Sun, Sep 23, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: If Macedonia can do it ...

At the UN General Assembly, it has been referred to as "T," for "The," while within NATO and the EU it is known by its acronym -- FYROM.

Last week, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia won a substantial diplomatic victory when the Canadian government announced it would dispose of silly euphemisms and officially recognize it by the name Macedonia, a name which Greece has vehemently opposed ever since the region gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Of course, Athens was not pleased with Ottawa's change of heart and the Greek foreign minister said she would contact her Canadian counterpart to "stress Greece's unwavering position" on the issue, which could possibly include Athens blocking any attempt by Macedonia to join the EU, the UN and NATO under that name.

By now, readers may have realized that the language used by Greece sounds so familiar that it's almost spooky. Substitute Athens for Beijing and Macedonia for Taiwan and you'd think we had left the Balkans for Asia.

Taiwanese could interpret Canada's decision in two ways. They could be disgusted, given the fact that during that same week Ottawa tactlessly prevaricated on issuing a visa to Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Yu Shyi-kun, only to use Typhoon Wipha as an excuse. Also, the UN yet again shot down Taiwan's bid to join the world body. Why, one would rightly ask, can Macedonia -- a country with a population one-twelfth that of Taiwan and, at US$16.96 billion, a GDP one-eightieth that of its Asian counterpart -- gain official recognition, while Taiwan continues to be snubbed?

To not call this unfair would, at best, be an exercise in delusion.

On the other hand we can look at the decision and see it as promising for Taiwan, however remote that glimmer of hope might be. Despite pressure from Macedonia's bigger, stronger neighbor and the fact that Canada and Greece are both NATO members, Ottawa still chose to recognize Macedonia, political fallout notwithstanding.

Truth be told, the damage to Canada's ties with Athens far outweighs the benefits of recognizing Macedonia. It will be interesting to see if, in the coming months, other countries follow suit.

For Taiwan, a decision like the one Ottawa made last week shows that patience and a sustained public relations campaign to sell a nation's struggle for recognition to the international community will, in the long run, bring benefits.

Sixteen years, as was the case with Macedonia, is short compared with Taiwan's nearly 60-year struggle -- and there is still no guarantee that Macedonia will successfully accede to the world bodies anytime soon. But a G8 and UN member now chooses to call it by its proper name.

Macedonia's success didn't come about all on its own, but followed a long charm campaign, accompanied by bullying and intransigence on the part of Athens. Such endeavors, like it or not, cost money.

Which brings us to the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) threat last week to sue the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for spending an estimated NT$100 million (US$3 million) on its UN campaign. Though the exercise failed in its primary objective, it was immensely successful in promoting Taiwan and engendering debate all over the world. Rarely has Taiwan been discussed so extensively in newspapers, from the US to Denmark, or had rallies -- from San Francisco to Vancouver -- held in support of the nation.

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