I have long looked at Bulgaria as a successful example for Serbia to follow. The two countries have much in common; speaking closely related Slavic languages and sharing the Christian Orthodox religion, both nations were shaped by the experience of centuries of Ottoman rule. The Ottoman Empire wholly destroyed the medieval Serbian and Bulgarian states, so their modern successors had to be built from scratch as they were carved out of the decaying Empire during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The uncertainties, among the nationalists of both people, as to where their true national borders lay, were part of the reason for the confused strategies for expansion and consequent military catastrophes experienced by both.
Until the 1990s, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Serbia had been luckier in the outcome of its wars. Serbia and Bulgaria were on opposite sides in the Second Balkan War of 1913 and in the First and Second World Wars. Though it would be a gross oversimplification to say that Serbia had been victorious and Bulgaria defeated on the battlefield in these three wars, yet Serbia certainly ended up on the winning and Bulgaria on the losing side in all three of them. Bulgaria then suffered the misery of a Communist regime imposed by the Soviet Union – one of the most brutal in the Soviet bloc – while Serbia enjoyed the comparative liberalism and prosperity of Tito’s independent model of socialism, so that particularly from the 1960s, Serbia appeared to move far ahead of its eastern neighbour. I recall being told in Belgrade how, for visitors from Bulgaria and Romania, Serbia was the West.
For all that, Bulgaria achieved a victory in defeat. Definitely confined within its actual state borders after its final defeat in World War II, further expansionism was no longer an option. Serbia, on the other hand – its political and intellectual classes suffering from the illusion that its borders with its Yugoslav neighbours, by virtue of supposedly being ‘administrative’, were not set in stone – embarked upon a final, catastrophic expansionist adventure in the 1990s. Consequently, the repressive and impoverished Bulgaria of the 1980s joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007, while the relatively prosperous and liberal Serbia of the 1980s became the new Balkan loser and outcast in the twenty-first century. Bulgaria has generally pursued a responsible foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, recognising the independence of Macedonia under its constitutional name of ‘Republic of Macedonia’ in 1992, recognising the independence of Kosovo in 2008, and avoiding anti-Western nationalist outbursts of the kind characteristic of Serbia and Greece. Bulgaria has contributed troops to the allied forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, Bulgaria’s record was not perfect; a trace of its former irredentist ambitions remained in its refusal to recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation or language. This has involved also the refusal to recognise the existence of the ethnic-Macedonian minority in Bulgaria and undemocratic restrictions on the minority’s freedom of expression: the ethnic-Macedonian party ‘OMO “Ilinden” – Pirin’ was ruled unconstitutional by the Bulgarian Constitutional Court in 2000. This, in turn, resulted in the censure of Bulgaria by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the ban was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This caveat aside, the Bulgarian lesson for Serbia appeared clear: keep the country tightly confined within its own legal international borders and shut off all outlets for irredentist activity, and it will evolve into a responsible member of the international community. Unfortunately, membership of the EU, far from acting as a framework in which Bulgaria would continue to evolve harmonious relations with the rest of the Balkan region, has breathed new life into the weakened body of Great Bulgarian chauvinism. In December 2009, despite Bulgaria’s continued defiance of the European Court of Human Right’s refusal to permit the registration of OMO ‘Ilinden’-Pirin, the EU’s Committee of Ministers decided to end the monitoring of the execution of the 2005 ECHR judgement regarding the matter.
That month, Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov of the Citizens for European Development in Bulgaria (GERB) held a joint news conference with his ally Volen Siderov, leader of the fascist party National Union of Attack (‘Ataka’) to announce a referendum on the abolition of Turkish-language news broadcasts on Bulgaria’s BNT1 public television channel, despite the fact that nearly 10% of Bulgaria’s population of nearly eight million is ethnic-Turkish and has a long experience of persecution in Bulgaria, particularly in the Communist era under Todor Zhivkov. Borisov was, however, forced to abandon the plan for a referendum in the face of international and domestic opposition, including from the Bulgarian president and parliamentary opposition.
Image: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov
Now, Great Bulgarian chauvinism has reappeared on the international stage: Bulgaria has abused its EU membership to veto, at a meeting on 11 December of the General Affairs Council of the EU, the setting of a date for the opening of talks with Macedonia on its EU accession – despite the fact that the European Commission and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule recommended that, since Macedonia has met all the necessary criteria, it should be permitted to start accession negotiations. This was the fourth time that the start of accession negotiations with Macedonia has been vetoed – by Greece on each previous occasion.
Whereas in 2009, the then Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov helped to block Borisov’s anti-Turkish referendum, on this occasion, current Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev – GERB’s candidate for the post – has joined Borisov to lead the nationalist assault. The veto was apparently coordinated with Greece – the country that has consistently obstructed Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and with which, back in 1912-1913, Bulgaria joined to dismember the historical region of Macedonia. It is as if Germany and Austria had banded together for nationalistic reasons to block Poland’s or the Czech Republic’s EU accession. Greece (population nearly 11 million) and Bulgaria (population over 7 million) are now openly collaborating against Macedonia (population 2 million) in a manner reminiscent of the collaboration of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman against Bosnia-Hercegovina during the 1990s.
Bulgaria’s new hostility to Macedonia focuses on its attempt to dictate to its smaller neighbour an official version of history that accords with the Bulgarian-nationalist viewpoint – including the way history is taught in schools and the way national anniversaries are celebrated. Thus, Plevneliev had proposed in October that Macedonia and Bulgaria celebrate certain historical anniversaries jointly, in order to stress the supposedly Bulgarian character of Macedonia and the Macedonians. Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov rejected this, responding that Macedonia would only jointly celebrate anniversaries concerning the two states’ contemporary friendship: Europe Day; the date on which Bulgaria recognised Macedonia’s independence; and the date on which the two states established diplomatic relations.
The Bulgarian government is also attempting to curb freedom of expression in Macedonia. It has cited, as a reason for its veto, the production of a film in Macedonia, The Third Half, that highlights Bulgaria’s role in deporting the Macedonian Jews to their deaths in the Holocaust, at a time when the land that is today the Republic of Macedonia was under Bulgarian occupation. According to the website of Yad Vashem:
In February 1943 the Bulgarians signed a pact with Germany, in which they agreed to deport to the east 20,000 Jews from their territories. Since nowhere near 20,000 Jews lived in the newly annexed territories of Macedonia and Thrace combined, the Bulgarian authorities intended to include Jews from Bulgaria itself in the deportations. In March 1943 almost all of the Jews in Bulgarian-occupied Thrace (some 4,000) were arrested and surrendered to the Germans, who then deported them to their deaths at Treblinka. Another group of about 1,200 Thrace Jews was moved to Salonika and then sent to Auschwitz. At the same time, all of the Jews of Macedonia were rounded up by the Bulgarian authorities; all but 165 were deported to Treblinka. Some 200 Macedonian Jews survived the war, along with some 250 Jews from Thrace, who either joined the Partisans or hid with their Christian neighbors. Other Thrace Jews managed to escape to Italian-held territories during 1941–1942.
In his attack on Macedonia over the film The Third Half, Borisov whitewashed the Nazi-allied Bulgarian regime’s role in deporting the Macedonian Jews: ‘If we could save all Jews in the world, we would have, but we couldn’t and saved the 50,000. Other countries couldn’t do much and didn’t do much, maybe one two countries that saved 300-400 people. And Bulgaria deserves to see movies made against Bulgaria? Why? Because of its friendliness, its love, its openness … this is the same as accusing someone that there are thirsty people in Africa.’
Thus, Macedonia’s EU accession has been further obstructed because a film was made in Macedonia highlighting the role of the Bulgarian occupiers in deporting Macedonia’s Jews to their deaths in the Holocaust, and the Bulgarian government wishes to suppress the memory of Bulgaria’s participation in the Holocaust. The EU has enabled Bulgaria to do this, just as it has enabled the resuscitation of Great Bulgarian irredentism vis-a-vis Macedonia. As the film’s director Darko Mitrevski said, ‘To call “Third Half” anti-Bulgarian is analogous to calling “Schindlerˈs List” anti-German. My movie is anti-fascist. The fact there are EU parliamentarians who classify anti-fascism as “hate speech” is a European Parliament problem as well as a problem for the country they represent, not mine.’
