Mace­do­nia aims to solve name row with Greece

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Af­ter a quar­ter-cen­tury-long dis­pute that has blocked its en­try to NATO and the Euro­pean Union, Mace­do­nia seems de­ter­mined to end the row with Greece over its name. The quar­rel be­tween Skopje and Athens dates back to Mace­do­nia’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence from Yu­goslavia in 1991 and has poi­soned neigh­borly re­la­tions. From the out­set Greece de­nied its neigh­bor the right to use the name Mace­do­nia, which is also the name of a north­ern Greek re­gion.

Greeks have cited con­cerns about his­tor­i­cal ap­pro­pri­a­tion-both sides, for ex­am­ple, claim Alexan­der the Great as their own-and that the name Mace­do­nia im­plies a broader ter­ri­to­rial claim. Athens and the Euro­pean Union rec­og­nize the small land­locked coun­try by its pro­vi­sional name, the former Yu­goslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FY­ROM), un­der which it was also ad­mit­ted to the United Na­tions.

Skopje has long in­sisted that this des­ig­na­tion was only pro­vi­sional, but in June, new So­cial Demo­cratic Prime Min­is­ter Zo­ran Zaev seemed to re­lax the line of his na­tion­al­ist pre­de­ces­sors. “With a FY­ROM ref­er­ence we can be­come a mem­ber of NATO,” Zaev said on a visit to the NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels. As a mem­ber of both NATO and the Euro­pean Union, Athens has ve­toed Mace­do­nia’s at­tempts to join both blocs, but a cal­en­dar of bi­lat­eral meet­ings is now in place to try to re­solve the dis­pute. In ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tion, Greeks usu­ally re­fer to the neigh­bor­ing coun­try as “Skopje”, the name of its cap­i­tal city.

Back in 1992, a mil­lion Greeks-one tenth of the pop­u­la­tion-took to the streets in protest over the name is­sue in Thes­sa­loniki, the main city in the Mace­do­nia re­gion. Ten­sions grew in 2006, when Skopje air­port was named “Alexan­der the Great”. The build­ing in 2011 of a huge mon­u­ment of the warrior king on a horse added fuel to the fire. Un­der in­ter­na­tional pres­sure, the statue in cen­tral Skopje was of­fi­cially named “Warrior on a horse” but that did not de­ceive any­one-es­pe­cially as, a year later, au­thor­i­ties in­au­gu­rated a gi­ant statue of Philip II of Mace­don, Alexan­der’s fa­ther.

The is­sue re­mains hugely sen­si­tive on both sides. Greece’s mi­gra­tion min­is­ter Yian­nis Mouza­las last year faced calls to re­sign af­ter re­fer­ring to the coun­try as “Mace­do­nia” in­stead of “FY­ROM” dur­ing a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view about the mi­grant cri­sis. Mouza­las quickly apol­o­gized “for this er­ror, which does not re­flect my po­si­tion and my con­vic­tions on the sub­ject of FY­ROM”. On Tues­day, the Greek women’s hand­ball team was pun­ished at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship af­ter re­fus­ing to play in Skopje against Mace­do­nia’s team wear­ing na­tional logo bear­ing that name.

In Zaev’s bid to end the row, he has spo­ken by tele­phone to his Greek coun­ter­part Alexis Tsipras. The Mace­do­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Nikola Dim­itrov was in Athens in mid-June and his Greek coun­ter­part Nikos Kotzias is go­ing to Skopje later this month. There is a “cer­tain mo­bil­i­sa­tion,” a Greek diplo­matic source told AFP, not­ing “some signs” of good will in Skopje. But the source said it was now nec­es­sary to “wait for ac­tion”.

A top of­fi­cial in Zaev’s SDSM party, who also asked not to be named, warned that Greece “could keep the same po­si­tion for two cen­turies. We should find a so­lu­tion to de­block the process of in­te­gra­tion with NATO and the EU”. But, in the frag­ile coun­try of about two mil­lion peo­ple, the of­fi­cial warned it would be nec­es­sary to reach a po­lit­i­cal “consensus” and to back up any de­ci­sion with a ref­er­en­dum. Many Mace­do­nians are against a name change but some say they want a way out of the tir­ing row.— AFP

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