Earlier this week, UMD sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo with key recommendations regarding U.S. foreign policy interests towards Greece and Macedonia in light of his official visit to both countries on October 5-6, 2019. UMD noted the fact that Secretary Pompeo will be the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Macedonia in nearly two decades, a long overdue visit.
The full letter is below:
Secretary Michael R. Pompeo
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Re: Visit to Greece and Macedonia
Dear Secretary Pompeo,
The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD), as the leading organization representing our nation’s estimated half a million Americans of Macedonian heritage, is pleased that you will become the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Macedonia in nearly twenty years this week. Your official visit should send a positive message to Macedonian citizens that the U.S. will remain forever grateful to Macedonia’s contributions to our missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, and Kosovo, as well as to the security and stability of Southeast Europe.
We are pleased to learn that you will have the opportunity to tour the town of Ohrid – Pearl of the Balkans – home to 365 churches and monasteries, one of the oldest Universities in Europe, and the third oldest lake in the world. You will truly enjoy one of Macedonia’s most important medival monuments – the Holy Mary Perybleptos Macedonian Othodox Cathedral – a beneficiary of U.S. grant funds for restoration.
The first official visit of a U.S. Secretary of State in nearly twenty years comes in the midst of a very important period for Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, as the U.S. Senate inches closer to ratifying Macedonia’s NATO Accession Protocols.
Since our organization’s founding in 2004, UMD has been dedicated to advancing Macedonia’s strategic goal of joining NATO and becoming a member of the European Union. Although, UMD has stood firmly in support of Macedonia joining both, we opposed the Greek demands for changing our country’s name and identity as a precondition for membership. After caving in to foreign pressure for identity change, Macedonia’s government agreed to Greek demands for changing our rightful name through the Prespa Agreement.
The Prespa Agreement is the first document of its kind to effectively discontinue an entire ethnic group’s cultural and historic affiliations, and replace them with a newly imposed, Greek-mandated concept of identity that does not reflect the ethnic character of Macedonians. The agreement also contains provisions that allow Greek officials to control the information contained in textbooks and maps intended for Macedonian school children inside Macedonia. Ultimately, the Prespa agreement is the culmination of a long, undemocratic, and pointed effort to bully a powerless neighboring state into total and complete submission.
In addition to Macedonia, you will visit Greece later in the week. We believe that your presence in the Balkans can contribute to addressing concerns related to foreign interference in Macedonian politics, undemocratic governance and religious freedom issues in Greece, and the rule of law in Macedonia.
Foreign Interference in Macedonia
Despite the fact that Macedonia, as a reliable ally to the U.S., will take its well-deserved place as 30th NATO member, completing the accession process came at a steep price for the country. Two NATO members, Greece and Bulgaria, have been abusing their veto privilege at the expense of Macedonia for years. Decades of bullying and aggressive foreign policy by Greece finally resulted in signing the Prespa Agreement, an agreement with which Macedonians signed off on their identity, national heritage and culture. In return for a green light to NATO accession from Athens, Macedonia promised not to seek fair treatment of the sizeable Macedonian minority in Greece and promised to conform to Greek demands for amending history.
Similar pressures from Bulgaria resulted in Macedonian authorities submitting to Bulgarian demands for a rewrite of history in accordance with Sofia’s desires. In order to appease Bulgarian nationalistic aspirations, the Macedonian government agreed to absurd demands, such as amending Macedonian history books and sending them for a final approval in Bulgaria before officially using them as school textbooks. This interference in the internal affairs of Macedonia is an unprecedented development among NATO members.
The imposition of foreign goals upon Macedonia by stronger neighboring states, and the process by which the Greek-Macedonian and Bulgarian-Macedonian agreements were reached, does not reflect a free and democratic environment. We are concerned that such rogue activities undertaken by Macedonia’s neighbors go against NATO principles of cooperation and respect for democratic norms. UMD hopes that you will urge Greek and Bulgarian authorities to refrain from future meddling in the internal affairs of their new NATO ally – Macedonia.
Problems with Democracy in Greece
While in Athens, UMD wholeheartedly believes that this stop will be a wonderful opportunity for you to bring up Greece’s longtime undemocratic governance with your Greek counterpart. While Greece is a member of both the EU and NATO, multiple international organizations, including the United Nations, have noted serious violations of basic human rights in the country.
For example, a 2008 United Nations report details the continual efforts by Greek officials and policymakers to vehemently suppress the right of ethnic Macedonians to express their cultural identity freely, including the right to speak their native tongue. Greece officially recognizes only one minority, the Muslims, which prevents numerous ethnic groups in Greece from expressing their identity. Ethnic groups in Greece are not allowed to form free associations, and many ethnic minority members face suppression of their basic human rights.
In addition to discrimination, human rights violations, and state aggression against ethnic groups, successive Greek governments have restricted freedom of religion, which you have championed since becoming Secretary of State. The Greek government functions inseparably from the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek institutions continue to reject attempts by numerous religious groups to officially register as a religion, including the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Greece. In fact, the U.S. Department of State’s 2018 Greece Report on International Religious Freedom clearly outlines a plethora of religious freedom violations resulting from intentional Greek policy of suppression of religious rights. UMD has written extensively on Greek undemocratic policies, and we have urged U.S. politicians to apply pressure on their Greek colleagues to fully respect and abide by democratic principles.
Given the considerable importance of Greece for the United States, UMD hopes that you will apply pressure on Greek officials in regards to matters related to undemocratic governance in the country. Stable and long-lasting partnerships among NATO allies will only be possible if members are themselves governed by the democratic norms and principles they seek to collectively protect.
Rule of Law in Macedonia
Finally, UMD hopes that you will raise the importance of rule of law in Macedonia. NATO’s central mission is to guard the rule of law, personal liberties, and democracy. Even though Macedonia, as an aspiring NATO member, has been striving to improve its own democratic governance for years, recent developments in Macedonia indicate serious issues with corruption and the free functioning of the judicial system.
A recent corruption scandal that involves people close to the top of the governmental leadership, and the special prosecutor herself, raise questions about Macedonian officials’ dedication to strengthening Macedonia’s rule of law. If the very people who stand to lead the battle against corruption partake in it, there can be little hope that the NATO alliance can maintain its reputation as a guardian of the rule of law.
Furthermore, recent allegations of government interference with judicial decisions further compromise the independence of the judiciary and Macedonia’s commitment to a just legal system. UMD is convinced that your calling for transparency will compel Macedonian officials to open up investigations into these serious allegations. Only by guaranteeing the free and just functioning of the law can Macedonia contribute to NATO’s mission of upholding the rule of law as one of its foremost goals.
UMD hopes that you will enjoy your time in Macedonia and that your meetings will result in a renewed commitment to justice, peace, and democracy, and improvement of America’s image abroad.
If the U.S. Department of State, or you personally, need any further assistance regarding U.S. foreign policy towards Southeast Europe and improving relations with the region, please feel free to reach out to us.
Yours very truly,
Metodija A. Koloski