With media reports indicating that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s new name will still include the word Macedonia, United Nations Special Envoy Matthew Nimetz and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have upped the pressure on Greece to concede in a 26-year-long name feud.
A Greek government in 1992 agreed to let its neighboring country that had broken away from Yugoslavia temporarily call itself the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia until a final, permanent name could be agreed.
Macedonia is the name of a northern Greek province abutting FYROM, which claims that land as well as other Greek territories, including the second-largest city, the port of Thessaloniki while it uses the Greek Macedonian flag, said Greek conqueror Alexander the Great was really Slavic, named its airport after him and erected a statue in the capital of Skopje, among other provocations.
That has led Greece to block FYROM’s entry into NATO and the European Union but with those bodies holding critical meetings this year reports indicated that the United States is squeezing Greece to give on so the alliance can have another member and bulwark againste Russian interests in the Balkans.
The ruling anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA Greek coalition has already hinted it’s willing to surrender the name even though Greece has all the bargaining power with the NATO and EU vetoes and FYROM has none.
Nimetz – An American lawyer who has failed for two years as a broker to find an answer to the dilemma – reportedly has offered only five names for Greece to choose from, and all include the word Macedonia – including the Republic of Macedonia, the name FYROM already uses for itself and is recognized by more than 140 of the world’s 195 countries.
The other names reported by the website www.mkd.mk in FYROM were:
- Republika Nova Makedonija (Republic of New Macedonia)
- Republika Severna Makedonija (Republic of Northern Macedonia)
- Republika Gorna Makedonija (Republic of Upper Macedonia)
- Republika Vardarska Makedonija (Republic of Vardar Macedonia)
The site also said that Nimetz proposed that FYROM’s language and nationality should be called Makedonski and Makedonska respectively.
With Nimetz meeting with Greek and FYROM negotiators in New York, NATO chief Stoltenberg went to Skopje where he said he “strongly welcomes” that country’s aspirations of joining.
He told the Parliament there that while it is “good to be ambitious, it is also important to be realistic..” He added that, ““There is still much hard work to be done. That means, of course, resolving the issue of your country’s name. It’s an issue that has weighed on this region – and this country – for far too long,” and is still going on.
While his words were measured there’s no secret that NATO wants FYROM in the alliance as soon as possible and his presence there coincided with Nimetz’s push with SYRIZA already said to be behind the concession, which could draw fury from Greek nationalists and continued opposition from the Church of Greece.
STAY COOL, YOUR HOLINESS
Trying to calm the waters after Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias was said behind a harsh statement aligning the church with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn that opposes giving away the name with nothing in return, Tsipras met with Archbishop Ieronymos to discuss the ongoing negotiations before the government briefed the country’s political party leaders.
The meeting took place at the Archbishopric in Athens after Tsipras was briefed by Kotzias on the results of the talks so far, Kathimerini said.
A close aide who was not identified justified the Premier’s decision to speak with the archbishop before party leaders, saying that “We inform anyone who asks us,” but it wasn’t reported whether that included the major opposition New Democracy Conservatives sniping at SYRIZA because its coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader Panos Kammenos, the Defense Minister, has rejected the name Macedonia for any new composite for FYROM.
GAME OVER, MAN
Vasko Naumovski, FYROM’s negotiator with Nimetz, was defiant after the talks with the envoy and Greece’s man, Adamantios Vasilakis, telling the Sitel TV station in Skopje that, “We have a name, it is the Republic of Macedonia … no one can deny the existence of a ‘Macedonian’ nation and language.”
The always upbeat Nimetz, said the solution will include Macedonia, squeezing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to give up as he did to the country’s international lenders.
Any hopes for a solution without the word Macedonia would be “unrealistic,” said Nimetz, who asked both negotiators to respond to the proposals in two weeks at the latest with a resolution sought within two months.
There was no explanation why Greece hasn’t refused and told FYROM to wait another 26 years and try again.
But SYRIZA and government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos signaled that Greece has already run up the white flag and said that Nimetz had provided a “framework for negotiations” and that the name would “not harm Greek national interests.”
“The government will do what it can to achieve a solution to a problem that has affected the country for more than 25 years and constantly creates complications on the international stage,” Tzanakopoulos said.
“Precisely because the Balkans is an unstable region that has been through a lot, it is incredibly important that loose ends are gradually tied up and stability established, so that the entirety of the region can enter a historical phase of growth, cooperation and solidarity,” he told 24/7 radio.
A RIGHT HOOK
ANEL lawmaker Dimitris Kammenos – no relation to the Defense Minister – said the tiny party, which has only nine votes, but enough to give the government a scant three-vote majority in Parliament, would oppose the name Macedonia for any new name for FYROM.
“Given that they want to join NATO, they should be the ones of back down, not us,” Dimitris Kammenos said in a radio interview.
Defense Minister Kammenos has waffled on what he would do with initial reports indicating he would go along with whatever Tsipras wanted so that he and ANEL, which are polling around 1 percent in polls, could stay in power even at the risk of betraying their alleged principles after also reneging on anti-austerity vows.
Curiously, while Kammenos now rejects the word Macedonia, he said he has full faith in Kotzias, who wants it, and whom he has called the greatest Foreign Minister in the history of Greece although they are alleged ideological rivals.
Recently though, Kammenos said a referendum should be called over a new name as FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev has promised his people with other reports claiming that Kotzias told Zaev to renege on that, as Tsipras has on his vows on almost everything.
“The Greek people will have to decide on the unprecedented, in the history of man, [decision to] cede their history and civilization to another people,” he said in an op-ed in the Kriakatiki Dimokratia newspaper.
“Including the term ‘Macedonia’ in the [new] name would signal the retrenchment of Greek civilization in the centuries to come,” he wrote, although he said he would accept Makedonija, which is translated to Macedonia, allowing him to claim he was opposed to giving away the name while agreeing to do it, a tactic he has used frequently.
SYRIZA’s deputy parliamentary spokesman, Giorgos Varemenos, said he does not understand the call for a referendum “or all the speculation regarding the name, which is equal to political gambling.”
Tsipras in 2015 called a referendum asking Greeks to join him in opposing more austerity demanded by international creditors but as soon as they did, voting overwhelmingly for that position, he reneged on them too.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)