GUEST COLUMN (following response at the end of this article)
Numerous slights raise questions of Obama's support of ally Macedonia
For The News-Sentinel
In politics, everything means something. WikiLeaks' release of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cable communications gave insight into what our nation's diplomats are really saying about our friends behind closed doors.
Macedonia – one of our strongest allies in southeast Europe – was mentioned in several of the communications, being encouraged to back down on its inherent sovereign right to its name, identity, language and constitution, thus giving in to Greek demands in order to join NATO. This policy development has many who have a strong interest in southeast Europe questioning President Obama's intentions for the region.
In 2004, the United States and President George W. Bush recognized Macedonia under its constitutional and rightful name, the Republic of Macedonia, joining 128 other countries that have done so, including our allies Canada, India, Russia, China and the United Kingdom. Macedonia has been a strong ally to the U.S. since the two countries entered into diplomatic relations in 1994.
Macedonia demonstrated its commitment to the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by serving as the key staging area for the U.S./NATO intervention in Kosovo (KFOR) in 1999, as well as by offering refuge to more than 360,000 Kosovars during the conflict. Macedonia has since assumed command of NATO's former KFOR logistical support coordination center for Kosovo.
Macedonia participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom from July 2003 to December 2008, during which many of the Macedonian soldiers were highly decorated by U.S. military commanders for showing special courage, meritorious achievements and protecting U.S. personnel. In Afghanistan, Macedonia is among the top four largest troop contributors per capita to ISAF, and its 255 soldiers have been deployed to patrol the ISAF headquarters in Kabul.
While Macedonia is not a member of NATO, its contributions to peace, democracy, stability and security throughout the world make it a clear U.S. ally by doing its part as a de facto member for years. At the 2008 NATO summit, Macedonia was not offered membership into NATO because of Greece, and again this year at the NATO summit in Portugal. The Bush administration, and Clinton's before him, was adamant in its support of Macedonia and its goals to join NATO. This support has begun to waver since President Obama took office two years ago.
Despite Macedonia's valuable support of U.S.-led missions in Afghanistan and the world, the Obama administration has slighted Macedonia on several occasions. In May 2009, Vice President Joe Biden visited southeast Europe and bypassed Macedonia, although he was 45 minutes away in Kosovo. In April, President Obama hosted a dinner for NATO allies and did not invite Macedonia. At the 60th anniversary of NATO the same month, Macedonia was again not invited. In October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited southeast Europe and bypassed Macedonia, although she was 45 minutes away in Kosovo. Since President Obama took office, no Macedonian president, prime minister or foreign minister has had an official invitation to visit the White House or State Department, although the leaders of all the other southeast European nations have been to Washington, D.C., during the last two years.
One begins to wonder if these are just coincidences or good-old-fashioned mistakes. However, one mistake after another has our nation's close to half a million Macedonian-Americans and 2.1 million Macedonians in the country wondering if they are intentional.
President Obama is well known to be a strong friend to the Greek-American community, and his relationship with basketball buddy and losing Greek-American senatorial candidate, Alexi Giannoulias. The Obama administration went out on a limb to encourage the IMF and European bailouts for Greece all because Greece had child-like economic policies, which put the region, Europe and the world at jeopardy. Earlier this year, during the White House celebration of Greek Independence Day, President Obama offered Greek Orthodox Church Archbishop Demetrius a free platform to spread ethnic hatred against Macedonia and Macedonians. According to a recent Vanity Fair article, the Greek Orthodox Church holds a 20 percent stake in Greece's national bank.
When everything in politics means something, what is being said and done to Macedonia isn't good. Macedonia has continued to support our nation and our allies by sending troops into harm's way. If Macedonian troops can fight alongside American troops and allies, then Macedonians deserve our respect and support.
President Obama must do everything he can to show U.S. gratitude for Macedonia's contributions by using concerted diplomatic efforts to get Macedonia into NATO. Macedonia's future in Euro-Atlantic institutions, as well as the security and stability of southeast Europe, must no longer be negatively affected by bilateral issues with Greece.
Argie N. Bellio, an American of Macedonian heritage and resident of Fort Wayne, serves as the representative of the United Macedonian Diaspora's Indiana operations.
To Mr. Argie Bellio
Hellenic Electronic Center (HEC)
A Non-Profit Organization Registered in the US
with 41,000 Hellenes as members and 36 Hellenic
associations in the US and abroad
December 31 ,2010
The following letter is in response to the guest column by Argie Bellio (December 29). In terms of strategic significance, that of Greece outweighs that of the insignificant and pathetic regime in Skopje. Greece is a front line state in the war on terror that borders Turkey, a country that is now an ally of Iran and which threatens American interests. Add to this, the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus that is overwhelmingly Greek, and which helped to evacuate 15,000 American citizens from the fighting in Lebanon back in 2006. Both Greece and Cyprus enjoy excellent relations with the State of Israel as well as Arab countries, thus making Greece a significant player for promoting peace and stability in the region.
Greece's historic achievements are very well known to those who have a grasp on historical reality. Greece struck one of the earliest blows against the Axis powers when it crushed Mussolini's armies in 1940 when the latter invaded. Mr. Bellio, obviously an individual of limited historical knowledge dares to take shots at the Greek Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church of Greece is well respected and admired for its heroic defense of the Greek Jewish community during the Holocaust. Four Bishops at least have been recognized as "righteous among the nations" by the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and over 650 Greek priests were arrested by the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation for their acts of heroism.
Mr. Bellio makes no mention of Skopje's claims against Greece in his column, and one might ask why that is? The government that Mr. Bellio is defending in his column has claimed the Greek province of Macedonia as part of its own territory, has claimed ancient Macedonian symbols as its own, and has sought to deny Greece's Macedonian heritage which is affirmed by serious scholars and all those who are not part of the lunatic fringe movement in Skopje. Why does Mr. Bellio, in light of the forum that he has been given in the News Sentinel not repeat the various historical falsifications of history and territorial claims on Greece that Skopje has made?
There is very good reason why American and NATO officials have sided with Greece. Having observed the dispute up front and at the diplomatic level they have seen the evidence that Greek officials have presented.
At the 2008 NATO summit which Mr. Bellio mentions, France and Spain supported Greece while "understanding" for Greece's position was expressed by Italy, Portugal, Luxembourg, Iceland, Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Netherlands. These are the facts and the realities, which like history cannot be manipulated for deceptive propagandistic purposes, try as Mr. Bellio and Skopje might.
HEC EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE