Skopje Touts Ethnicity

Fyrom's Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Bocevski speaks exclusively to the Athens News a day after his appointment about the name dispute vith Greece

By John Psaropoulos
in Struga, Fyrom

Let's be frank and honest. The very name Macedonia is the backbone of the Macedonian identity and ethnicity. We cannot define our culture, tradition, religion [as] other than Macedonian. So in that essence the very name Macedonia is central to the issue and to the identity of the Macedonians as such.

Deputy Prime Minister
Ivica Bocevsky

See Also: Fyrom's Missed Opportunity
Editorial by John Psaropoulos

Of course the redlines drawn by the Republic of Macedonia are connected with our name, our ethnicity, our identity and everything connected with this notion.

Does that mean that you are shifting the emphasis from the name issue, which has been the subject of talks for the last 17 years, to the ethnicity issue? Is that what you want Greece to accept?

Well actually it is not something that can be accepted ­ the ethnicity in the civilised world. Ethnicity in democratic nations isn't something you ask your interlocutors about. It's not something you judge, evaluate, it's not something you confront. It's not something you can negate. It's there. It's present. All you can really do is acknowledge it and respect it. So this is the very essence of the Macedonian identity as such.

We had a very troubled 20th century as Macedonians. We were confronted with a lot of threats coming from throughout the region, throughout the century, and unfortunately our century is starting with one of these threats.

If Macedonian ethnicity is not something anyone can dispute, why raise it with Greece?

Well, why do we have the name issue as such since 1990 if it wasn't for ethnicity?

But the name issue is the one you and the Greeks have accepted you must mutually agree upon. If the ethnicity issue is something you don't feel you need to run by the Greeks ­ and the Greeks have never raised an ethnicity issue either ­ then why introduce it now?

Well it's a multifaceted issue with many layers, the name issue. The dispute between Macedonia and Greece has a lot of facets, has a lot of deep layers within it. So let's peel the onion and see the deeper layers of the name dispute that we have.

Lots of proposals have been put on the table. Nova Macedonia, Slavo-Macedonia, Northern Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Macedonia. Why is it difficult, now that the Greeks after 17 years are willing to discuss a composite name containing the M-word, for your side to agree on one of the composites?

Sometimes we are forgetting about the longevity of this problem, and sometimes presenting things as a very big concession. But let's not forget in the beginning of the 1990s when Yugoslavia was dissolving, the Badinter Commission decided that only Macedonia and Slovenia were fulfilling all the standards necessary for the EU to recognise their nations. Because of the Greek legation our country was not recognised. Afterwards we were admitted under a reference in the United Nations. Afterwards came a totally irresponsible and non-understandable embargo towards our nation ­ at the very time when Macedonia and Greece were confronted with an international economic embargo towards the Milosevic regime. Then came the Interim Accord, when Macedonia made deep concessions in order to overcome the dispute and afterwards came [the Greek veto to Fyrom's Nato membership in] Bucharest. So speaking about the side which is willing to make concessions, you have this thing on one side and you have the behaviour of your country on the other side.. I think you can easily measure which is the side that has made the larger concessions.

The Greeks would argue, isn't this the wrong moment to be intransigent? Isn't this the moment when Greece has finally made a step in your direction?

I don't think the summit in Bucharest was a step in this direction.

No, but the Greek willingness to discuss a name solution that includes the word Macedonia came before Bucharest, and I think that the veto was very well announced. It may be repeated in November at the European Union. Are these prices worth paying?

I have to be very frank and say that there is an ongoing international agreement between Macedonia and Greece, the Interim Accord, and Bucharest was a complete breach of this agreement. It takes two to tango. The Interim Accord clearly defines that the other nation ­ Greece ­ won't block our country's entry into any club. Your country was in direct breach of this agreement. And I don't think anyone forced Mr Karamanlis to put himself where he put himself regarding the name issue.

Do you consider that the Interim Accord is, as a result, dead?

Right now we have one side honouring the accord and the other side choosing what to honour. So there is a clear imbalance. Macedonia as a country made itself clear as maybe the only nation in the region that never ever had any security incident, that never ever confronted or challenged the identity, the ethnicity, the language minority or anything dealing with any nation in the region. Whenever Macedonia was judged upon standards and norms, Macedonia cleared the criteria with flying colours.

The Greeks said they were within their rights to deny you Nato entry because of a continuation of irredentist propaganda on your part. They cited school textbooks in use showing greater Macedonia, including the Greek part.

Macedonia never encouraged any irredentism of any kind, according to all the conventions of the UN, Council of Europe, EU and civilised humanity's basket of basic human rights. You can walk around Macedonia and see that Macedonia is honouring the ethnic rights of all of its minorities, and is nurturing all the identities living under the roof called Macedonia ­ Turks, Albanians and others.

Some say you put a strain on US friendship by insisting on the purity of your public name.

It's not a quarrel we began in the first place. It's a situation we were brought into. Even though there was a Republic of Macedonia as a federal unit of the former Yugoslavia existing for the past 50 years, suddenly it became a problem for reasons we are still not able to comprehend. And if the Macedonian ethnicity and identity are not the problem, then I don't see what is composing the issue given that there are similar situations with similar territory divided among several European countries; but no-one is claiming, disputing or challenging anyone's right to use a name, which is the very essence of one's identity.

From the Greek point of view, this is largely a cultural dispute. Wouldn't it be easier to reach a political settlement if one weren't claiming an ancient past about which Greeks are so sentimental?

I don't think you should underestimate the sentimentality of the Macedonians about their history... Although there is an extended hand on this side, it is not matched by any commitment on the other side.

If there's an extended hand, what's the next step for you?

We should open up dialogue... however, we said that there are certain redlines. And the redline is the identity issue.

If you were to enter direct talks with the Greeks, would that be the chief issue, rather than the name?

We don't have anyone to talk to on the other side right now.

(Posting Date 9 September 2008)

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