During a recent visit to traditional ally Serbia, Greek Prime Minister Tsipras stated that bilateral relations between Greece and its neighbors cannot be successful without “mutual respect.” And yet, for twenty-five years, a succession of Greek leaders including Tsipras have maintained an openly hostile relationship with the Republic of Macedonia as a means to suppress the indigenous ethnic Macedonian community in Aegean Macedonia, northern Greece.
Immediately upon the Republic of Macedonia’s independence, Greece imposed an illegal trade embargo during a period when sanctions against Serbia (then still known as Yugoslavia) had also cut off trade to the north. Greece also immediately blocked Macedonia’s entry into the United Nations, in a sincere attempt to provoke a civil war. Via the Interim Accord, Greece made a number of unprecedented and onerous demands on a state struggling to survive, including a re-designed national flag, a ridiculous “name negotiation” process, and, perhaps most importantly, changes to the Macedonian constitution, which erase any mention of ethnic Macedonian communities in neighboring countries. In exchange, all Greece was asked to do was cease and desist from a trade embargo that was already illegal, and quit blocking Macedonia’s entry into other international bodies, such as NATO and the EU. But, Greece did exactly that by blocking NATO entry at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 after Macedonia had met all requirements for NATO membership, and even participated in dangerous NATO missions. Greece also ignored an International Court of Justice order to cease its illegal behavior in 2011, based on the ancient doctrine of “might is right.”
All of these acts of “respect” from Athens are predicated on the Greek myth that Greece is a “98% ethnically pure” state, a fitting mantra for a country that has violent neo-Nazis as the third largest party in its parliament. Greece has repeatedly ignored numerous rulings from the European Court of Human Rights and scathing reports from the United Nations about its mistreatment of minorities. In the case of religious minorities, places of worship are outlawed. In the case of the Turkish minority in Thrace, they are “denationalized” and referred to as a Muslim minority, not Turkish. And in the case of Macedonians, the ethnicity is denied entirely, as is the language and culture.
In order to maintain this domestic charade, Greek foreign policy lashed out at the emergent Republic of Macedonia as soon it had peacefully liberated itself from the domination of Belgrade, all the while using counterfeit claims of “irredentism” as rationale for their hostility. In fact, Macedonia is unique in the Balkans for having clearly demarcated and undisputed borders with all of five of its neighbors, a claim that Greece itself cannot make. Greek government aggression toward Macedonia is actually intensifying under a SYRIZA government with a close relationship to the Independent Greeks (ANEL), thereby making Tsipras’ appeals for “mutual respect” equally as counterfeit as their claims of Macedonian irredentism.
One hundred thirty-five countries worldwide, including four permanent members of the Security Council of the UN, have recognized the Macedonian identity, language and culture, including many of Greece’s EU partners.
It is up to Prime Minister Tsipras or someone more suited to the task to assist Greece to fully mature as a 21st century society, and immediately retreat from their unrestrained war against the Macedonian people, both those who are abused and mistreated as a second-class citizens in Greece, and those who inhabit the peaceful, independent republic on Greece’s northern border. Euro-Atlantic foreign policy in Southeast Europe has been hijacked by neo-Hellenic extremism, irrespective of who is in power in Greece, for far too long.