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International Relations Theories: The Conflict between Macedonia and Greece Essay

Recent developments on the ongoing conflict between Greece and Macedonia indicate that Greece may finally accept Macedonia’s conditions. Negotiations are in place and are aiming to reach a compromise. Many are hoping that this decade old conflict will end within the year.

An analysis of the Macedonia-Greek conflict will bring an understanding of how far along Macedonia is to being accepted by Greece. This paper presents the history of the greater Macedonia, a brief history of the Greece territory near Macedonia which is the source of conflict and the conflict between the two countries. It then explains three international relations theories and relates them to the conflict.

Macedonia is a small geographical area in the Balkan Peninsula. It is spread between northern Greece, Southwestern Bulgaria and what used to be the People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (Vardar). Macedonia was part of the Hellenic world and a foundation of Alexander the Great’s empire. It later passed on to the Romans and was transferred to the Byzantium part of the empire.

Slavs settled in the Balkans and into Macedonia around the 6th c. A.D. Between the 9th and 12th century, Macedonia was dominated by Bulgarians and from the 12th to the 14th century, Macedonia became the center for the kingdom of Serbia (Kotsovilis 2005).

From the 14th Century until 1913, the population of the region of Macedonia was ethnically diverse. It was home to Slavic, Turkish and Romanian people.

It also included many different linguistic and religious groups like Greek speaking Orthodox Christians, Alabanian speaking moslems, Romanian speaking Vlachs, Jews and Gypsies. During late 19th century the peoples of this region were being defined in terms of national categories by foreigners. They were now known as Greeks, Albanians, Turks, Serbs and Bulgarians.

Their authorities, however preferred to categorize them based on their religious affiliations. The establishment of a Bulgarian church threatened Greek’s control over the Orthodox Christians. This resulted in a struggle between the Greek and Bulgarians and to a lesser extent, Serbians. All three wanted control over the territory of Macedonia.

The three Balkan states had guerrilla fighters who attacked the Turks and each other in what is known as the Macedonian struggle. The struggle ended when the region of Macedonia was partitioned among Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia (Danforth 1997).

Before the World War Two, the Slavs of Macedonia were not considered to be a distinct group. Serbians considered them to be “South Serbs”, Bulgarians referred to them as “Western Bulgaria” and Greece used the name “Northern provinces”. This changed in 1944 when Tito, Yugoslav’s leader, and the leaders of the Communist party of Yugoslavia established the Peoples Republic of Macedonia (Zahariadis n. d.).

It was officially recognized as one of the states of the new Yugoslavia. To distinguish itself as a distinct state, the Macedonian nation, put up a Macedonian orthodox church, a standard Macedonian language was developed among other state institutions (Danforth 1997). They were, however, still not an independent state

Macedonia was finally able to split from Yugoslavia in 1991. Through a popular referendum held in September of that year, Macedonia became a sovereign state. Their decision to become a sovereign nation and to go by the name ‘Macedonia’ was not accepted by Greece. The name ‘Macedonia’ is considered to be synonymous with Greece.

Greeks stated that Macedonia had no right to call itself by that name because Macedonia has always been a region in Greece. In addition, Greece felt that Macedonians were and have always been of Greek nationality and lastly, they opposed this new state because their language belongs to the Slavic family of languages.

Macedonians replied to this by stating that Macedonia had never been a region in Greece but that Macedonia had been illegally partitioned by Greece and her Balkan allies (Katzenstein 1996). They also saw themselves as a distinct people with a culture and a language apart from Greece’s. They regarded Greeks as neighbours while Greeks regarded them as foreigners or Barbarians (Danforth 1997).

Because the conflict seems to be centered on the name Macedonia, it is important to look closely at the history of this name. Greece’s claim to the name seems to lack support from history. Evidence from the tenth century A. D indicates that Slavs from Macedonia often referred to themselves as “Macedonian”. The Byzantine emperors also referred to them as ‘Macedonian”.

The Slavic-language Macedonian people, who came from that region and are now spread all over the world, still call themselves Macedonian. Even Greek government publications state that the different ethnic groups that inhabited Macedonia called themselves Macedonian (Shea 1997).

Opposition to Greece is also strengthened by its renunciation of the name in the past. Even though Greece got the bigger share of ancient Macedonia, Ancient Macedonians and Greeks were enemies. Greece’s clinging to a name of a people that it previously despised has spurred on the conflict.

Several names have been suggested by Greece to replace ‘Macedonia’. Dardania, Paeonia, South Slavia, the Vadar Republic, The Central Balkan Republic and the Republic of Skopje are some of the ones that have been rejected by Macedonians (Danforth 1997). There have been recent diplomatic efforts made to resolve the conflict and theorists are trying to understand why it has lasted for such a long time.

There are several theories that have been applied to determine Greece’s decision not to accept its neighbor Macedonia. There is the neorealist, constructivism and neoclassical realism theories among others.

All of these theories provide excellent explanations but which of this theories best explains the Greek decision-making process about formal recognition of the young state under the name ‘Republic of Macedonia’? A comparison of these theories and their application to this particular conflict is discussed here in detail.

