On Wednesday, January 17, working groups of Greece and Macedonia met with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz at UN Headquarters to resolve a 27-year long name dispute between these two countries. After the meeting, Nimetz expressed his hope that this process is moving in a positive direction.
Since the disintegration of Yugoslavia when Macedonia declared independence, Greece has objected to Skopje’s use of the name Macedonia arguing that it implies territorial claims over some parts of northern Greece which used to be part of the ancient Greek kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great.
Furthermore, Greeks contend that Macedonia is appropriating a part of Greece’s ancient history. This topic used to be good for nationalists in both countries claiming they have special rights over Alexander the Great and other glorious moments from that time. So, Greek nationalists claim that the name Macedonia is of great importance for Greek’s history, tradition and culture that they should not be under pressure by their northern neighbour.
Following the declaration of independence made by Macedonia in 1991, Greece’s objections to the word “Macedonia” in the country’s name delayed its recognition by the international community and its accession to the UN. In 1993, it has been agreed that the country should be referred to internationally as “FYROM” until the dispute is resolved and this is the name under which Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations.
Three years later, in 1995, the two countries got formalised relations and committed to start negotiations on the name issue, under the auspices of the UN. Greece and Macedonia signed an Interim Accord which imposed a binding ‘code of conduct’. But, in that time the president of Macedonia, Kiro Gligorov, opposed the proposed formula and he informed the president of the UN Security Council that Macedonia will under no conditions be prepared to accept ‘the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ as the name of the country.
Later the name dispute continued to be the greatest obstacle in relations between Greece and Macedonia. In order to express its dissatisfaction with the situation, Greece blocked Macedonia on its European path. In April 2008, Greece rejected proposals by the Macedonian government and UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, and vetoed Macedonia’s accession to NATO. Only a year later, Greece put a veto over the start of Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations.
Recently with the change of government in Macedonia, strong efforts are shown towards the solution on the name dispute. In his interview for Greece’s Alpha TV, Prime Minister of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, shared his optimism that it’s possible to find a solution by the end of the first semester of 2018. It seems like that Macedonia is in hurry to solve this issue in order to speed up its European negotiations which are expected to be open. Also, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told reporters that Athens wants to solve the dispute of the year.
“I think 2018 will be the year when foreign policy issues that have been stuck in the mud for decades will be resolved”, said Kotzias after the meeting of the inner cabinet.
As there is no indication that the compromise will be found, it is obvious that there is substantial progress achieved in confidence building between the two countries. It might be in the national interest of both countries to solve this name dispute as soon as possible.
“Each country is a democracy and they are going to work it out their way, and if they do not want an agreement there will not be an agreement,” concluded Matthew Nimetz.
Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States