BELGRADE – One of the more positive news to come out from the EU – Western Balkans Summit in Sofia was undoubtedly the announcement of an agreement between Macedonia and Greece over the name issue.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev announced that the two sides found a name proposal acceptable for both and that now they had to present it to their own governments. Later that day, however, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras downplayed the resolution of the dispute, saying that progress has been made, but that “we cannot yet talk about an agreement”.
It was later revealed that the proposal for the name issue was “Republika Ilindenska Makedonija”, referring to the Ilinden (St. Eliah Day) uprising of 1903 in Macedonia against the Ottoman Empire.
Nikolaos Tzifakis, Associate professor of the University of the Peloponnese and a member of Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), believes that contrary to expectations, the Sofia Summit did not produce any breakthrough in the name dispute.
According to him, “Zaev’s idea of a compromise solution, “Republika Ilindenska Makedonija”, has not garnered much support from Athens.” Tzifakis explains the reason for this.
“Several Greek political parties have perceived the association of their northern neighbour’s state appellation with Ilinden as a confirmation of Skopje’s irredentist claims. It is argued in Athens that both the “first” and “second” Ilinden (1903 and 1944) were linked to aspirations for the unification of the entire Macedonian region, currently split between Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria. From this viewpoint, “Republika Ilindenska Makedonija” appears to be a much worse choice than any other proposal actually at the table.”
Tzifakis, however, believes that we should not get pessimist and lose sight of the wider picture in the bilateral talks and that The Sofia Summit “was not a setback in the name dispute either”.
According to him, “four out of five proposals suggested by Matthew Nimitz, especially Nova and Gorna Makedonija, are acceptable for Athens. Indeed, the state name does not seem to be the greatest hurdle in bilateral talks. The most important challenges lie elsewhere.”
As Tzifakis explains, “Greece expects that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will revise its Constitution so that any solution will be applied domestically as well. As for Skopje, it anticipates that any deal will imminently unlock its Euro-Atlantic integration despite the fact that the agreement’s full implementation may take a few years”.
He believes that the time lag in different phases of an agreement “can certainly be bridged if both parties continue negotiating with the same resolve and commitment to finding a solution. In this process, the forthcoming EU and NATO Summits represent great opportunities.”
“Still, they should not be treated as the last chances ahead of us for conflict resolution. Athens and Skopje have managed in less than a year to come closer than ever and this is a non-negligible accomplishment”, concludes Tzifakis.