FEATURE ARTICLE: Influencing Australian Foreign Policy on Macedonia

by Ordan Andreevski

Why hasn’t the Australian Government or opposition recognised the Republic of Macedonia under its Constitutional name? Why should it and what can the Australian Macedonian community do about it?

The Australian Macedonian community has many unmet social and political needs such as the name issue as a result of historical, political, management, and strategic realities and inaction.  The capacity of ethnic communities to influence Australian foreign policy is dependent on their level of commitment, the degree of unity and the strength of their organisations to plan, organize resources, implement campaigns, provide leadership, raise and build sustainable funding and learn from past experience and best practice.  Size of the community is not the critical issue as can be seen from the Jewish community’s example and its strong influence on Australia’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

Why hasn’t the Australian Government or Opposition recognised the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name?

International Political Factors

  • The UN decision on the interim name FYROM is still in force and negotiations are in theory taking place in New York between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia;
  • The European Union follows the UN Directive to appease Greece;
  • Strong Greek lobbying is continuing on bilateral and multilateral levels (EU, UN, NATO, Australia, USA, etc…);
  • Relatively weak and unfocused lobbying by the Republic of Macedonia and its Diaspora in so far as Australia is concerned;
  • Since independence, the governments of Macedonia have been preoccupied with joining NATO and the EU and has not invested adequate resources in building strong, regular and quality economic, political and cultural relations with Australia and its Diaspora unlike Israel, Armenia, Greece or Cyprus;

Australian Political Factors

  • South Eastern Europe has not been a foreign policy priority or development assistance target for Australia’s governments; Australia’s potential diplomatic contribution to the region has not been debated  in Parliament and Australia does not have a strategy and policy for the region;
  • Most Cabinet Ministers and Australian Members of Parliament would be ignorant of and not engaged with South East European Affairs;
  • The Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and Australian Members of Parliament have not been presented with a compelling case or the return on investment argument as to why they should satisfy the symbolic political needs of Australian Macedonians and risk alienating the Greek lobby; The response to the logical question of What is in it for them needs to be carefully thought through and articulated convincingly.
  • Most political and international relations editors and journalists in Australia are ignorant of issues in South Eastern Europe let alone Macedonian affairs and have not been briefed on priorities and gaps in the Australia-South Eastern Europe relationship;
  • Change of policy on the Macedonian name issue has not been a high priority for the Howard Government and the Opposition nor has it been a burning issue for the Australian Macedonian community;
  • Strong lobbying by Greece and its Diaspora in Australia continues especially by its political and business class which has infiltrated and influenced mainstream institutions and the Offices of the Prime Minister and those of State Premiers, Cabinets and Members of Parliament;
  • Relatively weak and uncoordinated lobbying by the under-resourced Embassy of Macedonia and the Australian Macedonian community;
  • The Australian Macedonian community have been seen as loyal Australian Labor Party (ALP) voters by the Liberals hence little incentive to appease them;
  • The Australian Macedonian community has missed unique strategic political opportunities to vote for Macedonian candidates endorsed by the Liberal Party at State and Federal elections;
  • The Australian Macedonian community has been taken for granted by the ALP with little effort needed to appease them even with symbolic concessions like recognizing Macedonia by its constitutional name ;
  • The Australian Macedonian community has been powerless in Australia without any elected Members of Parliament at State and Federal level; furthermore the community has not leveraged its political strength effectively in the past decade; It has not been a swinging electorate and appears to lack political sophistication or strategy for gaining power and influence in Australia.
  • The Australian Macedonian community has since the mid 1990’s become disoriented, split and disengaged from Australian politics;
  • The Australian Macedonian community does not have a peak national representative body that can speak as one voice, with authority and legitimacy with Australian politicians, policy makers and the media;
  • The public row in Australian courtrooms between Archbishop Petar and certain Australian Macedonian Orthodox Church Councils did not help the Macedonian cause, reputation, image or help preserve scare financial resources for community capacity building and advocacy and the issue needs to be resolved urgently.
  • The quality and independence of some Australian Macedonians engaged in local, state and federal political activity is an issue of concern given that some have been only too willing to be foot soldiers for MPs and have had a counterproductive impact on the Macedonian cause;
  • The best and brightest second generation Australian Macedonian young leaders, professionals, entrepreneurs and intellectuals have not been attracted and retained in large numbers in community development initiatives, in leadership roles in organisations or in political campaigns.

