The United Macedonian Diaspora sent a letter on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, in light of her meeting with the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Dora Bakoyannis, whose government blatantly denies the existence of a Macedonian national minority within Greece’s borders.
March 21, 2007
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House
235 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congresswoman Pelosi:
First, allow me to congratulate you on becoming the first woman in U.S. history as Speaker of the House. I value your leadership.
I understand that you will have the opportunity to meet with the Greek Foreign Minister, Ms. Dora Bakoyannis tomorrow. According to the news in Athens, her meetings with U.S. policy makers will focus, among other things, on the ongoing and absurd name dispute over my ancestral homeland, the Republic of Macedonia. I would like to bring to your attention some concerns regarding Greece’s treatment of minorities and its relations with its neighboring country of Macedonia.
In 1992, the Greek government, in a fit of xenophobia and fear demanded that newly independent Macedonia find an alternative name and national symbols, as Macedonia can “only” belong to Greece. Macedonia originally refused, resulting in a devastating economic embargo that only ended in 1995 when Macedonian authorities, under clear duress, were forced into signing an unfair and imbalanced Interim Accord with Athens. This agreement is unique, as it is the first instance in history where one state is actively denying another state’s sovereign right to name itself, in direct defiance of the UN Charter and its guarantees of national self-determination. Ironically, Athens demands that negotiations on Macedonia’s name continue under the same UN auspices, which it violated in 1995.
Despite the agreement, over 120 countries worldwide, including the United States, Russia, China, India, the United Kingdom, Poland, Turkey, as well as Macedonia’s immediate neighbors, Bulgaria and Serbia, all recognize Macedonia as the Republic of Macedonia. To date, the only state with any objection to Macedonia’s use of its constitutional and historic name is Greece.
Upon US recognition, the Greek government began a serious and threatening diplomatic offensive against Macedonia. It is no secret that the Greek government intends to block Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, especially NATO membership, if it does not remove “Macedonia” from its name.
What the Greek government fails to recognize is its attitude towards its sizable Macedonian minority. A verifiable and well-documented genocide of Macedonians in Greece occurred after the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), following the Greek-Turkish war (1921-1923) and during the Greek Civil War (1946-1949).
In a recent interview, the Greek Foreign Minister stated the following:
“I am proud of the capacity of Greek democracy. All citizens of Greece have equal rights. I am sure that you already know that in Greece there is only one minority in Western Thrace and those are the Muslims. There is no such thing as ‘a Macedonian minority.’ Whenever some political formation has sprung out under the title of “minority” it has never managed to gain popular support.” However, the Minister failed to mention that recently the European Court in Strasbourg found Greece in violation of the rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece.
Today, Macedonians in Greece are banned from speaking their language in public, cannot sing to their traditional folk songs, have had their names transliterated into Greek, and have even had cemetery headstones in the Macedonian Cyrillic script replaced with Greek ones (the names were transliterated). In addition, Macedonian visitors to Greece are forced to accept bumper stickers on their cars declaring, “Macedonia is Greek.” Refugees from the genocide of the 20th century who list in their passports the Macedonian (and not Greek) name of their birthplace are declared persona non grata. For many, this is not an issue of nationalism, but simple failure to know the Greek names instituted for their hometowns after the Greek occupation. All of this discrimination is happening in the cradle of Democracy.
The dilemma of how to end state sponsored discrimination against minorities in Greece is again being revisited by the international community through criticism from the State Department, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups, but the primary focus still fails to connect the Macedonia name issue to the problem of Greek state sponsored discrimination. Bipartisan support underscoring the need to end oppression against minorities by the Greek government is strongly urged. Any talks relating to the Macedonia name issue must incorporate, and focus on, the discrimination of the Macedonian minority in Greece, as well. At the end of the day, a country’s official name generally poses very little harm to ordinary people, but the harm posed by turning a blind eye to bigotry, prejudice, and fanaticism allows discrimination to thrive.
It is not my intent to drag ethnic Balkan politics into the United States Congress. However, I cannot idly sit by while my ancestral homeland and my people are slandered by a state which refuses to acknowledge the existence of any ethnic minorities on its territory, and which uses its history, ties to the West, and powerful Diaspora as a smokescreen for non-violent genocide.
I trust you will take my considerations to heart in light of your meeting with Ms. Bakoyannis.I look forward to your response.
Metodija A. Koloski, President