A prisoner’s dilemma: an inappropriate analogy


Gerald Knaus, in his article Macedonia and the EU council conclusions – a small but important step forward: „The Council was a warm up exercise. Now the real game begins. Athens and Skopje face a prisoners dilemma: if neither side believes that a solution is possible, and acts on this, both will lose. If both sides take a calculated risk to take the search for a mutually acceptable solution seriously both can win.“ 

I have three main objections to his conclusion.

Firstly, the “game” metaphor is totally inappropriate after two decades of “Macedonia Name Dispute”, bearing in mind that the dispute is affecting mainly the rights and the prospects of only one party – The Republic of Macedonia. This could be perceived as “a game” only in sadomasochistic terms. However, it is totally wrong to believe, after two decades of inhumane and degrading treatment of Macedonian citizens by Greece, that Macedonians are enjoying the “SM-game” with Greece. What could be perceived as “a game” by a sadist, could be experienced as torture by his/her victims.

Secondly, after the Council`s decision, Macedonia is faced with two clear ultimatums. According to Gerald Knaus: “This means: if there is an agreed solution on the name issue soon, and if there are ‘concrete actions and results’ from high level meetings with Bulgaria till April, the goal to start accession talks in 2013 “before the next presidency” or very early in it remains alive.” Therefore, if and only if Macedonia accepts both ultimatums, “the goal to start accession talks in 2013… remains alive”. Otherwise, “the goal to start accession talks in 2013” will be an unattainable goal. Is it possible to represent such an impasse as “a small but important step forward”?

Third, the analogy with "a prisoner’s dilemma" is not only false, but also very offensive. Athens was never a prisoner, but a prison guard and perhaps a political torturer abusing the “Macedonia Name Dispute”. The assumption that Athens could lose anything if it does not believe that a solution is possible is unjustifiable. What can Greece lose? Its reputation as a champion of democracy ?

The continuing attempts of Greece to “extort” a confession from Macedonian political representatives, as well as the inhumane end degrading treatment towards the ethnic Macedonians and their cultural identity are clear symptoms of ‘political torture’. Unfortunately, the outcome of this political torture, aided by Bulgaria and other EU countries as well, is the rise of Macedonian ethno-nationalism and the decline of liberalism, democracy and human rights.

To conclude, there is another reason why “a prisoner’s dilemma” is a false and an offensive analogy.  A prisoner’s dilemma is a situation following the offer from “a clever prosecutor” with an intention to obtain a confession. The analogy is offensive not only for Macedonia and Greece (represented as prosecuted prisoners), but for the EU as well, because the political role of the EU is not to be a “a clever prosecutor”, but a defender of human rights and European democratic values.

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