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A ‘common destiny’ for Greece and Macedonia June 24, 2011

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Macedonia.
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A common destiny

Greece and Macedonia must let go of the past and focus on a joint future based on mutual respect, writes Günther Dauwen

At a time in Europe when even in very centralised states such as Poland, France, UK and the Netherlands many political discussions are held on implementing the European Charter for regional and minority languages – Greeks and Macedonians are stuck in a juridical-constitutional limbo.

At a time when the euro and eurozone members are under serious threat and Greece seems to be heading for total financial bankruptcy, Macedonia still seems not to be allowed to enter the EU anytime soon, 20 years after its independence – Greece and Macedonia continue to disagree on the name issue.

At a time where Greece actively uses a veto to block Macedonia’s rights to a new future – both countries should be focusing on a joint future, especially in this fragile Balkan regional area, if they do not want to risk missing out on this historical moment of change.

One could say that Macedonia has not progressed as it had hoped, after freeing itself from dictatorship 20 years ago. We could also say that Greece today has not progressed in the same way it hoped, when it freed itself from dictatorship 37 years ago. Both countries are in crisis, but let’s not waste time in defining the problem again but start to solve it.

Very often people say that crises are opportunities for change – but very often those involved in the crises, caught up in conflict, don’t see it that way. And yet very often those looking at the conflict from a distance are the first to acknowledge the truth of this common sense. My several visits to this area of the Balkans, and meetings here in Brussels with relevant partners, have taught me that it is time to let go of history and that both countries should choose a common destiny. This can only be done with mutual respect.

Mutual respect means recognising one another, respecting one another’s territorial integrity and one another’s minority groups. It is high time Athens, 15 years after accepting a party representing Macedonians in Greece, faces facts and recognises and accepts Greek citizens of Macedonian descent as equal citizens in society and gives them the rights that are taken for granted in other European democracies. Linguistic and cultural rights are also increasingly implemented as universal rights, simply because they are.

It is high time that Greece no longer contests what cannot be contested, the right of a country to auto-define itself. Where on earth is this name discussion between the citizens of the two countries in crisis leading to? Nowhere. It is also high time that Greece, instead of spending money it no longer has on actively denying that the Macedonian community in Greece exists, instead spends it on recognising it, coming together and building bridges.

Without this recognition, no real communication can take place and if they do not know each other’s languages, no respectful dialogue can take place. We have therefore supported the project to create a Macedonian-Greek dictionary not due to sentimental or symbolic reasons but purely for utilitarian motives.

The Greek-Macedonian version was published some years ago and this work is now concluded by publishing Macedonian-Greek version. People from both sides should be given the chance and should give dialogue a chance. I am a dictionary collector and I know that many combinations between different languages are not yet established – communications between Uighurs and Basques, between Kurds and Sorbians are not likely to be undertaken because of a lack of infrastructure, and of dictionaries.

But that two neighbouring countries with a long and rich history should not have the instruments to shape the future is an absurdity that belongs to the René Magritte museum in Brussels but not to European institutions or to the two communities in the divided societies of Greece and Macedonia.

Shall we again focus all our energy and money into interpreting and re-interpreting history or shall we put all our cards on the table and choose a future with, dialogue, respect and mutual recognition? I know that very soon now Macedonians who live and work in Greece will not be denied the right to teach their children to speak their mother tongue together with Greek. I know that the FYROM abbreviation will soon be abandoned as a heartless artifact created out of a lack of dialogue and understanding.

Let’s build bridges. The first bridge is to recognise the reality in Lerin and the second to recognise the reality in Skopje. Greece and Macedonia are such beautiful nations that today only stand to gain if they opt for a future with communication, mutual respect and recognition.

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