Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Premier Zoran Zaev said his country is ready to end a 26-year-long dispute with Greece and accept a qualifier such as Northern, Upper or New – as long as the word “Macedonia” kept.
FYROM joined the United Nations in 1993 with the provisional name FYROM because Greece objected to the one-word name saying it implied a territorial claim to a Greek province of the same name.
“I would like the negotiations [with Greece] to succeed… We are ready for a geographical qualifier in the name,” he told reporters in the capital Skopje on Feb. 6, the news agency Reuters reported.
“With today’s decision… we are confirming our step towards building friendship and confidence with Greece,” he said with his country making almost no significant concession in getting Greece to bend.
Greece’s ruling anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA wants to give the name away for good after it was allowed by a New Democracy government in 1992 for the emerging Balkan neighbor breaking away from Yugoslavia.
The acronym FYROM was supposed to be a temporary solution until a permanent name could be agreed for all uses, including internationally, but more than 140 of the world’s 195 countries already call that country “Macedonia” and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said Greece has no choice but to give in.
That’s despite Greece having vetoed FYROM hopes of getting into NATO and the European Union but with pressure building to relent with United Nations Envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has failed for more than two decades to find a solution picking up talks between the countries after a three-year break.
The US wants to get FYROM into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests and Tsipras, elected on promises that included taking Greece out of NATO and removing American military interests has ironically picked up the baton and championed those causes, further reneging on his vows, including pledges to reverse austerity.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Zaev said FYROM has already changed the names of its international airport and major highway named for Alexander the Great, the Greek conqueror it claimed along with Greek lands, heritage and culture, including the real Macedonia in Greece and the second-largest city and port of Thessaloniki.
Zaev said the airport will be renamed International Airport Skopje and the highway will be called Friendship but didn’t say whether a statue of Alexander in the capital would be taken down too.
Tsipras and Kotzias said they didn’t care that hundreds of thousands of people marched in protest in Thessaloniki and Athens against their plans for the name giveaway, dismissing them as irrelevant or nationalist and that they would proceed anyway.
Ironically, the qualifiers that FYROM said it will now accept have been on the table for years, including from another former New Democracy government ten years ago but only now is being accepted.
Nimetz had included those in his list of suggestions that Kotzias said Greece was willing to accept because it was in the national interest, without explaining why giving away the name of Macedonia was.
Tsipras said he wants to pave the way for FYROM to get into NATO too even though that country isn’t willing to change its Constitution to renounce claims in Greek lands and other irredentist stances.
Zaev and Tsipras met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January and pledged a speedy end to the name feud even though Greece could have hung tough and kept FYROM out of NATO and the EU until another name other than Macedonia was agreed.
FIRST FYROM FLIGHT
The Greek newspaper Kathimerini said that if a deal is sealed that Kotzias will fly to FYROM in the first direct flight from Athens in years instead of having Zaev come to Athens for the agreement.
The Greek Foreign Ministry welcomed FYROM’s move to rename the airport and highway, referring to a “positive step toward reversing what has happened in the past decade and created tensions in the relations between the two countries.”
It also referred to an “important development in the direction of dealing with irredentism,” even though Alexander’s statue remains and FYROM hasn’t agreed to change its Constitution or give up claims on Greek lands.
“We hope that it marks the start of a new chapter in the relations between our two countries and peoples,” the ministry said.
Zaev also denied claims by Kotzias that FYROM authorities delayed briefing the public about the progress of negotiations.
“The public has been fully informed,” Zaev said. “A solution is reachable and it is to this purpose that negotiations are under way,” but he he didn’t say whether he would keep his word to hold a referendum with Tsipras unwilling to do so in Greece as polls show up to 68 percent of Greeks are opposed to his decision to relent.