What’s in a name? For Macedonia, everything – Press Enterprise

What’s in a name? For Macedonia, everything – Press Enterprise
Spread the love

What’s in a name? For Macedonia, everything. And for the West, perhaps, just as much. The official status of that name has triggered an unfolding geopolitical crisis that captures in microcosm the rivalry over identity and democracy stretching from Russia to the United States.

First, a little history. The Macedonia in question is formerly known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, an ungainly acronym born of neighboring Greece’s refusal to countenance the unqualified use of the Macedonia name.

The reasons for this reach back millennia; northern Greece includes part of historic Macedon, wrested free from the Ottoman Empire and kept away from the Bulgarians, whose designs on the territory’s Aegean coastline led not only to the Balkan Wars but Bulgaria’s alliance with Germany during both world wars. Reeling from economic and immigration turmoil seen as inflicted by German and American finance, Greece will stop at nothing to keep the Macedonians out of the EU and NATO — unless they agree to change their country’s name to North Macedonia.

And this in fact was what was supposed to have happened as the result of a recent referendum, where Macedonian voters were asked point blank if they supported changing the name and entering the core Western organizations in Europe. An overwhelming majority said yes. But turnout of under a third fell far too low to legitimize the vote. Credit the canny strategy of the No movement, which encouraged disgruntled voters to simply stay home.

So now another path must be taken. The prime minister has given parliament until the 10th of the month to strike a deal with the opposition in favor of the name change. That’s the day early elections would have to be called for late November — the necessary fallback given the time a new parliamentary majority would need to pass name change legislation the current majority in the Greek legislature could pass before Greece’s own nationwide elections arrive. The left-wing majority in Athens might not survive if Greek voters have a chance to scuttle the entire North Macedonia deal.

All of which sounds like a wearisome grudge match among poor Balkan folk with far too long of memories. But the reality is the controversy has taken on such monstrous proportions because of what’s at stake for the US, Europe, and Russia.

Moscow has never forgiven the West for its war against Serbia during the collapse of the Yugoslav state in the 1990s. That NATO campaign, notorious for its bombing of Christians on Easter, did not just deprive the smarting post-Soviet Russians of their last remaining toehold of historic influence in Europe. It did so in one of the few places in Europe where close relations with Moscow were cherished, voluntary and deeply historical.

Still worse, however, is what the West did to the former Yugoslavia after the bombs stopped falling. Organized crime in the warring post-Yugoslav statelets linked together in common cause and transformed their territory into one of the most important global transit points for international smuggling, money laundering, sex trafficking and drug trading. Though to a degree this aided Russia in making life more difficult for the West, the NATO allies acted as if the haven they had created for black marketeers and even terrorists was not their fault. They were hellbent on bringing the ex-Yugoslavia into the core Western organizations, even soaked through with corruption and violence. Even more darkly, while the West made partial gains in this regard, when the 2008 financial crisis hit Europe, recent reports have revealed, much of the liquid cash that kept continental banks afloat was drawn from dirty money laundered through the same criminal outfits the West let flourish in Serbia and its neighbors.

So although Russia’s degree of criminalism leaves little room for sympathy and trust in the West, Moscow remains deeply embittered over the subtle yet brazen way Europe has played a double game with regard to global corruption and crime.

It is bad enough from the Russian standpoint that Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, the former constituent parts of rump Yugoslavia, are being ushered into the European alliance framework by hook or by crook, the West’s claim to the moral high ground battered but intact. Yet there is one more layer to the crisis — Orthodox Christianity.

Macedonia, like Serbia, Greece, Ukraine and Russia itself, is an Orthodox nation — and proudly so. Due to the exigencies of history in the Orthodox world, national churches emerged over the centuries and some received so-called autocephaly, a special, prestigious and potentially powerful degree of formal independence. Political occasion has arisen for rival Orthodox countries to wrangle over autocephaly for their national churches.

That drama is being played out now in Ukraine, where the church seeks to be removed out from under the institutional lordship of Moscow. Observers fear that, if the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul grants this petition, Russia — which traces its historical and religious roots to Ukraine’s capital Kiev — will force the Balkan and Arab Orthodox churches to come under the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church, leaving Ukraine, Greece and the Patriarchate, understood to be reliant on American financial support, as a tiny rump.

That transformation of religious authority would send strategic shock waves through Europe and likely reach as far as Ethiopia, a largely Orthodox country of over 100 million people.

Well aware of the stakes, the Serbian Orthodox Church is now taking a vocal stand against new grants of autocephaly — not only with an eye to Ukraine, as its Russian co-religionists no doubt desire, but toward Macedonia as well.

The struggle between the West and Russia hinges on Macedonia. If the West wins, it shows it can get away with playing the geopolitical game on its own terms, no matter what the cost. If Russia wins, it means the West’s days of impunity under the color of high ideals are over. But it also means America’s position in Europe becomes suddenly dramatically weakened — a timely reminder that politics so often boils down to favoring the least worst option.

James Poulos is a Southern California News Group columnist and editorial writer.

Source link Google News

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.