The EU this year received the Nobel Peace Prize. It was already undeserved, but in light of the EU’s currently active role in undermining peace and stability in the Balkans, it is definitely time that this award be revoked.
I cannot remember any year of my life being so exciting, in terms of global political developments, as 2011. In a positive way, too: although many of the great events of last year have been far from unambiguous triumphs for human progress and emancipation, they have nevertheless demonstrated that many of the chains that bind humanity are not as immovable as they previously seemed. Though many of the battles remain to be fought and some will be lost, that they are being fought at all is reason for optimism. I haven’t remotely been able to provide adequate comment at this blog, but here is my personal list of the most inspiring events of 2011 – not necessarily in order of importance.
1. The Arab (and Russian !) Spring.
Cynics regret the fall of the Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi regimes, and the likely fall of the Saleh regime, in the belief that these acted as Hobbesian leviathans keeping lids on political Islam. They fail to appreciate that these dictatorships, through preventing the emergence of healthy political pluralism and through opportunistic collaboration with Islamism, acted as the incubators of the very Islamist movements they claimed to keep in check. It is pluralism – more so than democracy – that is ultimately the cure for the evil represented by Islamism. The Arab Spring may end badly in some or all of the countries in question, but hats off to the brave Syrians, Yemenis, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Bahrainis and others who have redeemed the honour of the Arab world through their heroic struggle against tyranny, showing that change is possible. The Arab fighters against tyranny may not win, or they may succumb to a new tyranny, but they are fighting a struggle that needs to be fought. And hats off too to the brave Russians who are raising the banner of freedom in the heart of Europe’s worst police state.
2. International intervention in Libya and Ivory Coast and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi and Laurent Gbagbo.
For all that I supported the US-led intervention to overthrow the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, events have proven it was an intervention too far: carried out without any form of mandate from world opinion or support in the country in question and attempting a too-radical overthrow of the existing order, it brought democratic change and emancipated the Shia majority and Kurdish minority, but only at great human cost and immense damage to the West’s reputation and to the political standing of the Western governments that participated. By contrast, the intervention in Libya was everything the intervention in Iraq was not: carried out in support of a genuine popular uprising and at the request of Libyans themselves, with a genuine international mandate, it brought down a dictatorship without any foreign troops setting foot in the country or losing their lives. There has been some whining among wishy-washy moderates that regime-change was carried out under cover of a UN mandate to prevent massacre, and that consequently Western leaders have made it more difficult to obtain international support for humanitarian intervention in future. Nonsense: even the propaganda catastrophe of Iraq did not prevent the intervention in Libya, so the successful intervention in Libya will be far from discouraging future interventions. In fact, like the Kosova intervention before it, Libya shows how humanitarian intervention can work, as did the international intervention that helped bring about the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, followed by his arrest and deportation to the International Criminal Court where, we hope, more of his fellow tyrants will end up.
3. The rise in the West of protests at the abuses of capitalism.
For much of the past fifteen years or so of my life, I felt I was gradually becoming more right-wing (from an admittedly extreme-left-wing starting-point), to the point where, at the last British general election, I adopted a bi-partisan standpoint vis-a-vis Labour and the Conservatives. I have seen, and continue to see myself, as a centrist rather than a leftist. Well, the events in the UK, the rest of Europe and the US have certainly served as a wake-up call to me, as the mainstream political right and the super-rich – not to put too fine a point on it – are simply taking the piss. Here in the UK, public services are being massacred while those in the corporate and financial sectors pay themselves vast and unearned bonuses, and the authorities turn a blind eye to their blatant tax-evasion. We’re supposed to believe that cutting the incomes of ordinary working- and middle-class people is necessary in the name of deficit-reduction, while cutting taxes for the rich and for corporations is necessary in the name of economic stimulus ! Well, you can’t have it both ways. In the US, the Republicans have gone so far to the right in their support of selfish and irresponsible tax-cuts for the rich that they’ve gone completely off the rails, seriously jeopardising their government’s ability to navigate the economic crisis. With mainstream centre-left leaders like Barack Obama and Ed Miliband failing to show any backbone over this, it is left to grass-roots activist movements to do so. So three cheers for Los Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, 38 Degrees, UK Uncut and all such movements, for doing what our elected representatives are failing to do. I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.
4. The fall of Silvio Berlusconi and popular protests in Greece.
The fall of the corrupt sleazeball is a bittersweet triumph, given that it occurred in the context of the EU’s imposition of brutal austerity programmes across the Eurozone, accompanied by creeping integration that violates both the national sovereignty and democratic will of member states. The cause of deeper EU integration has revealed itself to be a deeply undemocratic, anti-people cause. I have been very critical of the Greek political classes for their criminal regional policies, vis-a-vis Milosevic, Macedonia, etc.; the Greek people, by contrast, in the ferocious fight they are putting up against the EU-imposed austerity measures, have set an example to us all. Let the costs of the economic crisis be born by the bankers and politicians who caused it, not by ordinary people and future generations.
5. The phone-hacking scandal in the UK.
All my life in the UK, I have lived in the belief that the tabloid newspapers and particularly the Murdoch media empire are a great incubus on British politics and society, encouraging everything that is worst in our country: xenophobia, small-mindedness, vulgarity, philistinism, voyeurism and sleaze. So how refreshing and liberating it is, to see them being taken down a peg or two. There is no reason why people’s private lives and feelings should be constantly violated, and intimate personal details splashed all over newspapers, by hack reporters pandering to the worst public instincts; it is time that the UK passed some serious privacy laws, to put an end to the permanent national scandal and embarrassment of our tabloid press. However uninspiring Ed Miliband may be as Labour Party leader, he deserves credit for bravely taking on the Murdoch empire. Let’s hope the Daily Mail goes the way of the News of the World - that would go a long way toward solving our supposed ‘immigration crisis’ !
6. Independence for South Sudan.
What a sad day it is for democracy, when a genocidal dictatorship accomplishes what various flawed democracies seem unable to do, and negotiates the independence from it of an oppressed region. In July, South Sudan formally became an independent state and joined the UN. Congratulations to its people, who have shown that even the most brutal struggle for freedom can have a happy ending ! Meanwhile, Turkey is escalating its terror and repression of its Kurdish population; Serbia continues to block and disrupt Kosova’s independence, with Serb extremists creating chaos in northern Kosova and undermining Serbia’s EU aspirations; and Israel continues to obstruct peace with the Palestinians through its settlement-building programme and Apartheid-style occupation regime in the West Bank – to which its apologists turn a blind eye, while they try to blame the Palestinians for wanting to join the UN and UNESCO ! Shame on the democratic world.
7. Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the International Court of Justice and Palestinian membership of UNESCO.
Were the democratic world to apply liberal and democratic principles fairly and consistently, it would be extremely easy to bring about solutions to the Macedonian-Greek and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, that would respect and safeguard the rights of all four nations in question. Unfortunately, the EU over Greece and Macedonia and the US over Israel and Palestine, far from acting as honest brokers in negotiations to end these conflicts, are simply supporting the hardline nationalist agendas of the stronger sides. They hypocritically talk of ‘negotiated settlements’ while ensuring that pressure is only put on the weaker sides, never on the stronger. When they say they want both sides to negotiate, what they really mean is that they want one side to surrender. The Macedonians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice over what’s in their national interest from EU apparatchiks, just as the Palestinians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice from craven US officials. Do they really want their countries to end up like Bosnia, whose leaders in the 1990s were unwise enough to follow ‘advice’ of this kind ?? So what an inspiring example these nations are setting when they refuse to follow the advice of hypocrites, and pursue justice in a dignified, civilised manner through international institutions. Palestine’s admission to UNESCO in October followed by Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the ICJ in December are two blows struck for democracy and human rights that Western leaders seem unable to uphold.
