Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Barack Obama and the Greek lobby

Last August, three US senators including presidential candidate Barack Obama introduced a resolution to the US Senate (S. Res. 300), endorsing the Greek-nationalist bullying of the Republic of Macedonia. This resolution raises serious concerns about whether an Obama presidency would pursue a responsible policy vis-a-vis the Balkans.

S. Res. 300 accuses Macedonia of a policy that ‘instills hostility and a rationale for irredentism in portions of the population of FYROM toward Greece and the history of Greece’, on the grounds: 1) that ‘a television report in recent years showed students in a state-run school in FYROM [the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] still being taught that parts of Greece, including Greek Macedonia, are rightfully part of FYROM’; 2) that ‘some textbooks, including the Military Academy textbook published in 2004 by the Military Academy “General Mihailo Apostolski” in the FYROM capital city, contain maps showing that a “Greater Macedonia” extends many miles south into Greece to Mount Olympus and miles east to Mount Pirin in Bulgaria’; and 3) that ‘the Government of FYROM recently renamed the capital city’s international airport “Alexander the Great Airport”.’

The resolution, which has been endorsed by at least 75 Members of Congress and is advertised on the website of the Greek Embassy in Washingon D.C., is evidence that Obama and other senior US politicians are pandering to the peculiarly hysterical, nationalistic and ill-informed Greek lobby in the US. That the resolution justifies itself on the basis of something as insubstantial and ill-defined as ‘a television report in recent years’ is evidence of the unseriousness of its allegations. The television report in question appears to be a YouTube clip that briefly shows a school textbook illustrating the historical territory of Macedonia, which was partitioned between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912-13 (you have to watch the clip quite carefully to catch it). The fact that the YouTube clip was undated may be why the resolution referred vaguely to a ‘television report in recent years’. Likewise, the military textbook mentioned by the resolution appears merely to have displayed historical maps of Macedonia. The Greek-nationalist lobbyists appear to have interpreted this as evidence of a contemporary Macedonian territorial claim on parts of Greece – evidence of a Greek-nationalist sense of insecurity over the Macedonian question that peaked in the early 1990s at the time of Macedonia’s secession from Yugoslavia and that, however baseless, has not gone away. The Skopje airport is indeed named after Alexander the Great, though why this should be in any way objectionable, let alone the object of a senatorial resolution, is really beyond comprehension to anyone who is not a Greek nationalist, and I shall not insult the reader’s intelligence by labouring the point.

S. Res. 300 ends by urging Macedonia (‘FYROM’) to 1) ‘observe its obligations under Article 7 of the 1995 United Nations-brokered Interim Accord, which directs the parties to “promptly take effective measures to prohibit hostile activities or propaganda by state-controlled agencies and to discourage acts by private entities likely to incite violence, hatred or hostility” and review the contents of textbooks, maps, and teaching aids to ensure that such tools are stating accurate information’; and 2) to ‘to work with Greece within the framework of the United Nations process to achieve longstanding United States and United Nations policy goals by reaching a mutually-acceptable official name for FYROM’.

It is unclear why people who get their information from random YouTube clips should feel they have the right to lecture sovereign states about what they put in their school or military textbooks. Yet it is the second demand that is the most worrying: the US has already recognised Macedonia under its official and rightful name, the ‘Republic of Macedonia’; Obama and his fellow senators appear to be trying to turn the clock back and destabilise this fragile state in a sensitive part of the Balkans, in order to pander to the nationalist hysteria of the Greek American lobby, thus giving their own domestic political careers priority over the US’s foreign-policy interests.

Let us hope that Obama’s sponsorship of this resolution is simply a cynical ploy to win the Greek-American vote, and will not translate into a genuinely anti-Macedonian policy in the event that he becomes president. For if it does, the consequences for the peace and stability of South East Europe could be catastrophic.

Hat tip: David Edenden, The Macedonian Tendency.

Monday, 7 January 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia | | 1 Comment