UN court starts hearings around Macedonia name dispute

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Macedonia asked the UN's highest court on Monday to order Greece to stop blocking its bid to join NATO in a dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name, the same as that of a Greek province.

Athens unilaterally broke a 1995 treaty, "bringing to an end our ability to join international organisations of which the respondent (Greece) is already a member," Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Miloshoski told judges of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

"We very much regret this," he said, adding that "this case has been brought to ensure that the respondent upholds one of its key obligations".

Macedonia filed an application with the court in November 2008, claiming Greece was violating its rights.

It asked the court to order Greece "to cease and desist from objecting in any way, whether directly or indirectly, to (Macedonia's) membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation nor any other international multilateral and regional organisations and institutions of which (Greece) is a member".

The two countries have been at loggerheads since Macedonia proclaimed independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, with Greece insisting that the use of the name implies a claim on Greek territory.

UN-led negotiations have proven fruitless.

Macedonia was recognised by the United Nations in 1993 under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

More than 120 nations, including Russia and the United States, have recognised the landlocked Balkan country under its constitutional name: Republic of Macedonia.

Philippe Sands, a lawyer for Macedonia, told the judges "the stakes are high", arguing that the issue "is of eminent significance for the country's internal stability and regional well-being".

Greece will address the court later this week. The hearings continue until March 30, after which the judges will retire to consider their judgment.

© 2011 AFP

3 Comments To This Article

  • Macedonia posted:

    on 22nd March 2011, 19:20:18 - Reply

    The accord all has provisions against "hostile propaganda" and attempts to usurp Greek history. Apparently Miloshoski forgets that part.

    All FYROM nationalists are essentially doing is replacing "ethnic Bulgarians" with "ethnic Macedonians" (the government is ironically oppressing evidence of their own ethnic Bulgarian roots while claiming their "Macedonian" identity is being oppressed by Greeks). To further complicate matters countless FYROM nationalists are abusing the name to usurp Greek national emblems and go on to rampantly portray Macedonia Greece as "occupied' (see Sash above)

    Hey Sash do the former self-identifying ethnic Bulgarians of the former Yugoslavia recognize the desired name of the Republic of China? No? How about ancient Macedonians that self-identified as Greeks at the ancient Olympics? Let me guess again. No?
  • Kiro Velkovski posted:

    on 22nd March 2011, 11:34:17 - Reply

    HELLLLOOOOOOOO, why do you twist it?!? It is case of Macedonia against Greece over Greek veto for Macedonia joining NATO!!!! IT IS SO SIMPLE.
  • sash posted:

    on 22nd March 2011, 02:16:13 - Reply

    "Following the partition of Macedonia in 1913, Aegean Macedonia was annexed by Greece and since then its indigenous people, the ethnic Macedonians, became the target and often the victim of the oppressive policies of Greek state. Today, after nearly ninety years of assimilation efforts by the Greek governments it seems that measures have proved to be unsuccessful in Hellenizing the region. Currently, the ethnic Macedonians, estimated around 1,000,000 by some sources, still constitute the majority of population in that part of the Greece, Aegean part of Macedonia."
    After the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), the First World War (1914-1918) and especially after the Peace Treaties of Lausanne (1923), which gave the Macedonian issue a central place, there began a great ethnic cleansing of Macedonians, who in 1912 had numbered 374,000, from the Aegean part of Macedonia.
    The large colonization brought about by the Greeks was followed by a law passed by the Greek government in 1926 on the change of the toponymy of the Aegean part of Macedonia. All villages, towns, rivers and mountains were renamed and given Greek names.Following the political partition of Macedonia in 1913, Greece launched upon an active policy of the denial of the nationality and the assimilation of the Macedonians. The name Macedonian and the Macedonian language were prohibited and the Macedonians were referred to as Bulgarians, Slavophone Greeks or simply "endopes" (natives).
    At the same time, all the Macedonians were forced to change their names and surnames, the latter having to end in -is, -os or -poulos.The attacks on the Macedonian language culminated at the time of Ioannis Metaxas (1936). General Metaxas banned the use of Macedonian not only in everyday life in the villages, in the market-place, in ordinary and natural human communications and at funerals, but also within the family circle. Adult Macedonians, regardless of their age, were forced to attend what were known as evening schools and to learn "the melodious Greek language". The violation of the ban on the use of the Macedonian language in the villages, market-places or the closed circle of the family caused great numbers of Macedonians to be convicted and deported to desolate Greek islands.
    Greece followed a policy of assimilating the Macedonian minority and Hellenizing the Macedonian region in northern Greece. The government changed place names and personal names from Macedonian to Greek, (Decree No. 332 of 1926) ordered religious services to be performed in Greek, and altered religious icons."
    Macedonia was a single geographic entity until the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. As a result of the Treaty of Bucharest, Macedonia was partitioned among Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria. These regions are known as the Republic of Macedonia (independent since 1991), Aegean Macedonia (occupied by Greece since 1913), and Pirin Macedonia (occupied by Bulgaria since 1913). There are also small parts of Macedonia presently in Albania (known as Mala Prespa and Golo Brdo) and Yugoslavia (Gora and Prohor Pchinski).
    Upon annexation of Macedonia's territory, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria began terrorist campaigns aimed at expelling or forcibly assimilating the indigenous ethnic Macedonian population. Greece and Bulgaria continue this policy today by denying the existence of the large ethnic Macedonian minorities within their respective territories and refusing to grant them their basic human rights