8. The fall of Dominique Strauss-Khan and the acquittal of Amanda Knox.
At one level, the collapse of the sexual assault case in New York against Dominique Strauss-Khan suggests that even in the US, it may be legal for a rich sexually to assault a hotel maid, provided the maid in question has a personal history that’s marginally less unblemished by sin than that of the Virgin Mary, and has done something satanically evil like telling a lie during her asylum application. As has long been said, in rape cases it’s often the victim rather than the rapist who is on trial. For all that, Nafissatou Diallo’s accusation against Strauss-Khan did succeed in ending the political career of a violent misogynist with a history of attacking women, forcing his resignation as IMF chief and wrecking his French presidential bid. And in encouraging other female victims of sexual assault, at the hands of him and of others, to come forward. Another spectacular victory over misogyny was won in October, when Amanda Knox was acquitted by an Italian court on appeal of murdering her flatmate, having been originally convicted in something resembling a medieval witch-trial. Again, she was convicted not on the basis of the evidence against her, since there wasn’t any, but because she was good looking and sexually active, pursued what was in conservative Italian eyes an unorthodox lifestyle, and did not behave like a tearful female stereotype after her flatmate’s murder. Soon after, an apparently respectable boy-next-door, Vincent Tabak, was convicted of murdering his neighbour, Joanna Yeates. Initially overlooked by police until he incriminated himself, he turned out to have a secret fixation with strangling women. So there you have it.
9. The killing of Osama bin Laden and the arrest of Ratko Mladic.
Justice finally caught up in 2011 with two mass-murderers whose long evasion of justice made them symbols of ‘resistance’ for the worst kind of extremists. Mladic turned out not to be as brave as he had been when he was directing the genocidal massacre of defenceless Bosniak civilians at Srebrenica, and surrendered quietly to the Serbian police. Bin Laden was, by contrast, whacked in Pakistan by US special forces, as was his follower Anwar al-Awlaki by a US drone attack in Yemen later in the year, in both cases prompting much hand-wringing by wishy-washy liberal types of the Yasmin Alibhai-Brown variety, who seem to be under the impression that it’s possible for the US peacefully to arrest terrorists based in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict with those terrorists, as if the latter were pickpockets in New York. They would do well to remember the Allied assassination of Holocaust-architect Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, and of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbour, the following year – we certainly didn’t try to arrest them ! And of course, based on what happened to former Republika Srpska vice-president Biljana Plavsic, an international court might have just sentenced bin Laden to a few years in prison, then let him out early.
10. The referendum defeat for the ‘Alternative Vote’ in the UK.
Not as significant as the above events, but it made me happy anyway.
Happy New Year !
The spoilt teenager is fed up with suffering under his parents’ oppressive rules and restrictions while continuing to eat their food and avoid responsibility for himself. He is thinking of walking out on them to make his own way in the world. If he does, he will find it hard going; he may have to sleep rough and work menial jobs for a while. But in the end, he will grow up to be a man. Let us not forget that, however selfish and irresponsible his behaviour may have been, the real blame lies with the parents who brought him up so badly, pampering him while pushing him into a role that merely pandered to their own fancies. It is they, as much as he, who need to be taken down a peg or two.
‘The people’ in Greece (or anywhere else) should not be idolised, as many idealistic lefties do, as a supposedly noble body that could turn the world into Paradise if only it could overthrow its ruling class. Nor should the Greek people be viewed through racist spectacles, as condemned to economic failure by a supposed inherent fecklessness arising from their national character.* Many ordinary Greeks may have contributed to their country’s economic crisis through tax evasion, or by taking ridiculously early retirement, or by receiving salaries for non-jobs in the bureaucracy. Other ordinary Greeks work hard at honest jobs and pay their taxes. Nations are collections of individuals who do not share a collective guilt. Yet the guilty and innocent alike will suffer the effects of the savage austerity measures being forced upon the nation by the EU. Young Greeks who are only now reaching adulthood and who really are not to blame for the errors of their parents’ generation will suffer in particular.
Responsibility for the crisis lies, of course, with the Greek political and economic elites. But it lies also with the political and economic elites of the EU, which subsidised and indulged their Greek clients. For all that Greece undermined European peace and stability over Milosevic, Macedonia, Kosova and Cyprus; for all that it abused the human rights of its ethnic Turkish and Macedonian minorities; for all that its public discourse was infected with virulent anti-Western sentiment, the EU elites continued to give it a blank cheque. Now, to save their own ill-thought-out Euro project and minimise the losses for their own banks and investors, they are forcing austerity measures on Greece; measures that penalise those who are not responsible for the crisis in order to protect the interests of those who are.
There are, of course, economic arguments both for and against a Greek acceptance of the EU bailout package. Yet the question is not merely an economic one, but concerns issues of democracy, justice and the political shape of the future EU.
In Greece as elsewhere in Europe, spending cuts and austerity measures are undoubtedly necessary, yet it is in the interest of ordinary people to fight them tooth and nail – not in order to torpedo them altogether, but to ensure that as much of the burden as possible is shifted to the richer sections of society, and in the case of Greece to the rest of the EU. Here in the UK, Conservatives tell us that cutting taxes for the rich will stimulate growth, while cutting incomes and benefits for the rest of us is necessary to reduce the deficit – a form of reasoning that does not inspire confidence. In Greece, the austerity measures look set to depress the Greek economy further and severely hurt people’s living standards without actually ending the debt crisis. Essentially, Greeks are being asked to sacrifice their own living standards, not for the sake of their own long-term future wellbeing, but for money that will largely go straight through them to their creditors. My sympathies, therefore, are very much with the ordinary Greeks striking and protesting against the austerity measures; I would prefer them to suffer less, and rich tax-dodgers and European banks and investors to suffer more. If the Greek electorate rejects this bailout deal, they may simply receive a better one. Let them fight for a skinhead’s haircut.
On the other hand, the success of any bailout deal will merely prop up the corrupt, unhealthy relationship of dependency between Greece and the EU that created the mess in the first place. There is therefore some reason for thinking that a complete collapse in European efforts to ‘rescue’ Greece, although painful for all concerned in the short term, might prove beneficial in the long run. It would restore to the Greek nation control over, and responsibility for, its own destiny, and necessitate a much-needed radical restructuring of Greek economic and political life. And its repercussions might likewise force a change in direction for the EU, away from misguided moves toward greater integration at the expense of democracy and accountability, toward a looser and more flexible union; one in which member states have more control over and responsibility for their own respective destinies, and are more responsive to the wishes of their citizens.
Four years ago, I warned that the Hellenic tail must not wag the European dog. The consequences for allowing this to happen turned out to be much more serious than even a strong critic of Greek behaviour such as myself could have imagined. Now, however, I am beginning to wonder if a bit of wagging of the European dog by the Hellenic tail might not be such a bad thing.
* For a true pearl of anti-Greek, anti-Balkan chauvinism, here’s the Daily Mail: ‘Greece has always had a siege mentality. It is very different from the rest of the EU. It was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries before it became an independent country in the early 19th century, and psychologically is as much a part of Turkey and the Middle East as it is of Europe. It has few shared traditions with Western Europe.’
I attended yesterday a reception at Portcullis House, Westminster, hosted by Her Excellency Marija Efremova, Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia, and by the Henry Jackson Society, to celebrate Macedonian Independence Day. Following this happy occasion, I should like to take the opportunity to tackle an old canard, which the nationalist regime in Athens uses to justify its policy of trying to force Macedonia to change its name: the myth that the ancient Macedonians, whose ruler Alexander the Great conquered an empire stretching from Macedonia to India, were ‘Greek’; that the modern Greek state therefore has sole legitimate right to use the name ‘Macedonia’; and that the Republic of Macedonia today therefore has no right to call itself ‘Republic of Macedonia’.
This is a case of writing something for the record, rather than because it should actually make any difference to contemporary debates. As every undergraduate studying Modern History knows, modern national identities cannot be projected back onto ancient peoples. Even if the ancient Macedonians had been ‘Greek’ in the ancient Greek sense, this would not mean that they belonged to the same national category as modern Greeks – any more than the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ population of modern-day Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere is of the same national category as the medieval Angles and Saxons. Still, there is always a certain pleasure in pointing out the baselessness of a nationalist claim, even if the claim itself is meaningless.
