FYROM Won’t Agree to Greek Demand for Name for All Uses


Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs George Katrougalos. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Sotiris Dimitropoulos)

ATHENS - Sputtering talks to try to end a 26-year name feud hit a wall with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s (FYROM) refusal to agree to a new composite for all uses, including domestically, where it calls itself Macedonia.

Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos told the Athens-Macedonia News Agency that FYROM also won’t change its Constitution to remove claims on Greek lands, another major obstacle to a resolution.

"These are not small issues, and at the moment Skopje is insisting," Katrougalos said. "The ball is in their court," he added, using the name of the country’s capital. For there to be a deal, there must be "a necessary concession by the other side," he said.

Greece wants the name agreed with FYROM to be "erga omnes" - to be used both domestically and internationally -- so that there are no loose ends "that could lead to irredentist prospects in the future," Katrougalos said.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev are expected to discuss the progress of United Nations-mediated negotiations just before the start of a European Union-Western Balkans conference on May 18.

Stepping back from what seemed like almost a done deal, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said Greece won’t agree to a name deal unless FYROM agrees to use it domestically and internationally. Trying to end the stalemate, the countries have been trying to negotiate a settlement that would see FYROM be allowed to keep the name Macedonia – that of an abutting ancient Greek province – but only with a qualifier such as Upper.

But with 140 countries already calling FYROM by Macedonia, that’s the preference in Greece’s neighbor for use there, without the geographical qualifier.

That’s unacceptable even to the anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who said he wants to give away the name Macedonia, but added another condition that FYROM must change its Constitution to remove claims on Greek lands – including Macedonia and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.

Tsipras said he also wants to pave the way for FYROM to get into NATO and the European Union, both blocked by Greek vetoes over the years because of the irredentist claims.

United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has failed for two decades to find a solution, resumed talks this year after a three-year break amid speculation the US is keen on getting FYROM into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.

Kotzias already has said there’s no time for that to happen before summer meetings of NATO and the EU, and Zaev has waffled over whether there’s still a chance yet.

“Experience has shown that if this government changes, the next one will send (PM Zoran) Zaev to jail, claiming he violated the constitution by accepting an international name that is not foreseen nor allowed by the constitution (in FYROM,) said Kotzias.

The US said it supports efforts to resolve the disagreement in accordance with a decision made at a 2008 NATO meeting in Bucharest, Romania that was similar to what is being discussed by Greece’s government, although Tsipras’ junior coalition, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Panos Kammenos opposes the name Macedonia being ceded away forever.

FYROM was first allowed to use the word in 1992 by a New Democracy government in Greece under the now-late Premier Konstantinos Mitsotakis – whose son, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is now head of the party and hasn’t said how he stands on the name game.