NEWS

World Court rules against Greece over FYROM veto [update]

The world court ruled Monday that Greece was wrong to block a bid by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to join NATO in 2008 because of a long-running dispute over the fledgling country's use of the name ?Macedonia.?

In a 15-1 ruling, the court found that Greece's veto breached a provisional 1995 deal under which Greece had agreed not to block membership of the country in international organizations if it used the name FYROM, while the matter was submitted to further negotiations. More than 15 years later, mediation over the name is still ongoing.

The victory is partly symbolic, since the UN's highest court did not fine Greece or even order it to refrain from similar moves against FYROM in the future. But the ruling will make it politically difficult for Greece to block the country's entry into NATO if it reapplies, and also lends moral weight to FYROM's protests that Greece's moves to block it from joining the European Union are unfair.

The court said its own finding that Greece «has violated its obligation...(under) the interim accord, constitutes appropriate satisfaction,» said presiding Judge Hisashi Owada, reading the written ruling.

The decision at the Hague court, formally known as International Court of Justice, does not resolve the fundamental dispute over the name, which although often seen as superficial by outsiders is a matter of deep national emotion and concern for both sides.

From FYROM's perspective, it has used the name ?Macedonia? in one form or another since shortly after World War II while it was a province of Yugoslavia, and there was little opposition from Athens until it declared independence in 1991. In addition, FYROM occupies much of the territory in the historical ancient region known as Macedonia.

From Greece's perspective, Macedonia is a Greek term and Macedonia was recognized as a Hellenic state in the days of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.

Since then, the region occupied by FYROM has undergone such complete ethnic and cultural changes as to render calling it «Macedonia» absurd, Greece argues -- not to mention that Greece has its own northern province called Macedonia.

FYROM is now composed mostly of Slavic peoples who speak a language similar to Bulgarian - and Bulgaria was a bitter military enemy to Greece in the first half of the 20th century.

Greece has concerns that the use by FYROM of the name Macedonia will eventually lead to the country, possibly together with Bulgaria, or even with aid from Turkey, staking claims to parts of modern Greece.

In addition, FYROM has been friendly to NATO and the US from its inception, while Greece's closest regional partner during the Yugoslav wars was NATO enemy Serbia, with which Greece shares religious ties.

Under the 1995 interim agreement, Greece dropped economic sanctions against FYROM in exchange for an agreement by the country to drop the use of an ancient Macedonian flag as its own, and amend the articles of its constitution which could be seen as hinting at claims to Greek territory. The name issue was left unresolved. [AP]

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