greece, bring the potential for renewed ethnic disputes in the Balkans.

 

    Within a culturally diverse Australia, respect for national symbols and multiple identities has been a crucial part of the relative social cohesion all Australians enjoy. Political protest is acceptable, not racial intolerance.

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AMAC (Australian Macedonian Advisory Council)