The late N.G.L. Hammond, Emeritus Professor of Greek at the University of Bristol, Honorary Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge, and Officer of the Royal Hellenic Order of the Phoenix, was perhaps the Western world’s leading authority on ancient Macedonia, and author of a three-volume history of ancient Macedonia. From early on, he was quite categorical about the nationality of the ancient Macedonians: ‘The Macedonians in general did not consider themselves Greeks, nor were they considered Greeks by their neighbours.’ This conclusion was based on a study of Herodotus, Thucycidides and other ancient Greek writers (N.G.L. Hammond, A History of Greece to 322 BC, 2nd ed., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1967, p. 535).
This conclusion was reaffirmed in the works on ancient Macedonian history he subsequently published. In his ‘History of Macedonia’, he wrote the following:
The Macedonians had no reason and presumably no wish to align themselves with the Greek states either as promoters of Greek culture or as speakers of a common language. Each people had its own culture, and each people was destined to develop on its own lines in accordance with its own genius and its own situation. Hostility between the two was to be expected. A slender bridge between them was represented by the Greek language, spoken as contemporary Doric by the royal house and in the form of an ancient patois by the Macedones, but a means of communication is very far from assuring peaceful relations between two peoples, as we know from our experience of the modern world. (N.G.L. Hammond, A History of Macedonia, vol. 1, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972, p. 441).
In his ‘The Macedonian State: Origins, Institutions and History’, Hammond wrote the following:
We have already inferred from the incident at the Olympic Games c. 500 that the Macedonians themselves, as opposed to their kings, were considered not to be Greeks. Herodotus said this clearly in four words, introducing Amyntas, who was king c. 500, as ‘a Greek ruling over Macedonians’, and Thucydides described the Macedonians and other northern tribes as ‘barbarians’ in the sense of ‘non-Greeks’, despite the fact that they were Greek-speaking. When it came to political controversy, it was naturally good invective to call the king a barbarian too. Thus a Greek speech-writer called the Thessalians ‘Greeks’ and Archelaus, the contemporary Macedonian king, ‘a barbarian’. Demosthenes spoke of Philip II as ‘the barbarian from Pella’. Writing in 346 and eager to win Philip’s approval, Isocrates paid tribute to Philip as a blue-blooded Greek and made it clear at the same time that the Macedonians were not Greeks. Aristotle, born at Stageira on the Macedonian border and the son of a Greek doctor at the Macedonian court, classed the Macedonians and their institution of monarchy as not Greek, as we shall see shortly. It is thus not surprising that the Macedonians considered themselves to be, and were treated by Alexander the Great as being, separate from the Greeks. They were proud to be so. (N.G.L. Hammond, The Macedonian State: Origins, Institutions and History, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989, p. 19).
Other classical scholars support Hammond’s thesis on the non-Greek character of the ancient Macedonia. The late Chester G. Starr, Bentley Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Michigan, has this to say:
The Acarnanians, Aetolians, and other Greeks dwelling in the forests and fertile plains of northwest Greece remained backward tribal peoples. To their east lay the large but weak kingdom of Macedonia. This was not counted as Greek, though its stock was closely related. (Chester G. Starr, ‘A History of the Ancient World’, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 1991, p. 260).
Macedonia was essentially a tribal kingdom, far larger than any Greek state but so loosely organised and beset by even more barbarian neighbours that it had never been important. Its kings had fostered Greek culture at their courts and been accepted as Greek by the officials of the Olympic games; but the peasantry and nobles, though akin to the Greeks, were considered distinct. (Ibid., p. 367).
As the above quotations indicate, a case could be made that, if not the Macedonian people, then the Macedonian kings could be considered to have been Greek, insofar as they claimed Greek descent and promoted Greek culture at their court. Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek History in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge and a biographer of Alexander, mentions that ‘it is noteworthy that only the reigning king of Macedon, and no other Macedonians, was considered sufficiently Greek to be permitted to enter the sacred Olympic Games as a competitor.’ (Paul Cartledge, Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past, MacMillan, London, 2004, p. 33).
Yet to describe Alexander the Great and his father Philip II as ‘Greek kings’, as their respective Wikipedia entries, presumably bombarded by edits from Greek nationalists, rather pointedly do, is somewhat akin to calling the British monarchs since the 1710s ‘German kings and queens’. The late Moses I. Finley, Lecturer in Classics at the University of Cambridge, wrote that, from the point of view of the Greeks, Philip II was ‘a despot and outsider, at best an “honorary Hellene,” whose own motives and interests, it need scarcely be said, were fundamentally not those of the Greeks he was to lead.’ (M.I. Finlay, The Ancient Greeks, Chatto and Windus, London, 1963, p. 83). As for Philip’s son, Alexander the Great, ‘It seems that he relied almost entirely on his own Macedonian generals and soldiers and had little trust in the Greeks, and that he was prepared to make a place for the Persian nobility.’ (ibid., p. 173).
Cartledge goes into some depth about Alexander’s unwillingness to rely on Greek troops, and on the fact that many more Greeks fought for Persia against him than vice versa:
To sum up: the most plausible explanation of the composition of Alexander’s forces, as it seems to me, is that he mistrusted the Greeks’ loyalty, with good reason after all, and that an awful lot more Greeks disliked or feared Alexander’s Macedonian rule than positively favoured or embraced it. This impression seems confirmed by none other than Arrian, retailer of the pro-Alexander Official version of events for the most part. At the Battle of Issus, he reports, there was among Alexander’s troops ‘even a degree of emulous antagonism between members of the Greek and Macedonian peoples’ – that is, between troops who were supposed to be fighting on the same side in a common cause. This was because for many Greeks, the Macedonians too – not just the Persians – were ‘barbarians’. Furthermore, it was Macedon, not the [Persian] Great King, which they thought was the real, or at any rate the more immediately present, danger and enemy. For many Macedonians, conversely, Greeks were members of a recently defeated and so despised people who did not know how to conduct their political and military life sensibly. (Cartledge, Alexander the Great, pp. 94-95).
There remains the question of why certain classical scholars whose own works have shattered the myth that the ancient Macedonians were Greek should have ended up endorsing the Greek-nationalist cause vis-a-vis the Republic of Macedonia, even at the price of eating their own words. As we noted above, Hammond, in his ‘History of Macedonia’, wrote the following of the ancient Greeks and Macedonians:
‘A slender bridge between them was represented by the Greek language, spoken as contemporary Doric by the royal house and in the form of an ancient patois by the Macedones, but a means of communication is very far from assuring peaceful relations between two peoples, as we know from our experience of the modern world.’
Yet in an interview with the Greek-nationalist publication Macedonian Echo in February 1993, he said the following, in response to the suggestion that Demosthenes of Athens viewed the Macedonians as ‘barbarians’:
‘Personally, I believe that it is the common language, which gives one the opportunity to share a common civilization. Thus the language is the main factor that forms a national identity.’
Cartledge devotes a considerable part of his biography of Alexander to discussing the ambiguous nature of Alexander’s relationship with, and identification with, the Greek world, noting:
‘We have already seen that it was a live issue whether Alexander was truly “Greek”.’ (Cartledge, Alexander the Great, p. 15).
Yet five years later, Cartledge added his name to an open letter to President Obama signed by 200 classical scholars in support of the Greek-nationalist stance on Macedonia, which claimed:
‘Alexander the Great was thoroughly and indisputably Greek.’
I am not going to speculate here as to why such scholars might contradict themselves in this way, though I believe it is not difficult to work out. Suffice it to say that I take more seriously what scholars say in their major works, than what they say when making political statements.
PS This is one for Omadeon to consider…
The beautiful and talented singer Rihanna is due to perform on 7 September at the opening of the new luxury Fashion Castle Hotel in the town of Kyrenia in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus. Rihanna is, apparently, a personal friend of 2006 Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza, whose husband Yılmaz Bektaş is the owner of the hotel. The news has prompted the launch of a campaign by Greek Cypriots and others to stop the performance from taking place. Last month, singer Jennifer Lopez was successfully dissuaded from performing in Turkish-occupied Cyprus by a similar campaign, with twenty-three thousand people apparentlly joining a Facebook group in opposition. Lopez initially justified the cancellation of her visit to Northern Cyprus with a statement on her website citing human rights violations, but subsequently removed it and apologised to Turkish Cypriot fans.
