Macedonia Close to Solving Name Dispute with Greece, PM says
Zoran Zaev, Macedonia’s prime minister, has said his country and Greece are moving closer to solving one of Europe’s most intractable diplomatic disputes — the quarrel over what name the former Yugoslav republic should use. The two countries have been at odds since the early 1990s over whether Greece’s neighbour has the right to call itself Macedonia, a name that politicians in Athens say implies a territorial claim on an identically named region of northern Greece.
Officially, the young state is known as FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). In an interview with the Financial Times in London, Mr Zaev said he was hopeful of a settlement. But he said a Greek demand for Macedonia to amend its constitution, to make clear it has no claims on Greek territory, was unreasonable and risked torpedoing the deal that each side says it wants. Mr Zaev hopes he and Alexis Tsipras, the leftist Greek prime minister, will find a compromise before a Nato summit in Brussels on July 11-12. “I’m optimistic. It’s very difficult, we’re aware of that.
But it would be smart for both sides to find a solution as early as possible,” Mr Zaev said. “Now the new requirement from Greece is that we need to change our constitution. But a constitution is a home rule book. It doesn’t have implications outside the country. In any case, changing the constitution wouldn’t be a final guarantee, because a new government in the future could just change the constitution back again.”
Guided by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, Mr Zaev and Mr Tsipras are considering five names for FYROM: the Republic of Macedonia (Skopje), Northern Macedonia, Upper Macedonia, Vardar Macedonia and New Macedonia. Mr Zaev said New Macedonia was unacceptable because it lacked geographical precision, but he was open to negotiation on the other four names. A mysterious quarrel to many people outside the Balkans, the dispute over the name of Macedonia troubles Nato and EU governments because it encapsulates the potential for conflict in a region of Europe whose modern history is punctured with violent clashes over territory and identity.
After almost 30 years of stalemate, the progress reflects the fact that Mr Tsipras has found a sympathetic counterpart in Skopje in Mr Zaev, a social democrat who has abandoned the bombastic nationalism of Macedonia’s previous government. If Athens and Skopje reach a deal, EU leaders are expected at a Brussels summit on June 28-29 to set a date for the formal launch of Macedonia’s accession talks. Two weeks later Nato would put Macedonia on the road to membership. Mr Zaev said Macedonia’s integration into the west’s alliances should go ahead despite Russian objections to Nato’s expansion. “Russia has nothing against our integration with the EU, but it is not so positive about our integration with Nato.
We have good relations with Russia. They should be aware that there’s no alternative for our country to integration with the EU and Nato,” he said. If they reach an accord, both Mr Zaev and Mr Tsipras will need the support of at least some opposition politicians to steer the deal through their respective parliaments.
This may not be easy. “There’s a lot of nationalism, a lot of criticism, persons and groups who are against an agreement in both countries,” Mr Zaev said. At present the Macedonian nationalist opposition is boycotting the legislature in Skopje.
In Greece, where elections are due next year, the opposition New Democracy party insists that Macedonia must change its constitution and seems little inclined to do Mr Tsipras a favour by approving a deal./ Financial Times
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