Archive for March, 2008

Macedonia, NATO, and Thucydides

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

From today’s RFE/RL Newsline:

NATO CHIEF CALLS ON MACEDONIA TO COMPROMISE ON NAME ISSUE. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Athens on March 3 that the Macedonian authorities should take the first step in resolving the long-standing dispute with Greece over Macedonia’s official name, news agencies reported. He stressed that “we have to realize that Greece is a staunch member of NATO. Aspiring nations are not members of NATO, and that is the basic difference.” Macedonia hopes to receive an invitation to join NATO at the alliance’s Bucharest summit in April. The name issue has bedeviled relations between the two countries ever since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. It was admitted to the UN in 1993 under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Greece maintains that the name “Macedonia” alone implies a claim on the northern Greek province of the same name. PM

The merits of this particular case aside, I have to admire de Hoop Scheffer’s frankness. It makes me think of a great Greek authority on matters military and political. In the Melian dialogue, Thucydides writes

The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Which is more or less de Hoop Scheffer’s point. Of course, Thucydides puts this argument in the mouth of those who massacre the men of Melos and sell the women and children into slavery.


Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Brian Whitmore hasĀ  just written a piece for RFE/RL on Russia’s new version of dual power, parroting Roy Medvedev’s examples of successful political collaboration in Russian history: Nicholas II / Stolypin and Brezhnev / Kosygin. I thought that was wrong a week ago, and I still think it’s wrong.

On the bright side, Whitmore brings in another example courtesy of Edward Keenan: Filaret and Mikhail Romanov. This one I like better. For those who haven’t followed early modern Russian politics closely, Mikhail Romanov was the first tsar in the Romanov dynasty, and took the throne in 1613 at the age of 16 after the apocalyptic Time of Troubles almost destroyed the Russian state. Real power was in the hands of Mikhail’s father Filaret, who had been forcibly made a monk and so couldn’t rule directly.

Two comments, though: first, the analogy isn’t that complimentary to Putin. Filaret had established himself during the Time of Troubles as a double-dealer and backstabber, standing out for such qualities even during the Troubles, when the bar for sleaziness was set pretty high. Indeed, as I read Chester Dunning on the Time of Troubles, it’s conceivable that the Romanovs were behind the First False Dmitrii who set off the Troubles to begin with.

Second, Putin has been quite clear in his public comments that he as Prime Minister will be subordinate to Medvedev as President. The power relationship between Filaret and Mikhail ran in the opposite, and indeed more natural, direction, and settles no questions about whether the Putin-Medvedev dynamic is sustainable.