Why does Greece not recognize ethnic minorities?
Centrally located on the Balkan Island, between Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYR Macedonia for short) extends over an area of around 25,700 km², which is slightly larger than the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Around 2.1 million people of different ethnic origins live in this area: a good two thirds of the population are ethnic Macedonians. The largest minority are Albanians, around 25%. In addition, Turks, Roma, Serbs, Bosniaks, Vlachs and other minorities live in the FYR Macedonia. About 70% of the population belong to the Macedonian Orthodox Church (other Orthodox faiths are not recognized), a quarter to Islam, and there are Catholic, Methodist and Jewish minorities. This multi-ethnic structure is reflected not least in the fact that there are a total of six national languages. Today the FYR Macedonia is organized as a central state with parliamentary democracy.
Macedonia also has an eventful history: after belonging to the Slavic and Ottoman empires and, most recently, to Yugoslavia, the country declared its independence in 1991. In the same year the new constitution comes into force, which lays the constitutional foundation of the republic.
From regional problems to stability and EU accession?
The Republic of Macedonia, despite its independence, did not have an easy life. The naming plays a key role in this: the Balkan state was only able to join the United Nations in 1993 when it officially adopted the name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM). The main reason for the dispute over the name is the view of Greece, according to which only one single Macedonia exists - and that is the Macedonia under Alexander the Great or today a Greek province called Macedonia. Accordingly, Greece does not recognize the constitutional name “Republic of Macedonia”. However, diplomatic relations have improved significantly since the Greek embargo was lifted in 1995, and Greece was the largest investor in FYR Macedonia until the financial crisis. However, the ethnic Macedonian ruling party VRMO / DPMNE is straining relations with some neighboring countries, including Greece, but above all Bulgaria. Nevertheless, the FYR Macedonia has friendly relations with many other neighboring countries, which are cultivated, for example, through various free trade agreements and other initiatives for regional cooperation in the Balkans.
Stability on the Balkan Peninsula is of twofold interest: Since peace on the European continent is an important condition for the functioning of the EU, stable states in the Balkans are indispensable, which the EU supports with various policies, which are primarily concerned with the States to manifest association agreements they have concluded. Participation in these programs is very attractive for the Balkan states, as the implementation of these agreements is a basic requirement for possible EU accession. There is therefore a special accession process for the Balkan states in which regional stability and cooperation are paramount. This also applies to Macedonia: the association agreement with the EU was signed in 2000, candidate status was granted in 2005, and since 2009 Macedonian nationals have been able to travel to the EU without a visa. The EU-Macedonia accession dialogue began four years ago. However, this dialogue must be distinguished from the accession negotiations: Although the European Commission has annually renewed the recommendation to start accession negotiations, there has not yet been a corresponding Council decision, which is due to the unresolved name dispute between Greece and Macedonia.
Despite the transformation process: problems with business and human rights
Economically, Macedonia has gone through a process of transformation since its independence in 1991, not least because the EU sooner or later promised the Balkan states accession to the EU, which made a system of free market economy necessary. The efforts made in this process are, however, repeatedly hampered by rampant corruption, as foreign investors complain about the lack of security and transparency. In addition, high unemployment (28%) and widespread poverty, which is estimated to affect a third of the population, paralyze the market. The average monthly income is € 345, which is 35% of the EU average. The FYR Macedonia is highly dependent on imports, as the low purchasing power makes domestic production less profitable.
Human rights in Macedonia cannot be compared with European standards: the rule of law is not guaranteed, the judicial system is permeated with corruption, the taking of advantages and political influence. In addition, freedom of the press is restricted and ethnic or sexual minorities are exposed to severe discrimination. Human rights violations are particularly evident in the conditions of detention, as the use of violence and, in some cases, torture can be observed, and a fair trial is not guaranteed. Although some rights such as assembly rights, academic freedom or freedom of the Internet are given, Macedonia has high deficits.
Since many EU member states, including Germany and France, have already designated Macedonia on national lists as a “safe country of origin”, it is not unlikely that the country would also appear on an EU-wide list. However, the political stability of the country often belies the economic and human rights problems.
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