Saturday, January 15, 2011

Naming a State: Disputing over Symbols of Statehood at the Example of ‘Macedonia’

Thesis review on:
“Naming a State: Disputing over Symbols of Statehood at the Example of ‘Macedonia’”.

Published at the Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law 2010 (volume 14, p. 507-561).

By: Michael Ioannidis, LLM (Cambridge), LLM (Heidelberg), PhD candidate

This publication addresses the international law aspects of the dispute between Greece and the ‘former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. The main thesis of the article is that the choice of the name of a state (and that of Macedonia in particular) can have an importance that exceeds the boundaries of the named entity and affect the interests of other international actors. In such cases, the question of naming a state should not be addressed as a simply domestic matter (as argued by fYROM) but rather from an international perspective. In short, under some conditions, the name of a state is not only a matter of self-representation, but a genuinely international affair. Thus, it cannot be solved only with reference to the argument that every country has the right to be named as it prefers, but it should address the legitimate interests of other international actors and be subject of some kind of international regulation.

This thesis is supported by mainly two arguments. The first, investigates international disputes that had as their subject the name of a state. The historical development of the Macedonia naming dispute is here presented, as the most prominent example of such controversies. Beyond that, other similar international disputes are investigated, and in particular the examples of the Ireland and Austria. The Macedonia naming dispute thus, is not an unprecedented example – much less a Balkan curiosum, as it sometimes presented. On the contrary, in the history of international relations there have been also other cases where the name of a state has been the subject of controversy.

The second argument draws upon concepts of international law that might be of relevance for such disputes. The thesis presented here is that the choice of a name might have significant consequences for international actors. This makes the issue a potential subject of international regulation. The word Macedonia is here presented as example of a symbol with dimensions beyond a single state. The use of such a multifaceted symbol by one state can however lead to its de facto monopolization by that state. This is a development that can ignore legitimate interests of other users of the same symbol and create international tension. Because of that, the name of a state should be addressed in terms of international regulation.

The author argues in sum, that a state choosing a name should not be understood as exercising an unfettered freedom. This freedom has limits that can be defined with reference to international practice, theoretical arguments and the interpretation of legal concepts.

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