One can sympathise with Greek Cypriot campaigners who wish to see an end to the Turkish occupation of their country. Yet there can be no justification for a campaign of this kind. The Turkish Cypriot population, supported by the current Turkish government, voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in 2004 for the reunification of Cyprus on the basis of the UN’s Annan Plan. The Annan Plan was torpedoed by Greek Cypriot nationalist opposition led by the then Cypriot president, Tassos Papadopoulos. Although there were legitimate reasons for Greek Cypriot dissatisfaction with the terms of the plan, its rejection also reflected the fact that significant sections of the Greek Cypriot population favour the status quo in Cyprus. These include holiday resort proprietors who fear the competition from Turkish Cypriot competitors; refugees from the invasion who received property as ‘temporary’ compensation that was superior to what they had owned in the North, and who do not wish to switch back; nationalists opposed to any compromise with the Turks; and many ordinary citizens who resent paying for Turkish Cypriot healthcare and benefits.
In these circumstances, and in view of the fact that a settlement of the Cyprus question has proved elusive for thirty-six years, it is monstrously unfair to keep the North permanently cut off from the outside world. The independence of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ should not be recognised, as that would amount to legitimising Turkish aggression and ethnic cleansing. But nor should the international community provide unequivocal and unconditional support to the Greek Cypriot side, particularly in light of the destructive regional policy that Greece and Cyprus are pursuing vis-a-vis Kosovo and Macedonia. There is no reason still to believe, after thirty-six years, that a settlement of the Cyprus question will come through continuing the embargo on, and isolation of the North. Continued progress towards Turkish EU membership will provide the best incentive for Turkey to reach a settlement.
In the meantime, the people of Northern Cyprus should enjoy Rihanna’s visit.
There are at least two reasons why the last two months have been good for the Balkans.
The first is that what is left of the propaganda edifice constructed by the Serb nationalists during the wars of the 1990s has received three heavy blows. Serb nationalists and their Western lobbyists spent the best part of these wars trying to convince the world that Serb war-crimes were mostly the fabrication of a hostile international media. For example, apologists such as John Pilger have long claimed that mass graves of Kosovo Albanians were as non-existent as Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and that not enough Albanian bodies have been discovered to support the figure of approximately 10,000 Albanians killed by Serbian forces in 1998-1999. Yet on 10 May of this year, Serbia’s War Crimes Prosecution Office announced that a mass grave, thought to contain the bodies of about 250 ethnic Albanians, was discovered at Raska in southwestern Serbia, near the border with Kosova. The slow but steady location and identification of the remains of the victims of the wars are important not only for the relatives of the dead, but for making the publics of the region – and particularly the Serbian public – aware of the incontrovertible reality of the war-crimes.
Another favourite tactic of the Serb-nationalists propagandists was to muddy the water, by arguing that Croatian, Bosnian, Kosova Albanian and NATO forces were as guilty of atrocities as the Serb forces, or even more so. Perhaps the most graphically gruesome assertion used to support this argument was that the Kosova Liberation Army was guilty of systematically removing and trafficking the internal organs of their Serb captives – a rumour that was started by Carla del Ponte, the maverick former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, then eagerly seized upon by the water-muddiers. Yet shortly after the discovery of the Raska mass grave, the BBC reported that ‘Three parallel international investigations, by war crimes investigators from Serbia, the European Union, and the Council of Europe, have failed to uncover any evidence that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) trafficked the organs of captives, according to sources close to each investigation.’ Although the KLA did commit atrocities – as all national-liberation movements that resort to armed struggle do – the myth that its atrocities represented a degree of evil equivalent to the Milosevic regime’s systematic ethnic-cleansing of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens has now been laid to rest.
The third blow against Serb-nationalist propaganda was a spectacular own goal. Ever since 1992, Serb nationalists claimed that the war in Bosnia was not a war of aggression waged by Serbia against its neighbour, but a ‘civil war’ between the Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims, in which Serbia merely assisted the Bosnian Serbs. However, Serbia is currently attempting to secure the extradition of former Bosnian vice-president Ejup Ganic from the UK to Serbia to face spurious ‘war-crimes’ charges, and in order to have the legal right to do this, it has had to accept that at the time of Ganic’s alleged crimes, in early May 1992, an ‘international armed conflict’ was taking place between Serbia and Bosnia. Thus, it has casually torpedoed the eighteen-year-old myth of a Bosnian ‘civil war’.
The steady collapse of Serb-nationalist wartime mythology in the light of new research and developments is part and parcel of the post-war normalisation of the Balkan region. It means a steadily greater awareness – in Serbia, in the Balkan region and in the world as a whole – of the true nature of the wars of the former Yugoslavia. These were wars for which a single regime – that of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade – was overwhelmingly to blame, and responsible for most of the killing. The more Serbia’s citizens become aware of this, the less inclined will they be to support aggressive policies reminiscent of Milosevic, while the more the international public becomes aware of it, the less inclined will the international community be to appease any further such policies. Belgrade’s ongoing attempt to have Ganic extradited is, of course, evidence that Serbia has not completely turned its back on Milosevic’s legacy, but the cup of reform is at least half full, and every myth demolished adds another drop.
The second, and more substantial reason why this has been a good period for the Balkans, is the belated resolution of the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute. In a referendum on 6 June, Slovenia’s citizens voted 51.5%, in a turnout of just over 42%, to permit the border dispute to be resolved through international arbitration. The referendum result removes the last major obstacle to Croatia’s membership of the EU, and marks a major step forward for the Euro-Atlantic integration of the former-Yugoslav region. Despite the low turnout, the referendum result indicates a degree of political maturity on the party of Slovenia’s citizens. The Slovenian attempt to hold up the entire process of EU expansion in the Western Balkans to make a cheap territorial grab has proven extremely damaging to Slovenia’s international standing, and damaging to the wellbeing of the entire region. In rejecting the siren call of nationalism made by the Slovenian opposition under Janez Jansa, in favour of harmony within the EU and the region, Slovenia’s people demonstrated an admirable appreciation of where their national interest lies.
Readers might argue that Slovenia is not part of the Balkans, yet the country has recently joined a Balkan regional body, the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP), that includes all the Balkan states except Kosova, including Moldova and Turkey. Somewhat belatedly, given that the body was established in 1996 and its other members all joined by 2007. Despite their proudly felt Central European identity, the Slovenians realise their national interest lies in participating in and facilitating South East European regional cooperation. Their readiness settle their border dispute with Croatia on a fair basis my be linked to this perception.
The Slovenian case demonstrates that the states of the region are not immune to soft pressure from the international community, even if they do happen to be EU members. It provides a model for a possible resolution of another dispute arising from the break-up of Yugoslavia involving an EU member and a candidate country: the Greek-Macedonian ‘name dispute’. EU and NATO members should put pressure on the parties to this dispute to permit it to be settled by binding international arbitration, in the manner of the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute. With Greece in the throes of acute economic and social crisis, with its social capital expended and its international standing at an all-time low, an ideal opportunity exists to pressurise Greece to accept this. However, bizarre as it may seem to any rational person unaccustomed to the perverse ethics of the EU, the latter has rewarded Greece for its spectacular economic selfishness and irresponsibility with a still more craven appeasement of its anti-Macedonian nationalist policy.
The EU’s failure to resolve the Greek-Macedonian conflict, despite ample opportunity, is contributing to the deterioration in relations between the political parties in Macedonia representing the country’s two principle nationalities: the ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. Ethnic-Albanian parties, who do not feel particularly committed to the country’s constitutional name, are increasingly frustrated with the Macedonian government’s failure to progress toward EU membership in light of Greece’s veto. In a worse case scenario, this could lead to the collapse of the Macedonian state and a new regional conflagration, drawing in Macedonia’s neighbours and potentially spreading to other Albanian-inhabited Balkan states. If this were to occur, the EU would have only itself to blame.