A brief description of the above mentioned theories is necessary. Neorealism was formulated by Kenneth Watlz in 1979. His theory is structural but differs a little from the realist theory that existed before. It argues that the international state system molds states and defines the possibilities for cooperation and conflict.

Developments in international politics are driven by the balancing of differences in capabilities in the international system (Katzenstein 1996). Neoclassical realism differs slightly from the above theory in that it merges neorealism with classical realism. Realism, unlike neorealism, is concerned with human nature as it actually is and with the historical processes as they actually take place.

In international politics, it guards against concern with motives and ideological preferences (Morgenthau 2005). The constructivism theory is about construction of identities and interests. It takes a sociological rather than an economic approach to theory. Constructivists argue that states are not structurally given but are constructed by historically contingent interactions (Wendt 1994).

The neorealist theory appeals to historical precedent rather than to abstract principles. It aims to achieve the lesser evil rather than absolute good (Morgenthau 2005). It purports that Greece may have gone for relative gains instead of going for the absolute gain. Three months after Macedonia proclaimed herself a sovereign state, The European Community (EC) refused to recognize it due to pressure from Greece.

Even after Macedonia had complied with the EC requirements and after proving that its name did not imply territorial claims towards a neighbouring state (Danforth in press), it was not recognized. Macedonia then turned to the United Nations (UN) for recognition. With the UN, Greece did not have as much power and it agreed to compromise.

It went for the lesser evil which was the acceptance of the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) instead of ‘Macedonia’. This was accepted temporarily until a suitable, acceptable to both parties could be picked.

Neorealists also explain that the balance of powers of states involved is a major factor in decision making. External factors play a bigger role in decision making. The power that Greece wielded over FYROM did not come from material wealth but from Greece’s standing in the international community.

States that do not have a lot of material wealth are not barred from being sovereign nations and therefore statehood depends partly on position in the international society of states (Katzenstein 1996), True to neorealist theory, Greek exploited the weakness of FYROM through an aggressive foreign policy.

The same theory can explain Greece’s decision to temporarily accept FYROM as Macedonia’s name. When Greek faced the UN and EC, power tipped in the opposite direction making Greece the weaker entity.

Greece’s decision to accept FYROM is as a result of external pressures from the UN and also lately from the EC. In December 1993, six members of The EC (Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands) moved fast to recognize FYROM just before Greece assumed the rotating presidency (Danforth 1997).

National bureaucracies are at the heart of foreign policies. They consist of foreign ministries, state departments, and departments of international trade, ministries of defence and other such units. They are responsible for policy formulation and its implementation.

They aim to defend the national interest and maximize material benefit (Katzeinstein 1996). Greece is not an exemption in its foreign policy formulation process. It seeks to satisfy its national interests.

The foreign policy made by Greece towards FYROM could have been designed based on several factors. It could have been due to requirements from international unions like the EU, UN or NATO or it could have simply been designed to suit the Greeks. Zahariadis views a policy system as containing three streams: problems, solutions and politics.

In the case of Greece, the problem is the theft of the name ‘Macedonia’, the solution to this problem is the policy and politics is the policy makers. The policy makers sense the national mood and capitalize on it by adopting policies that coincide with it (Zahariadis n. d.).

Constructivism explains the use of such a method in decision making. The Greek government must have sensed the mood of its people, which was against ‘Macedonia’, and made policies to suit that mood. Such a policy must have been constructed based on the national interests before international actors came into play.

Greece’s behaviour has many puzzled and there is a desire for explanations. Constructivists emerge with some of the answers behind this emotional decision making. The theory of constructivism stresses the social construction of identity as important in understanding state behaviour (Zahariadis n. d.). Constructivists see the world as socially constructed.

They believe that a lot of outcomes depend on the social context rather than on material belongings (Checkel 2008) Greece’s and FYROM’s conflict has remained for this long due to their different beliefs and values. If the outcome had been contingent on material belongings, the conflict would be over.

This is why the social construction of their world makes sense. It is not favourable to FYROM because Greece sees FYROM as a Slavic people that it has always tried to assimilate while FYROM sees herself as a distinct population.

Constructivism unlike neorealism, considers the degree to which social environments and the international players interact. The identities of states emerge from their interactions with different social environments. The domestic and international environments of states are the arenas in which these players contest norms and through social and political processes construct and reconstruct identities (Katzenstein 1996).

FYROM seeks to enter this arena using the identity of ‘Macedonia’. Greeks see this as identity theft and they are naturally doing everything they can to protect themselves. Identity theft of this magnitude would result to a misrepresentation of Greece among international players.

It would threaten the four basic interests of state identity outlined by Wendt (1994): Physical and ontological security, recognition as an actor by others and development in the sense of meeting the human aspiration for a better life.

The main reason why the conflict persists is because of the name. The name ‘Macedonia’ is part of the identity of Greece and identities are the basis of interests (Wendt 1992). The interests that Greece has may end up being economic. Their culture and identity as ‘Macedonia’ draws many tourists and economic gains to that country.

