On Dec. 11, when Macedonians go to the polls in early parliamentary elections, foreign policy should weigh heavily on their minds. The government in power—a coalition of the predominantly Macedonian party known as VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Union for Integration, or DUI, the country’s largest ethnic Albanian party—has declared that its foreign policy and diplomacy over the past decade has been largely successful. But from relations with its neighbors, to progress toward membership in NATO and the EU, to Macedonia’s international reputation, how true is that?
Any evaluation has to start with Macedonia’s fraught position in the Balkans. Serbia, to the north, considers Macedonia to be “southern Serbia,” at least according to Serbian nationalists. Kosovo, to the northwest, and Albania to the west, seem to believe that the presence in Macedonia of an ethnic Albanian minority entitles them to some sort of jurisdiction, even territorial. Bulgaria, to the east, which shares profound similarities in terms of its Slavic language, culture and heritage, appears to consider Macedonia an extension of itself. To the south, Greece insists on a complete monopoly over anything Macedonian, especially the name.
Denying the legitimacy of a Macedonian ethnicity, Greece has refused to accept Macedonia as a state ever since its declaration of independence in 1991, following the collapse of Yugoslavia. Greece has deployed its full statecraft to quash any attempt by Macedonia to enter the European Union or become part of NATO.