Der wundersame Fall der (Beinahe-) Republik Nordmazedonien

Eine Statue Alexanders des Großen in Skopje [Foto: Robert Benson]
Am 30. September wurden die Einwohner*innen eines kleinen Staates an der Peripherie Europas zur Wahl gebeten, um darüber abzustimmen, ob Namen mehr sind als Schall und Rauch. Für die Ehemalige Jugoslawische Republik Mazedonien steht allerdings weit mehr auf dem Spiel als die von außen teils haarspalterisch anmutende Frage der Landesbezeichnung. Seit der Unabhängigkeit Mazedoniens im Jahr 1991 schwelt ein Konflikt mit dem Nachbarstaat Griechenland, dem eine Aneignung des Namens zur Benennung der geographisch-historischen Region Makedonien in Nordgriechenland vorgeworfen wird. Die Griechen bezichtigen Mazedonien ihrerseits, hellenisches Kulturgut für sich zu vereinnahmen – nicht zuletzt durch eine Vielzahl pompöser Monumente zu Ehren Alexanders des Großen in der Hauptstadt Skopje. An der Benennungspolitik entzündet sich jedoch gleichzeitig die Frage einer potenziellen Mitgliedschaft Mazedoniens in der NATO, die durch Griechenlands Veto seit Jahrzehnten blockiert wird. Obwohl 90% der im Referendum abgegebenen Stimmen zugunsten eines Ja zur Namensänderung ausfielen, ließ sich insgesamt weniger als ein Drittel der wahlberechtigten Bevölkerung an die Urnen locken.

Was dies für den weiteren Verlauf der Verhandlungen mit Griechenland sowie die parlamentarische Ratifizierung des Abkommens bedeutet und welche Rolle Russland im geopolitischen Kräftespiel zukommt, erfahren Sie im neuen Beitrag von Robert Benson.

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The curious case of the (almost) Republic of North Macedonia

A statue of Alexander the Great in Skopje [Photo: Robert Benson]
On September 30th, the people of a small country on the periphery of the European Union went to the polls to ask the question: what, if anything, is in a name?

For the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the stakes could not be higher.  Since its independence in 1991, Macedonia has been in a quixotic albeit highly-charged public row with Greece over its official state title. The problem stems from the perceived appropriation of the name Macedonia from a geographic and historical region of northern Greece which shares the country’s namesake.

The Greeks, for their part, claim that the government of Macedonia has deliberately tried to co-opt its Hellenic culture through a policy of ‘antiquisation’. Literally, the building of garish monuments and bronze statues scattered seemingly ironically through the capital city of Skopje and culminating in a surreal tribute to Alexander the Great: A spectacle that one must first see to believe.

The policy was the brainchild of then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, whose nationalist government was brought down by a series of dramatic wiretapping revelations in 2016 and who this year was found guilty of abusing state funds.

Yet lavish spending and recriminations aside, the otherwise risible dispute has serious policy implications that extend well beyond the Balkan Peninsula.

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Cappuccino politics: Italy’s new coalition and the lessons of populism

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To understand Italian politics today, look no further than Cappuccino. Originally a Viennese invention based on the exotic beans of the coffee plant, Italians adapted the beverage by adding hot milk and a layer of milk foam to a double espresso base. Made in Italy, it spread across the globe. Just like in the case of cappuccino, Italy has just put another layer on its adoption of another foreign invention – the country is about to offer a new blend of modern Western populism.

The new Italian governing coalition mixes right-wing extremist and left-wing elements in a way unimaginable for a traditional party. Some worry that the coalition amounts to Italy opening the door to ‘the modern Barbarians’: The ‘odd couple’ is considered an unprecedented formation of ‘magical thinking’, whose implications for Italy, Europe, and the larger international order are expected to be dramatic. In this post, I explain how the ideological nucleus of populism serves as the common foundation of the coalition. Besides fighting economic stagnation and pushing back on immigration, the plans to overhaul a morally corrupt establishment in Italy and Europe form a key part of the new coalition’s programme and appeal.

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Free Trade Area: Africa May be Moving Faster than its Shadow

[Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash]

On 21 March 2018, at the 10th extraordinary session of the African Union (AU) assembly in Kigali Rwanda, 44 member states adopted the initiative known as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The draft commits countries to removing tariffs on 90% of goods. When AfCFTA comes into force, supposing all 55 member states enforce it, it will create a single market for goods and services as well as a customs union, free movement of people, and subsequently a single currency.

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Learning from Catalonia: To secede or not to secede. What criteria should be used to judge the legitimacy of independence bids?

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The standoff over Catalan secession from Spain continues, with independence leaders in jail and in exile and the Spanish government administering direct rule over Catalonia. The unsettling situation has split not only Catalans and Spaniards, but Europe as a whole. Yet beyond the ongoing pyrotechnics, if we pull back to the ten thousand meter level, we can see that this issue raises a number of bigger questions: When is it appropriate for a region of a larger geopolitical entity to secede? What criteria should be used to decide the legitimacy of an independence bid? These questions are relevant not only for the Catalan situation, but for other regions of Europe where secessionist tensions flare up on a regular basis.

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Halftime: The state of Brexit negotiations one year before the UK’s withdrawal from the EU

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Exactly one year has passed since Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union (EU). Accordingly, London and Brussels have only one more year to agree and ratify the details of the United Kingdom’s (UK) orderly withdrawal from the bloc and the principles of their future relationship. Otherwise they will divorce without any deal unless both sides agree to extend the two year period intended by Article 50.

Since the European Council (EC) opened the final and decisive phase of Brexit negotiations on 22–23 March 2018, time seems just perfect to reflect on what has been negotiated so far and what we can expect from future talks.

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Why so much fuss about one supranational official?

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Four weeks ago, Jean Claude Juncker appointed Martin Selmayr as the European Commission’s future administrative head – the so-called Secretary-General. This move came as a surprise, entered the respective Commission meeting agenda only last minute, and sidestepped the usual procedure for internal promotions. This staffing choice made it to various national news outlets (Le Monde, Zeit Online, and The Irish Times, to name a few), significantly increased online searches, created a veritable Twitter storm, and ultimately culminated into a rather confrontational debate in the European Parliament. For a public servant job in Brussels’ Berlaymont building, this is an unusual amount of public spotlight. Why so much fuss about one supranational official?

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