By Aleksandar Mitreski, UMD Co-Founder, Council Chair, and Vice President
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday. He emphasized that under his leadership, Macedonia remains committed to a rules-based international system, respect for human rights, action against climate change and combating terrorism.
Zaev noted that in a world filled with complex problems, effective multilateralism and respect for international norms is the best way forward. Ironically, he pointed to his work on the Prespa Agreement as exemplifying ideal international crisis resolution. His statement needs a reality check. The treasonous Prespa Agreement directly contradicts the most basic human rights provisions established by the very same UN General Assembly where he spoke. Here is a quick rundown of where Zaev’s speech and the Prespa references stray from the truth.
In a self-congratulatory manner, Zaev called the agreement a milestone that should serve as a template for solving future crises. He stated that thanks to the Prespa process, Macedonia has finally completed its identification card at the United Nations. Wow. First off, Macedonia has been a member of UN since 1993. Second of all, the Prespa Agreement was de facto strong-arming Macedonia’s human rights of self-determination under a blackmail threat from Greece. It is difficult to imagine an independent nation willingly signing off on its identity and sovereign control over national matters like Zaev’s government did.
Speaking about his commitment to respect and honor the international norms that the UN has set forth, Zaev offered the Prespa Agreement as a perfect illustration of disputing countries adhering to UN norms. Surely, he must have skipped the parts of the agreement that effectively preclude Macedonia from demanding fair treatment of the Macedonian minority in Greece. The Greek government has continuously violated basic human rights against ethnic Macedonians in Greece by preventing them from self-identification, from freely registering citizen associations, and from enjoying religious freedoms. All of these violations directly counter UN commitments for human rights. By promoting an agreement that cedes future action against such violations, Zaev has actually worked to undermine Macedonian and UN values, not to promote them.
The agreement, according to Zaev, was reached and implemented in a transparent and fully democratic way. This statement is hypocritical, given his refusal to honor the results of the failed name referendum (a year ago this Monday, September 30th) where there was a historically low turnout of 36.6% of eligible voters. Despite the census failing to reach the legally established threshold for validity, Zaev’s party nevertheless proceeded with its implementation against the will of the Macedonian people. Even to the mildly critical eye, ignoring the public will would seem rather anti-democratic.
Zaev further claimed that the Prespa process would establish a new era of friendship and partnership between Macedonia and its neighbors. Yet, a quick breeze through the agreement’s provisions shows that Greece will assert control over the naming of Macedonian institutions, the usage of the national Kutlesh flag, the categorization of the Macedonian language, and the content of school textbooks. A friendship based on such paternalistic control of one side over the other constitutes a gross violation of Westphalian sovereignty principles, as well as UN sovereignty guidelines. Friendship between independent nations presupposes mutual trust and respect, and not infringements into the internal affairs of supposedly friendly countries. It is difficult to find one item that Greece cedes as part of that agreement. Whereas Zaev believes that Prespa will open up a new era of friendship and partnership, it is more likely that the agreement will provide Greece with hegemony over the adjective Macedonian, and as such have long-term negative effect to Macedonia’s economy, history, and culture.
It is also worth noting that Zaev’s speech was perceived very differently compared to former President Ivanov’s speech before the assembly last year. Ivanov’s speech was a culmination and an extension of the “We Are Macedonia” global movement, which held 40 rallies around the world with over 150,000 protesters, and called for a boycott of the failed referendum.
Zaev ignores the real pressing issues for Macedonian citizens such as pollution
In other areas of his speech Zaev reaffirmed his commitment to fight climate change and combat terrorism. These are buzz word nowadays, but he conveniently ignored the fact that Macedonian cities have one of the highest pollution readings, which is a real problem for his citizens, and we have yet to hear proposed plans to combat it. So while people are literally suffocating in smog, Zaev works hard to promote the newly minted adjective “NORTH” to Macedonia’s name. Priorities seem to be relative these days.
Over centuries, many Macedonians have given sacrifices fighting for our sacred Macedonian cause. Macedonia has suffered injustices from external entities such as Macedonia’s division in the Bucharest Treaty in 1913, but also from internal entities such as the current attempts by Zaev to undermine Macedonia’s identity. It will not work, and will be short lived, that I promise you. We will find ways to bring Macedonia back on track.