Matthew Nimetz re­grets lost ‘op­por­tu­ni­ties for agree­ment’

United Na­tions me­di­a­tor in name dis­pute with FYROM speaks to Kathimerini

Kathimerini English - - F Ocus C Omment - BY TOM EL­LIS

Dur­ing the two decades since the emer­gence of the For­mer Yu­goslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FYROM), there were mo­ments when ei­ther Athens or Skopje had the nec­es­sary flex­i­bil­ity to ac­cept a com­pro­mise so­lu­tion but never at the same time, United Na­tions Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Matthew Nimetz told Kathimerini in an in­ter­view a few days be­fore the 20th an­niver­sary of the neigh­bor­ing coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence on Septem­ber 8.

Ac­cord­ing to sources in Greece and FYROM, the only mo­ment when both sides seemed ready to agree was in February 2001, when Costas Simi­tis and Ljubco Ge­orgievski seemed ready to ac­cept the name “Gorna Make­donija,” but eth­nic ten­sions in­side FYROM did not al­low the process to move ahead. As for Greece, once more in our his­tory, the max­i­mal­ist ap­proaches did not al­low the ac­cep­tance of re­al­is­tic com­pro­mises which were in the past even de­scribed as some­thing close to “na­tional trea­son” but to­day would have been seen as a na­tional suc­cess, the most char­ac­ter­is­tic case be­ing the name “Slavo­mace­do­nia,” which Con­stan­tine Mit­so­takis sug­gested in the early 90s.

Nimetz feels sad about the in­abil­ity to achieve an agree­ment dur­ing these many years of ne­go­ti­a­tions of which he has been a part since 1994, but he is con­tin­u­ing in his ef­forts be­cause the two sides want the UN process to ex­ist. He makes it clear that he does not in­tend to put for­ward a new pro­posal if he has no in­di­ca­tion from both sides that it will be ac­cepted as a ba­sis for ne­go­ti­a­tions.

As Athens in­sists on a ge­o­graphic qual­i­fier, it is thought that his last of­fi­cial pro­posal, “North Mace­do­nia,” as well as “Up­per Mace­do­nia” or “Var­dar Mace­do­nia,” which have also been dis­cussed, could be ac­cepted.

The UN me­di­a­tor says that the di­rect talks be­tween George Pa­pan­dreou and Nikola Gruevski open new pos­si­bil­i­ties, although he notes that good per­sonal re­la­tions are one thing and sub­stan­tive agree­ment an­other. He is not sure if get­ting an in­terim agree­ment be­fore a com­pre­hen­sive so­lu­tion was the right choice, not­ing the pluses and mi­nuses of the de­ci­sion, and leaves the fi­nal judg­ment to the his­to­ri­ans of the fu­ture. Fi­nally, he de­scribes as an important move the de­ci­sion of the gov­ern­ment of Costas Kara­man­lis in 2007 to ac­cept a com­pos­ite name that in­cludes the term “Mace­do­nia,” and he crit­i­cizes, with the dis­cre­tion that stems from his in­sti­tu­tional role, the de­ci­sion to put a huge statue of Alexan­der the Great in the cen­ter of Skopje.

There were times dur­ing these 20 years when I sensed that one side seemed closer to a more flex­i­ble ap­proach, but the other was not, and vice versa.

I con­tinue to see Adaman­tios Vas­si­lakis and Zo­ran Jolevski very reg­u­larly and ex­change ideas with them, as well as other par­tic­i­pants in the process.

As things stand now I will not present a new pro­posal lightly, un­less I have an in­di­ca­tion from both sides that there is se­ri­ous in­ter­est in hav­ing one pre­sented, and I con­clude it has a se­ri­ous chances of be­ing ac­cepted by both sides as a ba­sis of ne­go­ti­a­tion. At this stage it’s bet­ter not to present a new pro­posal than to have one more ef­fort be re­jected out­right by one or both of the sides. That said, there are a num­ber of ideas still on the ta­ble wor­thy of con­tin­ued di­a­logue through the UN process or bi­lat­er­ally and I stand ready to be help­ful.

De­spite not hav­ing a fi­nal so­lu­tion after all these years, I be­lieve it can be done, and I hope that through con­tin­ued di­a­logue and con­struc­tive lead­er­ship we will find a mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able so­lu­tion.

In 2007 the Greek gov­ern­ment made an important ges­ture of­fi­cially ac­cept­ing a com­pos­ite name that in­cludes the term “Mace­do­nia.” It wasn’t easy and should be ap­pre­ci­ated as a con­tri­bu­tion to the process of re­solv­ing this is­sue.

The di­rect talks be­tween Pa­pan­dreou and Gruevski are a good thing. The fact that there is a di­a­logue on that level opens pos­si­bil­i­ties and makes a break­through eas­ier to imag­ine, but of course good per­sonal re­la­tions are one thing and sub­stan­tive agree­ment an­other.

Moves by any side that in­flame ten­sions are not help­ful. They make peo­ple won­der what the re- al pur­poses of such ac­tions are and there­fore make it more dif­fi­cult to fo­cus con­struc­tively on ar­riv­ing at a fair ac­cept­able so­lu­tion. I do think that the is­sue of re­spect for pat­ri­mony and his­tor­i­cal is­sues will be more eas­ily dealt with once a so­lu­tion to the “name” is found.

The 2004 US recog­ni­tion of FYROM as “Mace­do­nia” cre­ated an uproar in Greece. I did not know any­thing of it in ad­vance and was sur­prised my­self. I was never told the rea­son, but my guess – and it’s only a guess – was that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion felt that Skopje had been closer to its poli­cies in Iraq and Afghanistan and else­where and wanted to re­ward them, while Greece was not. My sense was also that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion also felt that they are a small coun­try, hav­ing se­ri­ous in­ter­nal is­sues and that US recog­ni­tion of the con­sti­tu­tional name would help re­solve in­ter­nal is­sues.

It seemed to me that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion was in­flu­enced by the view that the coun­try sim­ply had the right to call them­selves the way they want. At least this is what I be­lieve was the mo­ti­va­tion, but I was never told, and as a UN of­fi­cial at this stage of my ca­reer, was not and am not privy to the think­ing of the US gov­ern­ment on this is­sue.

The his­to­ri­ans will de­cide if the in­terim agree­ment was the right course to fol­low. On the one hand it was good, be­cause it brought the two coun­tries and peo­ples closer and im­proved their re­la­tions, but the prob­lem has not ended, and one could say we missed an op­por­tu­nity to solve ev­ery­thing at once. On the other hand, if we had not achieved the in­terim ac­cord, re­la­tions might well have been in a worse sit­u­a­tion to­day.

Hol­brooke was a strong per­son­al­ity, I had worked with him at the State Depart­ment in the 1970s. He used the tense sit­u­a­tion in the rest of the Balkans in 1995 to per­son­ally push the two lead­ers, An­dreas Pa­pan­dreou and Kiro Glig­orov, and helped Sec­re­tary of State Cyrus Vance and me to get them to ac­cept the in­terim agree­ment which Vance and I had ne­go­ti­ated.

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