Why should the Australian Government or Opposition recognise the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name?

  • The people of Macedonia have the exclusive right to determine their name and identity and have voted in referendums to adopt the constitutional name which all other states in the UN should respect;
  • So far 120 sovereign states have recognized the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name including USA, China, Russia, India, Turkey, UK, and others because it is the right thing to do from an ethical, social justice and strategic perspective, hence its time for Australia to follow suit;
  • The term ‘Former Yugoslav’ is no longer logical as Yugoslavia no longer exists as a state but the Republic of Macedonia does;
  • The term ‘Former Yugoslav’ is insulting and goes against the wishes of the Macedonian people for self determination;
  • The Republic of Macedonia has been a factor of peace, stability, democracy, humanitarian assistance and regional integration in South Eastern Europe and needs to be recognized for its efforts by Australia;
  • The Republic of Macedonia like Australia has been supporting the War on Terror with troops still in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • The Republic of Macedonia has embraced European values and integration into the EU and the NATO alliance.  It has made systemic reforms as a result of which it now has a Candidate Status in the EU;
  • The Government of Macedonia is actively trying to develop closer economic relations with Australia as seen by recent advertisements in The Australian newspaper  by Invest-in-Macedonia;
  • The Australian Government should live up to its proclaimed values by standing on the side of justice and not bow to the pressure from Greek politicians and its Diaspora;
  • Greece is the largest foreign investor in the Republic of Macedonia;
  • The Australian Macedonian community expects a fair and proper response from the Australian Government and the opposition.
  • The Australian Macedonian community has a genuine interest, desire and intent to build closer political, economic and cultural relationships between Australia and Macedonia and will work in partnership with stakeholders in developing and implementing a Strategic Plan to that effect.

In an election year, the attention of busy Australian politicians and their policy advisors will be focused on burning issues relevant to their party’s survival, the national interest and more importantly to retaining power or winning office.  The low priority Macedonian name issue is not on the radar screens of the Federal Government and the opposition and will be competing with other more pressing issues and campaigns launched by influential, professional and well funded sources.  How to get on the radar screen and persuade Australian politicians to devote scare time and accept the Macedonian Constitutional name proposal will be a major challenge for any Campaign Committee.  

Factors that may trigger a shift in policy on the name issue in Australia

  • Change of policy at the UN, EU and Greece in favor of Macedonia;
  • Development and implementation of a Strategic Plan for Building closer Political, Economic and Cultural Relations between Australia and Macedonia  which may involve setting up an Australia-Macedonia Institute or Foundation or an Australia-South Eastern Europe Institute.
  • Launch of a campaign titled  It is time to Recognise Macedonia’s Constitutional Name designed to influence the Australian Prime Minister and his Cabinet as well as Federal MPs, the opposition and foreign policy community, editors and journalists; 
  • Media pressure targeting the above political actors using op-ed pieces, articles, letters, reports etc to build a case for a change of policy on the name issue;
  • Sending Australian journalist on a fact finding mission to Macedonia;
  • Australian Macedonian candidates standing as independents;
  • Australian Macedonians joining the ALP, the Liberal Party etc. and seeking endorsement and opportunities for advancing the Australia Macedonia relationship;
  • Series of high level meetings with Government and opposition leaders;
  • Political donations to the Liberal Party and the ALP and continue to lobby for pressing Macedonian community issues;
  • Issuing How to Vote Cards in the lead up to the Federal Election based on the candidates and their party’s policy on the name issue.
  • Development and Implementation of a Strategic Plan for Uniting, Empowering and Integrating the Australian Macedonian community with mainstream Australian institutions, the Republic of Macedonia and the global Macedonian Diaspora and with other partners and friends.

The Australian Macedonian community can use strategic public affairs management to advance its interests in Australia and globally.  Vision can be translated into reality with clear thinking, action and partnership with dedicated and competent leaders and stakeholders.  A bit of national pride and readiness to invest in our future also helps.

The Australian Macedonian community will need to get its house in order before it can make an impact on Australian foreign policy.  Addressing the problems and opportunities identified in this article will be a precondition for success. 

Ordan Andreevski is a PhD Candidate in Management at the University of Melbourne and a member of the United Macedonian Diaspora. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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Views expressed on this page are not necessarily those of the United Macedonian Diaspora nor does their publishing on this website imply support from the United Macedonian Diaspora. 

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