    Pirin Macedonia came under Bulgarian occupation after the Balkan Wars in 1913. Macedonians were denied their human rights, the right to speak their own language, and the ability to openly express their Macedonian identity. These human rights violations continue today. Bulgarians also claim that Macedonians are "really Bulgarians" and that they speak "a Western Bulgarian dialect." This despite the fact that Macedonian is spoken by millions of people throughout the world and is an internationally recognized language and taught at dozens of universities worldwide.

    In Bulgaria, in Pirin Macedonia, there was in 1919 a compact Macedonian population of about 250,000. Official Bulgarian policy and statistics following the Second World War showed different figures in different periods concerning the number of ethnic Macedonians in the country. The encyclopedic handbook Ethnic Minorities in Europe quotes data from the official censuses. In 1946 there were 300,000 people enumerated as Macedonians and in 1956 - 188,000.
    According to the sources quoted, in 1990 there were about 250,000 Macedonians living in Bulgaria. It is important to note that according to the 1956 census, when 187,789 inhabitants declared themselves as Macedonians, they constituted a majority in a large part of Pirin Macedonia. In the Blagoevgrad District alone, which comprised 281,015 inhabitants, 178,862, or 63.7% declared themselves as Macedonians. There are also many Macedonians living in Sofia and other parts of Bulgaria. In spite of all claims by Bulgaria to European orientation and the acceptance of European democratic values, during the 1992 population census the Macedonians were not allowed to declare their ethnic affiliation under a separate heading.

    In a short period after 1947, the Macedonians living in Pirin Macedonia had schools in their mother tongue and their own theatre. More recently, Amnesty International, the Organization for International Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki have given documentary evidence about the situation there and about the violation of the individual and minority rights of the Macedonians.
    In 1994 and 1995, the periodicals of the Macedonian organizations in Pirin Macedonia came under attack from the Public Prosecutor of Bulgaria. Several periodicals, including Makedonska Volja, however, continue to write openly on the discrimination against ethnic Macedonians in Bulgaria. An illustration of the extent of this discrimination is the expulsion from the Bulgarian Writer's Association of the writer Slave Makedonski, whose works have been translated into several world languages, owing to the fact that he has publicly declared his Macedonian ethnic affiliation.

    The Macedonian Minority
    Just as with Greece, Bulgaria officially denies the existence of a Macedonian minority within its borders. The logic of this assertion required, ludicrously, the Bulgarian government to recognize the newly independent Republic of Macedonia in 1991 but with the explicit reservation that it did not recognize the Macedonian ethnic identity of the people who reside there. Just as in Greece, the official policy of denial of ethnic identity of the Macedonians leads to a pervasive atmosphere of intolerance and discrimination against those who choose to assert their identity.