While a deal with Greece to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is still up in the air, the countries will reconnect by air after a 12-year break with the resumption of flights between Athens and Skopje. The roughly one-hour route connecting the two capitals will be operated by Greece’s largest carrier, Aegean Airlines, twice a week, said the news agency Reuters.
FYROM’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Bujar Osmani, was in Athens for the announcement but came by car.
“Greece will be our closest ally, and now I am heading to the airport as we re-establish an air connection that symbolizes a new strategic partnership in the region,” Osmani said after talks with Greek Alternate Foreign Minister George Katrougalos.
One of the conditions to rename FYROM as North Macedonia – which still requires ratification by the Greek Parliament in a March, 2019 vote – was for FYROM to change its international airport’s name to rename that of Alexander the Great, a Greek hero the Balkan neighbor had claimed, along with the real Macedonia, an ancient abutting Greek province, as well as the second-largest city ad major port of Thessaloniki.
Anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, with more than 62 percent of Greeks opposed to the deal, is banking on getting it through Parliament over the objection of his coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who said he will yank his party from the government if it comes to a vote.
Aegean operated flights on the Athens-Skopje route over 2003-2006 but stopped after FYROM changed its main airport’s name to Skopje Alexander the Great, infuriating Greece. FYROM’s main airport is now called International Airport Skopje and Alexander’s name was also taken off FYROM’s national highway.