Thankfully, such a catastrophe does not appear imminent. The same cannot, unfortunately, be said for another consequence of EU vacillation: the alienation of Turkey from the Western alliance. Turkey’s increasingly aggressive policy of Israel-baiting, manifested most spectacularly in its permitting of the Gaza aid flotilla to sail from its shores last month, with predictable bloody consequences, is the bastard child of the Franco-German-led policy of keeping Turkey out of the EU. Turkey’s turn toward Iran and Syria and away from Israel cannot be excused, but it can be understood, as the rising Turkish regional superpower seeks to carve out a new, more Islamic and Middle Eastern role for itself in place of its denied EU role. Instead of being drawn into the club, where it would have to play by the rules, Turkey has been left outside, where it is increasingly going rogue.
It would not require superhuman efforts on the part of the UK and its allies to keep the Balkans on the straight and narrow. The region is slowly and unsteadily reforming, but faces a number of surmountable obstacles, which we are in a position to help it overcome. Weakened, discredited Greece could be pressurised to lift its veto on Macedonia’s EU and NATO accession, and the EU member states could make a joint and unambiguous commitment to Turkish membership when certain conditions are met. The tragedy is that even these easy steps are blocked by the selfish and short-sighted interests of certain EU members, above all France and Germany. The UK needs to break ranks more openly with them with regard to both issues, and to campaign loudly and publicly for a change in EU policy. We must point out the potentially catastrophic consequences for Europe and the Middle East of abandoning Macedonia and Turkey, and say openly whose fault it will be if things go further wrong. We might offend our allies now, but that is preferable to having to clean up their mess tomorrow.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
William Hague, the new British foreign secretary
‘Compared with a decade ago, this country is more open at home and more compassionate abroad and that is something we should all be grateful for…’. So said Britain’s new prime minister David Cameron, paying tribute to the outgoing Labour government. Britain is embarking on a new political era, and it is sad to see so many self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ still stuck in the same ideological trenches they inhabited in the 1980s, unable to view ‘progressive politics’ in anything other than anti-Tory terms, and damning the Liberal Democrats for their supposed ‘betrayal’. Cameron presented Britain with a historic opportunity to reconstitute our mainstream party of the right as a party of the centre. Had he failed to form a government, the Conservative Party could quite possibly have moved back towards the right. I have been critical of the Liberal Democrats in the past, but Nick Clegg’s decision to form a coalition with Cameron was a supremely responsible act, rescuing Cameron’s ‘progressive Conservative’ project and moderating any right-wing tendencies that a straight Conservative government would have had. The new British government enjoys greater legitimacy than any other combination arising from the election would have done; as much as is possible, it broadly represents what the nation wants, which is a change of government but not a move to the right. The Labour Party will benefit from a rest after thirteen years in office. Those who see British politics purely through anti-Conservative or anti-Labour lenses are still living in the twentieth century; the formation of a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition shows that old distinctions between ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ parties no longer apply.
Crucially, the foreign and defence portfolios in the new government are in the hands of Conservatives. Of course, Britain’s last Conservative government under John Major had a disgraceful record in world affairs – either failing to halt or actively aiding and abetting genocide in Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda, while undermining our alliance with the US. But not all Conservative politicians are the same – Winston Churchill was not Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher was not Edward Heath. There is cause for concern at the continued influence in the party of elements complicit with Major’s disastrous policies, such as Malcolm Rifkind and Pauline Neville-Jones. But the signals coming from Cameron and from the new foreign secretary, William Hague, are promising.
There is absolutely no reason why the Conservative commitment to greater British sovereignty within the EU is ‘anti-European’; on the contrary, it is the Franco-German-dominated Euro-federalist bloc that is anti-European, as it seeks to divide Europe between the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’, and to exclude countries like Turkey and Ukraine from the European family. In his recently leaked memo, Hague has made it clear that his government will be ‘firm supporters of enlargement’ and ‘favour an outward looking Europe’.
Hague has also said that his government will ‘want to see a more muscular EU approach in Bosnia’. He has consistently spoken up for Bosnia; last year, he criticised the ‘weak and confused’ EU response to the ‘pressure to fragment the country’ and said: ‘It is moving slowly in the wrong direction and – despite all the efforts and all the bloodshed and all the sacrifices there – it’s moving in the wrong direction without alarm bells sounding in most European capitals.’ He warned that the crisis in Bosnia threatened to derail efforts to expand the EU to include Serbia, Croatia and Turkey, and promised: ‘People think the Balkans are what we debated in the 1990s and now we can forget about it. In fact, it’s a crucial area in foreign policy in the next five to 10 years and will get a lot of emphasis in the next Conservative administration.’ Earlier this year, Hague wrote to his predecessor, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, to express his concern at Britain’s arrest of Bosnia’s former vice-president Ejup Ganic.
Cameron, too, has spoken out for the rights of the vulnerable nations of South East Europe. As early as 2003, before he became Conservative leader, Cameron wrote a stirring defence of Macedonia; ‘the country – and I am determined to call it Macedonia – has a perfect right to exist. The population is overwhelmingly Macedonian, with a distinctive language, culture and history.’ Criticising ‘Greek pettiness’ toward Macedonia, Cameron called for an active policy to support it and the former Yugoslavia generally: ‘Let Macedonia into Nato and guarantee its borders. Ensure there is a speedy framework for getting the former Yugoslav republics into the EU so they can benefit from free trade and structural funds. Recognise the fact that Macedonia paid a substantial price for looking after Albanian refugees from Kosovo during the war – and pay aid in respect of it. Above all, stay involved to give the region the stability that it needs so badly.’
When Russia attacked Georgia in August 2008, Cameron was quicker to react than Gordon Brown and more forthright; he flew to Tbilisi to stand shoulder to shoulder with Georgia’s leaders, and to state that ‘I think it’s important that the world’s oldest democracy must stand with one of the newest when it’s been illegally invaded by another country… We wanted to come to express the strongest possible support of the British people, British government and British opposition for Georgia, its independence and integrity.’ He later drew the parallel between Russia and 1930s Germany: ‘Russia’s pretext — that it has a right to step in militarily to protect its citizens — has chilling echoes from Czech history, and dangerous implications if it is now the basis of Russian policy. Such a doctrine cannot be allowed to stand.’ Far from being ‘anti-European’, Cameron defended Georgia from a pro-European perspective: ‘We should not accept that while the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic States are in Nato and the EU, with their full measure of independence and liberty, other countries on Russia’s periphery that have not yet become members are somehow condemned to exist in a political no-man’s-land.’
Cameron’s audacious move to form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, outflanking the right wing of the Conservative Party and reshaping British politics, indicates that he may be a bold world leader in the years ahead. Let us hope so. The US and EU have dithered over the worsening crisis in Bosnia – as did the UK under Brown. A British government committed to a broader, more outward-looking Europe, committed to supporting and defending the states of East and South East Europe, is exactly what Europe needs.
Image: Greek farmers protest at subsidy cuts on the border with Bulgaria.
It was only a matter of time. Once it became clear that the EU was not bending over backwards to bail Greece out of the debt crisis created by the latter’s own profligacy and corruption, it was inevitable that loud voices would be raised in Greece presenting the country as the victim of dastardly plotting foreign imperialists. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou led the charge, loudly turning reality on its head to complain that it was actually the EU that was failing Greece and was responsible for Greece’s crisis, rather than the other way around: ‘Greece is not a political or an economic superpower to fight this alone. The EU gave political support in the last few months of this crisis, but in the battle against impressions and the psychology of the market it was at the very least timid.’ Indeed, according to Papandreou, the EU’s errors went beyond ‘timidity’ in response to the Greek crisis, to actually being guilty of creating the crisis in the first place: ‘There was speculation about our country which created a psychology of imminent collapse, prophesies which risked becoming self-fulfilling’. Indeed, ‘There was a lack of co-ordination between various bodies of the union, the commission, the member states, the European Central Bank, even different opinions within those bodies.’
Deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos has responded to Germany’s unwillingness to bail Greece out by bringing up the Nazi occupation of Greece in World War II: ‘They [the Nazis] took away the Greek gold that was in the Bank of Greece, they took away the Greek money and they never gave it back.’ Consequently, ‘I don’t say they have to give back the money necessarily, but they have to say thanks. And they [the German government] shouldn’t complain much about stealing and not being very specific about economic dealings.’ It may seem inappropriate for the deputy head of a democratically elected government of an EU and NATO member-state to bring up the Nazis just because Germany does not want to pay for someone else’s mess, but Pangalos’s views are entirely representative of the wave of anti-German bile currently washing over Greece. Margaritis Tzimas of the opposition New Democracy party asks rhetorically ‘How does Germany have the cheek to denounce us over our finances when it has still not paid compensation for Greece’s war victims?’ Deputies of the Left Coalition party last week not only demanded that the government press Berlin over the issue of reparations, but blamed Germany for Greece’s financial crisis: ‘By their statements, German politicians and German financial institutions play a leading role in a wretched game of profiteering at the expense of the Greek people.’
One step further down in tastelessness is the joke apparently doing the rounds in Athens, concerning the government’s attempt to make citizens collect receipts to flush tradesmen out of the black market: ‘For every VAT receipt not collected, the Germans will shoot 10 patriots.’ This Greek sense of victimhood is attaining comical levels. As Reuters reports, ‘Greeks recall that Greek “Gastarbeiter” (guest workers) were among migrants who contributed to Germany’s economic miracle in the 1960s and 1970s while their homeland was ruled by a military dictatorship backed by NATO, of which West Germany was a member.’ In other words, Germany should feel both grateful to Greece for sending it immigrants and guilty because Greece was ruled by a dictatorship.
Of course, the reality of who has helped whom economically is somewhat different. Germany is by far the largest contributor to EU funds, while Greece is the largest net recipient of EU funds after Poland and alongside Romania, and the largest per capita recipient after Luxembourg and Belgium, according to Open Europe’s figures. Germany claims that it has contributed 33 billion deutschemarks in aid to Greece since 1960, both bilaterally and in the context of the EU, on top of 115 million deutsche marks for war reparations. Given the gratitude the Germans are now receiving for these vast sums, it is unsurprising they are somewhat reluctant to cough up still more.
Yet in one sense, the Greeks are right, and the EU must bear some of the responsibility for the Greek financial mess. It is, after all, the EU which has been subsidising Greek profligacy for the past three decades, although Greece’s public sector corruption, high levels of tax evasion, overblown bureaucracy and low retirement age have been no secret. The EU is like the mother who spoils her child rotten, then must suffer its ingratitude and tantrums when it doesn’t have every one of its demands met. Ultimately, the mother does bear responsibility if her child is a spoilt brat who doesn’t respect her. Greece’s current anti-German tantrum is not an isolated quirk; the country is a veritable hotbed of anti-Western nationalism, even descending into terrorism, as the brilliant Greek journalist Takis Michas has described. The paradox of why a country that has received so much from the West – from huge EU subsidies, through military protection against the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War to diplomatic support over Cyprus and Macedonia – should be so awash with anti-Western sentiment may not be such a paradox after all: it is a case of biting the hand that feeds.
While Greece’s EU-encouraged financial irresponsibility is now being widely remarked upon, it is less frequently noted that Greek irresponsibility, and EU encouragement of this irresponsibility, extend beyond the economic sphere. Greece has been found by the European Court of Human Rights to be in breach of the human rights of both its ethnic Macedonian and its Turkish minorities, but it continues to defy the Court’s rulings without incurring any penalties from the EU. Greece was the most enthusiastic ally of the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s; it helped to undermine the UN’s 2004 Annan Plan to reunify Cyprus; it is one of only five EU members that has broken ranks over the issue of Kosova’s international recognition (and the only one that cannot justify this through reference to its own fears of separatism); and, most dangerously of all, it is vetoing the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia’s attempts to join both NATO and the EU, on account of its nationalistic hostility to Macedonia’s use of its own name.
On the other hand, according to February 2010 figures, Greece is currently contributing only 15 troops to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, as against 165 from Macedonia – a non-member with one fifth of Greece’s population; 175 from Georgia; 255 from Albania; 295 from Croatia; 540 from Bulgaria; 945 from Romania; and 1,755 from Turkey. It would appear that those Balkan countries that were on the wrong side in the Cold War are somewhat readier to contribute to the Western alliance’s military efforts today than the only Balkan Christian country which enjoyed NATO protection during the Cold War, although Turkey appears readier to contribute too, despite being predominantly Muslim.
We can sum up the terms of the relationship between Greece and the rest of NATO and the EU as follows. We defend Greece’s security; we fund Greece’s prosperity with massive subsidies; and we give Greece unwarranted diplomatic support vis-a-vis Macedonia and Cyprus. Greece pursues policies that destabilise the EU economically and South East Europe politically, while making the minimum possible contribution to the security of the democratic world. And the Greek political and intellectual classes complain endlessly about the evils of Germany, the US and Western imperialism in general.
This must stop. The reforms demanded of Greece by the EU as the price of a bail-out cannot be limited to the economic sphere, but must extend to the political as well. As an absolute minimum, Greece must recognise the rights of its national minorities, including the right to freedom of association, conscience and self-definition, and must immediately announce it will comply with all rulings of the European Court of Human Rights as regards these rights. And it must lift its veto of Macedonia’s membership of both NATO and the EU, announcing that its dispute with Macedonia will not be resolved through blackmail or at the price of South East Europe’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
The EU is moving to strip Greece of control over its own taxation and spending policies if it does not comply with austerity demands. Some German officials are reportedly demanding that Greece also be denied a vote in all EU matters while it remains in ‘receivership’. This would be eminently sensible. Greece’s economic and political irresponsibility are two sides of the saim coin, and there is no point in the EU demanding that the country behave responsibly in the economic sphere while giving it a blank cheque to pursue nationalistic policies that destabilise South East Europe. The nationalism that leads the Greek political classes to abuse their membership of the Euro-Atlantic club to try to force Macedonia to change its name is the same nationalism that leads them to milk the EU for all it is worth, then engage in crude xenophobic and anti-imperialist tantrums when the bottle is taken away. Greece can be selfishly nationalistic or it can be a responsible member of the European family. It is up to the EU to make clear that it expects the latter.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Video: Greece’s membership of the EU – A short history.
George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, has slammed the EU for displaying ‘timidity’ in its dealings with Greece’s financial crisis. In a live address to his cabinet following his return from an emergency summit in Brussels, the normally mild-mannered leader hit out at the lack of united support from the EU. ‘Greece is not a political or an economic superpower to fight this alone. The EU gave political support in the last few months of this crisis, but in the battle against impressions and the psychology of the market it was at the very least timid.’ He went on, ‘There was speculation about our country which created a psychology of imminent collapse, prophesies which risked becoming self-fulfilling’. Indeed, ‘There was a lack of co-ordination between various bodies of the union, the commission, the member states, the European Central Bank, even different opinions within those bodies.’
‘In other words,’ continued Papandreou, ‘the fact that our stupendously bloated and corrupt state has stuffed its face to the point of heart-failure can conveniently be blamed on Western imperialism which, as we know, is to blame for absolutely everything that goes wrong for us.’ Papandreou then went on to explain the long history of Western imperialism’s persecution of the Greeks, beginning with the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204: ‘The Western powers enabled the Greek nationalist right to defeat the Communists in the Greek civil war. NATO defended Greece from the Communist bloc throughout the Cold War. The European Economic Community let Greece join in 1981, even though our scandalous human-rights record meant that we belonged there the way a hippopotamus belongs in a pole-vaulting competition. It supported us against Macedonia – sorry, against FYROM – in the ‘name dispute’ from 1992 – God alone knows why. It turned a blind eye to our support for Slobodan Milosevic. It has continued to keep Turkey out on account of Cyprus - even after the Turkish Cypriots supported and the Greek Cypriots sabotaged the Annan Plan to reunify the island. It has subsidised us so much that we are literally bursting at the seams. And now that our state is literally collapsing under the weight of its EU-funded profligacy, the EU is refusing to give us even more money to get us out of the mess we created. How dare they ?’
‘The evidence is clear’, continued Papandreou, ‘that the West has always been against Greece and is plotting against us in all possible ways. What will these heartless bastards think of next ?’