Their interests may be social because they derive pleasure from being referred to as a source of civilization. Taking away the name may mean taking away these privileges. This name is an object that has great meaning to Greece. Constructivists make a very good explanation.

A basic principle of constructivist social theory is that people act toward objects, including other players, on the basis of the meanings that the objects have for them (Wendt 1992).

The name ‘Macedonia’ is not the only property right that Greece is fighting for. FYROM continues to fan the flames of this conflict. Recently, FYROM erected an ‘Alexander the Great’ statue in Skopje (their capital) (The Economist 2011). This action did not sit well with inhabitants south of FYROM’s border. The Greeks consider Alexander the great to be their hero, an integral part of their history and culture.

The erection of the statue is a sign to Greeks of a theft of their culture and has raised animosity towards FYROM. The neoclassical realism theory would be best suited to explain Greece’s decision to continue the conflict in this case. It focuses on culture, history and national identity.

For realists, culture and identity are derivative of the distribution of capabilities and have no independent explanatory power while neorealism insists that shifts in the balance of relative capabilities are the main determinants of international politics (Katzenstein 1996).

FYROM did not stop at erecting the statue and using Macedonia as a name. After independence, the FYROM government adopted Greek nationalist symbols. They wanted to have the star of Vergina on their flag. This sixteen-ray star was the symbol used by ancient Macedonian royal dynasty and was found in King Philip’s tomb in Greece (Zahariadis n. d.).

According to Greece, this star was the emblem of the ancient Macedonians. This is why when the UN recognized FYROM; they would not allow it to fly its flag at the United Nations headquarters. The Skopje capital also applied the image of the white tower on its currency. The white tower is the symbol of Thessaloniki in Greek Macedonia.

They also changed the names of many streets and other public places with Slavic names (Zaharadis n. d.). The social environment that exists between the two countries is one that involves FYROM taunting Greece by taking away most of the symbols that have historically been Greek.

Neoclassical realism focuses on history as a determining factor in decision making. The history of Greece and FYROM is one of a powerful nation oppressing a minority group. Greece is a highly homogenous state and this in other states is considered a sign of past ethnic cleansing. This is especially so when neighbouring states are ethnically diverse.

In ancient Greece, speaking the Slavic language was considered illegal, and anybody caught committing this crime was usually severely punished and even imprisoned. As a result, parents could not pass on the Slavic language to their children. Greeks changed Slavic place names and replaced them with their own names (Shea 1997).

Present times do not allow countries to use such power to achieve their goals but history influences Greece’s decision making. If history had Greece acting as the superior power over neighbouring Slavic speakers, it will be hard for it to let go of that kind of entitlement.

It is surprising that the conflict resulted from a desire to unite the great Macedonia. The nation builders in Skopje wanted to unite the three Macedonian minorities across the borders. Uniting Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria into one state became impossible.

They decided to intensify efforts to raise the national identity and cultural distinctiveness of Macedonian minorities (Zahariadis n. d.). FYROMs desire to be recognized by the world is of utmost importance. European nation states have become responsible for all people living within Europe’s borders instead of specific nationalities.

FYROM’s entry into the EC assures it that the individual rights of its citizens will be protected by a bigger power.

Governments crave the diplomatic recognition by members of the international society of states because it bestows upon them the legitimacy they may need to secure their existence (Katzeinstein 1996) FYROM’s insistence on using Macedonia as a name is rooted in their history and is no less important to them than belonging to the EC , the UN and other international organizations.

Greece’s refusal to accept the use of this name is also rooted in their identity as Macedonian people. The two may have reached an impasse and one will have to lose its identity for the conflict to end.

This paper has used three theories to explain Greece’s firm decision not to give away the name ‘Macedonia’. Neorealism, constructivism and neoclassical realism are the international relations theories that this paper has focused on. Neorealism carries some weight in explaining Greece’s decision. It reveals that Greece defined its interests in terms of relative gains due to influence from external forces.

It also discusses the balance of power as a factor that worked for Greece for a while before it worked against it. This theory does not use identity as a reason for decision making. It’s omission of human nature and identity as determining factors makes it less of a fit for the situation in Greece.

Its weakness is its sole focus on systemic effects on national policy while ignoring motivations that inform policy (Katzeinstein 1996). Greece policies are motivated by the theft of its identity and culture and not on other factors.

Neoclassical realism uses culture, identity and history to explain the conflict. Greek sees itself in the international environment as Macedonia. It is this identity that Greece would like to keep for the social and economic gains that go with it. Like the neorealism theory, constructivism theory has its weaknesses.

Despite power being central in the making of foreign policy, constructivists have not highlighted its role in international relations (Checkel 2008). After weighing the strengths and weaknesses of the three theories, the constructivism theory emerges as the best fit to explain Greece’s decision.

It considers issues concerning the character of the state and the construction of state identities. Despite external pressure to resolve the conflict, Greece has not faltered in the fight to keep its identity.


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