Macedonia: Should Albanians support or use the new name?

James Pettifer

After so many years of difficulties with Greece, most Macedonians and friends of Macedonia might be thought to be glad of the new proposed name. Yet the announcement of ‘North Macedonia’ this week has produced outrage and anger in many different places and on both sides of the border. It is not hard to see why.
The Zaev government relies on Albanian support to survive. Albanians have been suffering human rights difficulties in Macedonia for many years, and the Ohrid Accords that emerged from the military conflict in 2001 have in many cases never been enforced, even though the DUI party was in government for many years after that date. The DUI party needs to consider its own record in this sphere, rather than blaming everyone else in the country for the weaknesses in the Albanians position. A key reason for this was the lack of support for change among the foreign diplomatic community who once the threat of violence receded after 2001 lost interest in the fate of the Albanians. Yet now the same foreign factors in the country are asking for the Albanians to support the new name and to join Zaev in a possible referendum campaign later in the year. Should the community do this?
The answer must be a decisive ‘No’. Constitutional development can always occur, as it has over hundreds of years in the United States, but in a considered, and consensual way and where the fundamental identity of the country is not threatened. As President Ivanov has rightly pointed out, the issue is constitutional and Zaev and his foreign-influenced collaborators have no legal mandate at all to change it on the signature of a single man. This only opens the way for the end of the rule of law and Ivanov’s position should be strongly supported not only by all Macedonians from whatever background but also by foreigners who really are friends of Macedonia – rather than the foreign-financed ‘enemy within’ – who do not wish to see the country survive and prosper in its present form and with its current borders. Albanians limited progress since 1991 has entirely depended on the rule of law in a secure and internationally guaranteed state framework. . NATO and the EU are trying to undermine it to get this ‘deal’ agreed to and that is not in the Albanians interest. The actual name chosen is also quite insensitive to legitimate Albanian concerns. It would trap many nationalist Albanians in an identity they may not wish to have, and make future debate about improving things more difficult.
The ‘deal’ is not simply about the name, important as that is. Greece and Serbia are working together to isolate the Albanians in the Balkans. Anyone who does not believe this should go to Preshevo, where the new Serbian- Greek motorway section of the ‘Road of Friendship’ specifically isolates Preshevo – and Kosova- to bring Belgrade and Nis back into an Athens-Belgrade axis. There are also rumours from good sources –although I cannot substantiate them – of a British-Greek plan for an oil and gas pipeline to Serbia along the same route. Zaev’s own political base of Strumica is on one of the sketch routes and explains what for even those of us who have studied and known the region for many years the apparently quite irrational ( weird?) support for him among the international community.
What of the argument that the USA as the protector of the Albanians supports the new name? Well times are changing. First, not all official America does agree, as a glance at Twitter or Facebook will show. It is not even clear if official diplomatic America was responsible for the already notorious content of the 20 page ‘agreement’ which seems to have been written by an unknown junior operative in a think tank not widely known for Balkans expertise. There was substantial Greek input into the final draft of the document. Secondly, although the US is vital for Albanian security in the Balkans generally, policies are changing and it would be tragic of the Albanians to remain tied to the Blair-Clinton world when its assumptions are long gone. Macedonia has had a long record of productive relations with NATO, particularly during the Kosova war, over refugee issues, and has supplied soldiers to US-led coalitions since. Forcing the country into NATO but causing regional destabilisation in the process is not a good idea for the Albanians as a people centrally dependent on the US and NATO for their security.
A possible approach would be for the Albanians to soon withdraw from the governing coalition, and let Zaev govern in his own right, by finding cross party consensus on an issue by issue basis. That will avoid Albanian complicity in this potentially disastrous process. If there is a referendum on the new name or constitution, Albanians should all campaign to vote a firm ‘no’. The constitution and the rule of law need to be defended, against what in the background are Greek attempts to extend hegemony over all Macedonia in a joint Greek-Serbian axis. The American mixture of threats and ‘carrots’ needs to be firmly rejected, as destabilising and badly judged but in an atmosphere of a disagreement between friends and where it needs to be pointed out that as a major outside power the US needs to keep all Macedonians on board, rather than mortgage its entire credibility on a bizarre, ill-thought out name change that can only result in wider regional instability. From Washington’s point of view there is an understandable desire to keep hegemony over Macedonia but this must not be at the cost of democracy, the Zaev government will not be eternal and if the Albanians mortgage all their hopes on one Skopje government, they are very unwise indeed. One Ukraine is enough.