Greater Surbiton News Service
Image: Volen Siderov, leader of the Bulgarian fascist party ‘Ataka’
The recent ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland, following a referendum, was, in the words of one commentator, ‘a reflex of the Swiss tendency for self-isolation’. It is evidence that, for all its long tradition of prosperity and stability, Switzerland would be a less than ideal member of the European Union, were it to join. Switzerland did not permit women to vote in national elections until 1971; it was not until the 1990s that women achieved the right to vote everywhere in Switzerland at the cantonal level. We may lament rich, stable Switzerland’s unwillingness to join the EU, but it has come with a definite silver lining. For with the forces of intolerance on the upsurge in many parts of Europe, the last thing we need is to strengthen their ranks within the EU.
In Slovakia, legislation came into force on 1 September of this year that criminalises the use of non-Slovak languages in the public sphere, including Hungarian, which is the first language of Slovakia’s Hungarian minority, comprising nearly ten percent of Slovakia’s population of just over five million. The legislation means that an ethnic Hungarian train-conductor responding to an ethnic-Hungarian passenger in Hungarian or a Roma doctor addressing a Roma patient in Romani could face prosecution. The legislation is the work of Robert Fico’s governing coalition, which includes the racist and far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) of Jan Slota. It was passed in a context, in the words of the European Council’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in which ‘the rise of anti-Hungarian discourse by some political figures has created a negative public climate which has led to an increase in intolerance against the Hungarian minority in Slovaka as well as acts of racially motivated crimes against members of this group.’ Not coincidentally, Slovakia is one of only five EU members that refuse to recognise the independence of Kosova; in Slovakia’s case, because it fears that Kosova’s independence from Serbia sets a precedent that its own Hungarian minority could follow. Since Kosova’s independence was the result of the brutal persecution and ethnic cleansing of Kosova Albanians by the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic, this suggests that Bratislava sees itself as following in Milosevic’s footsteps so far as minority rights are concerned – which, to an extent, it is.
The response from the ranks of the EU has, however, been muted. Fico’s ‘Direction – Social Democracy’ party had its membership temporarily suspended in the Party of European Socialists – which includes Britain’s Labour Party – in response to its alliance with the SNS, but this suspension has now been lifted, the language law notwithstanding. In other words, Slovakia’s mainstream Social Democrats are allied to fascists and promoting chauvinistic, anti-minority legislation, and this is being tolerated by the Social Democratic mainstream in Europe.
The implications for regional stability are potentially dangerous. The language law is poisoning Slovakia’s relations with neighbouring Hungary, which recently dropped its support for Bratislava’s bid to host the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER). Like ethnic Serbs and Albanians, ethnic Hungarians are dispersed among several Central European and Balkan states; a reopened Hungarian question would have potentially grave implications for regional stability. Former Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi stated recently that ethnic Hungarians outside of Hungary must always remain a determining element of Hungary’s foreign policy; this sounds reasonable given Bratislava’s current behaviour, but it is uncomfortably reminiscent of the ‘concern’ expressed by Serbia’s politicians in the early 1990s for the Serbs outside Serbia.
Slovakia’s is not the only government in the EU that has promoted anti-minority legislation in order to appease fascist elements. Earlier this month, Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borisov, announced the holding of a referendum on the abolition of Turkish-language news broadcasts on Bulgaria’s BNT1 public television channel. Nearly 10% of Bulgaria’s population of nearly eight million is ethnic-Turkish, and the minority has a long experience of persecution, most notably at the hands of the Communist tyrant Todor Zhivkov in the 1980s. Borisov announced this move in a joint news conference with Volen Siderov, the leader of the fascist party National Union of Attack (‘Ataka’), with whom his own inappropriately named Citizens for European Development in Bulgaria (GERB) party is in coalition. According to Borisov, ‘This is a very delicate situation and we don’t want the matter being exploited against Bulgarian Muslims or by them. That’s why I support the idea of solving the issue on a referendum as this is the most democratic way.’ He added, ‘We don’t want other minorities to feel neglected. Soon we might have the Roma asking for news in their language’, enlightening his audience by pointing out that Bulgarian was the country’s official language.
This move nevertheless provoked strong opposition in Bulgaria itself, including on the part of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms party (MRF), which is predominantly ethnic-Turkish. To its credit, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the European parliamentary liberal bloc to which the MRF belongs, then threatened to raise the issue of the referendum in the European parliament. Bulgaria also came under pressure from Turkey, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan raising the issue in a telephone conversation with Borisov. Indeed, a return to the persecution of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria would further complicate the already difficult relations between Turkey and the rest of the Western alliance. Turkey is, of course, itself long guilty of persecuting its Kurdish minority, something most recently manifested in the Turkish Constitutional Court’s ban of the Democratic Society Party, the country’s principal Kurdish party. But Turkey at least has the excuse that it is not in the EU, and that its patchy human-rights record is partly responsible for keeping it out. Unlike Turkey, some EU members appear to be given an undeserved clean pass by the Union and by their allies.
In Bulgaria, nevertheless, the forces of intolerance appear to have suffered a defeat, with Borisov retreating from his plan to hold the referendum. But while Bulgarian resistance to the anti-Turkish measure is heartening, encompassing as it did the president and the parliamentary opposition, less edifying has been the muted response from Europe. GERB’s adoption of an anti-minority measure to satisfy a fascist parliamentary ally did not, apparently, provoke any opposition in the ranks of the European People’s Party, the conservative Euro-federalist bloc in the European parliament of which GERB is a member. Nor, indeed, have the European People’s Party or other EU bodies reacted much to earlier instances of persecution of minorities in Bulgaria. Sofia lost two cases in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), brought by Omo Ilinden Pirin, the party of the ethnic-Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Both times, the ECHR ordered Sofia to permit the party to register legally and to pay it damages; while the damages were paid, Sofia continues to refuse to allow the party to register.
Indulgence toward anti-minority chauvinism in the EU is nothing new. Greece has for decades pursued a policy of forced assimilation of its ethnic minorities; it refuses to recognise the existence of the ethnic Turkish and Macedonian minorities on its soil, and persecutes and harasses their political and cultural organisations. Athens has been found by the ECHR to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to both minorities as regards freedom of expression, association and self-identification, yet has disregarded the Court’s verdicts. Thus, over ten years after the ECHR found Greece in violation of human rights for its refusal to permit the registration of the ethnic-Macedonian society ‘Home of Macedonian Culture’, it has continued to refuse, without suffering adverse consequences from the EU. Greece’s policy of trying to force the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia to change its name is closely linked to its programme of forced assimilation of its own Macedonian minority; the EU, through recognising the Greek right to veto Macedonia’s EU accession, enables this chauvinistic policy as well.
So far as Greece’s Turkish minority is concerned, Athens violates its human rights both in national and in religious terms; it denies the right of organisations bearing the appellation ‘Turkish’ to register themselves, and denies the right of Muslims in Greece to elect their own imams and muftis. Religious officials elected by Muslims in Greece on their own initiative have been prosecuted and imprisoned, over which Greece was again found by the ECHR to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights as regards freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Greco-Turkish relationship is a permanent potential source of discord within NATO ranks, and as Turkey moves to define a new geopolitical role for itself, continued Greco-Turkish cooperation cannot be taken for granted; indeed, there are indications that it is already fraying. Athens’s mistreatment of its Turkish minority may aggravate an already dangerous situation.
Such instances of intolerance toward minorities, on the part of states that belong to both NATO and the EU, are a disgrace to the Western alliance. They are also a threat to our security. With Moscow pursuing an aggressive policy aimed at derailing NATO’s eastward expansion, and with several states of Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe already concerned by our apparently lukewarm commitment to their security, this is not a time for creating new divisions within our ranks. Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece are all NATO members, and it is reasonable to question just how solid a military and political alliance can be while some members are violating the human rights of co-nationals of other members.
We must bring pressure to bear on those EU and NATO members that violate the human rights of their minorities, and make it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable, both because it violates the principles of civilisation and democracy that underpin the EU, and because it threatens our common security. Before these minority issues grow into regional crises, they should be nipped in the bud.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Hat tip: Andras Riedlmayer
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