Macedonia: the name that separates Skopje from Athens. Negotiations in New York to pave the road leading to Brussels

The dispute on the official name of the Balkan Country has been dragging on for years, while Greece is curbing Macedonia’s EU adhesion process. Filipov (expert): “It’s time to solve this problem.” The Greek population took to the streets in Thessaloniki. Tsipras’ cautious statement

Il "Guerriero a cavallo", statua eretta nel 2011 nella piazza principale di Skopje e dedicata ad Alessandro Magno. Il monumento - che a suo tempo aveva sollevato obiezioni in Grecia - è alto complessivamente 23 metri

The “Warrior on a horse” statue erected in 2011 in Skopje’s main square is dedicated to Alexander the Great. The monument – strongly criticised by Greece at the time of its erection – is 23mt. tall.

“Today, after 27 years of debates over the name of the Country, although with great delay, everything is in place to solve this thorny issue”: on the aftermath of the negotiations between Macedonia and Greece held in New York under the aegis of the United Nations, Kosta Filipov, expert in Macedonia and Western Balkans, draws a balance on the difficult relations between Skopje and Athens.

Serious obstacle. “It is hoped that this issue will be solved by the end of June so that Skopje may become a NATO-member Country during July’s summit”, Filipov told SIR. Immediately after the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia declared independence from ex Yugoslavia in 1991 Greece raised objections over the fact that the term “Macedonia” is a Greek word referring to the Kingdom and culture of the ancient Greek region of Macedonia, with Thessaloniki as its capital. To date the name-issue was the major impediment of the Balkan Country’s Euro-Atlantic process. “In these latest negotiations concrete names have been proposed for the very first time – Filipov said quoting Skopje unofficial information sources –, including New Macedonia, Upper Macedonia, Northern Macedonia, Macedonia of Vardar and Macedonia (Skopje), all preceded by ‘Republic’”

Nationalistic rhetoric. For the expert “a compromise solution will have to be reached in any case because the Macedonian people will never accept a solution that eliminates the term “Macedonia” from the country’s name, as requested by a number of Greek politicians. And it will have to be a composite appellation.” International organisations recognize the provisional reference “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” – FYROM -. For Filipov, “the new political context in the two Balkan Countries plays a decisive role in resolving this issue. Macedonian Premier Zoran Zaev has relinquished the nationalistic rhetoric of his predecessor Gruevski and is trying to restore a central role to Skopje on the international arena by improving relations with neighbouring Countries, while the international community – UN, Nato and EU – are pressuring Greece to renounce its claims.”

Monuments and roads. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in official visit to Skopje a few days ago, declared: “Joining NATO requires a solution to the name issue.” “In all likelihood – Filipov said – negotiations with the Greeks are bound to include changes in the names of several monuments dedicated to Alexander the Macedonian and other figures that Athens considers to be a part of its own heritage, including names of streets of the Macedonian capital, and of Skopje’s airport, an expression of the nationalistic politics of the previous government that tried to create a strong nationalistic identity for the past 10 years, based on its own interpretation of history.”

Necessary reforms. The new name of Macedonia-Fyrom, accepted by Greece, would pave the way to the adhesion process with the EU, which Skopje has sought to join for the past 9 years – but to no avail. However, the path to Brussels requires a set of domestic reforms, starting with the judicial and economic system, to include freedom of the press. “But no glimpse of reform is yet to be seen in these sectors”, Filipov concluded.

Greeks rallying in the streets of Thessaloniki. In the meantime a strong popular reaction was registered by Greece, where yesterday 90 thousand people took to the streets to protest against the use of the name “Macedonia by the Slavs.” The organizers of the protest, including many right-wing formations, announced that the march will be repeated in Athens next February 4. Participants included representatives of the clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church. For the experts, more people took to the streets over the use of the name Macedonia than those still protesting against austerity measures. “I hope the Greek people will clearheadedly establish what is good for national interest and what is not”, said Greek Premier Aleksis Tsipras. “For the last 25 years our neighbours are recognized as Republic of Macedonia by a number of countries, so it is not unreasonable to include the term ‘Macedonia’ in a composite name, so that it is absolutely clear that no one claims territory or the history of other peoples”, he said. “The lack of a solution in the name issue is damaging” the relations with our neighbours, concluded Tsipras, who will need to convince many Greeks and several politicians that “in fact the name Macedonia can be nobody’s exclusive property.”

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