On April 3, 2008, the NATO communiqué in Bucharest read that ‘an invitation to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be extended as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached’. The Karamanlis Premiership vetoed its northern neighbour’s accession into NATO and three years later, on December 5, 2011, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Greece was wrong to block FYROM's bid because of the row over its name.
According to the ICJ ruling, Greece breached its obligation not to object to the country’s admission to or membership in NATO under Article 11, paragraph 1, of the Interim Accord of 1995. Greece claimed that it was justified to block the candidacy because FYROM had already breached the Interim Accord. However the ICJ noted that only one breach had been established – the use of a prohibited symbol in 2004 – and that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had discontinued using the symbol that year. Moreover, it stated that Greece had failed to establish that it had objected to the NATO candidacy in response to that specific breach.
Τhe UN-led ‘Interim Accord’ (following the Security Council Resolution 817/1993) was a turning point for the relations between the two countries. In short, Greece recognized FYROM under its provisional name and lifted the (previously imposed) embargo while the latter removed the Greek Macedonian emblem from its flag and accepted the interpretation of certain clauses of its constitution which were likely to foment irredentist claims and justify interference in the domestic of Greece under the pretext of ‘caring for the status and rights’ of Macedonian minorities.
As the title of a remarkable book regarding the Greek stance towards Europe points out, in the 1990s, the role of Greece in a changing Europe (the dissolution of Yugoslavia) could possibly be placed between European Integration and Balkan Disintegration.
On the eve of the crisis in Yugoslavia, the EU committed itself to work towards the maintenance of the unity of the federal Yugoslav state. However, under German pressure, in 1991, the Extraordinary EPC Ministerial Meeting recognized the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, although the Badinter Arbitration Commission, previously set up by the EU to advise the members on the applications of the Yugoslav Republics for recognition, had disqualified Croatia. Genscher, the German Foreign Minister, made a deal with Samaras, the Greek Foreign Minister, to exclude the Yugoslav ‘Macedonia’ from recognition if Greece agreed to fall in line with the others on Croatia. In relation to FYROM, the Ministers decided that the newly born country should ‘adopt constitutional and political guarantees ensuring that it has no territorial claims towards a neighbouring Community State and that it will conduct no hostile propaganda activities versus a neighbouring Community State, including the use of a denomination which implies territorial claims’ (EPC Press Release 129/91). Subsequently, the Badinter Arbitration Commission issued an advisory opinion in favor of recognition that Greece considered as inadequate. Therefore, EU requested the Portuguese Presidency to approach the two sides in order to find a common acceptable solution. The ‘Pinheiro Package’, proposed by the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Joao Pinheiro, in April 1992, suggested the name ‘New Macedonia’ as a suitable state denomination. However, Samaras, following the maximalist ‘no Macedonia or its derivatives’, turned out the proposal. Even after the ‘Pinheiro Package’, Europe backed Greece although not all members were that keen on such a pro-Greek approach. In their meeting at Gimaraes, in May 1992, they declared that they could recognize the former SRM as an independent and sovereign state, ‘under a name which could be acceptable to all interested parties’. Furthermore, two months later, in the Lisbon summit, additionally to the Gimaraes declaration, the EU leaders stated that they would recognize the new state ‘under a name which will not include the denomination Macedonia’.
The wave of nationalist hysteria unleashed during the early 1990s made any potential compromise seem impossible. New ‘experts’ of the Macedonian Question emerged, the so-called ‘Macedonologues’, seeking to ‘enlighten’ the public on a rather complicated issue (Kofos 1999). Gradually, a unique consensus emerged through the politics of populism, strongly influenced by a faulty nationalistic perception over the facts and history. On the one hand, FYROM’s ‘Macedonian’ propaganda was historically unfounded. On the other hand, Greece’s reaction to the provocations was mishandled. The purpose of the slogan introduced in the one million strong demonstrations in Thessaloniki, in 1992, - ‘Macedonia is Greek’ (η Μακεδονία είναι Ελληνική) – was dual. To make a statement on the direct connection of the modern Greek Province of Macedonia to the ancient Macedonia and, therefore, defend the people’s right to their heritage and to declare that no tolerance is acceptable when Greek fundamental rights are being violated. Nevertheless, the aforementioned slogan was a misleading one, in the sense that although the territory of the ancient King Philip’s Macedonian Kingdom coincided, more or less, with the present Greek province, however, in modern times, Greece, Bulgaria and FYROM have the geographic right to parts of the wider region of the ‘Macedonia’. As Kofos points out (1999), even suggestions to use the term ‘Slav Macedonian’ or any other compound name (such as ‘Vardar Macedonia’) were viewed as national treason. The new independent state was christened ‘Skopje’ in public parlance as well as in official documents, while its people were referred as ‘Skopjans’. Even the century-old ‘Macedonian Question’ was purified to become ‘Skopjano’.
The Conservative government led by Mitsotakis had a very fragile majority in parliament and could not afford to take major political risks. The persistence of the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonis Samaras, in rejecting not only the usage of the name ‘Macedonia’ but, also, any other determinants, such as - Slav-Macedonian - led the country to a thorough international isolation. In October 1992, The Economist was writing that ‘Greek intractability infuriates the Community. Greece will be overruled. So Mr. Mitsotakis [the then Prime Minister] would like to find a way out of the mess. If it were not for the aggressive populists in New Democracy, he would be in favour of de facto recognition for Macedonia. But his two leading rivals for the party’s leadership resist this. Samaras, a former Foreign Minister, opposes the idea of a double name. This week Mr. Samaras resigned his seat, when the party snubbed him on the matter. Evert, a former star in the Prime Minister’s office, says he and his supporters will resign if “Macedonia” is recognized as such’ (The Economist, October 24th 1992). It is evident therefore that the traditional political culture in Greece had been a major obstacle in the adoption of a more pragmatic and issue-oriented policy style, independent from domestic populism and the short-term fear of leadership challenge.
The awkward way of handling the problem by the Greek diplomacy, other infamous policy initiatives such as the total commercial blockade (embargo) imposed on FYROM by Papandreou, in 1994, and the general persistence of Greece’s leadership in handling the situation as a ‘national issue’, gradually led Europe to differentiate from its EU partner and become more reluctant to the new state and less co-operative with Greece.
In conclusion, in the early 1990s, Greece, because of its nationalistic, symbolic and formalistic policy style, failed to use two of the most influential instruments for resolving problems; negotiation and compromise. The political consequences of the short-sided policies promoted a credibility gap between the country and its European partners that would take years to overcome and prohibited the country from playing an important role in the Balkans. New policy objectives were not introduced until after 1996 during the Simitis administration, at the core of which, the only successful route for the country was to modernize, ‘re-Europeanise’ and ‘de-skopjanise’ its Foreign Policy.