Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris will travel to Skopje on Thursday to meet with his counterpart, Petre Silegov, and discuss closer ties between the two cities.
Boutaris’s visit comes amid growing optimism in Athens of a thaw in relations – chilled by an ongoing name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – following the defeat of former nationalist prime minister Nikola Gruevski in elections last year and the formation of a new government that is seen as more open to discussion.
The Greek official will also be meeting with FYROM’s new prime minister, Zoran Zaev, President Gjorge Ivanov and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, while he is also planning talks with the head of the junior coalition partner, Ali Ahmeti, who represents the Balkan country’s Albanian minority.
Speaking to Kathimerini, however, Boutaris denied that his visit is in any way related to Athens’s expectations for talks on the name dispute to resume at the start of next year.
“We do not make foreign policy. We are trying through city diplomacy to bring the communities of the two sides closer together and working together to solve some of the problems we have as neighbors,” he said.
Thessaloniki’s mayor stressed that the city receives hundreds of visitors from neighboring FYROM, for “shopping, entertainment and tourism in the broader region,” adding that the aim of the visit is to “cultivate the best possible relations.”
Boutaris refused to comment on the issue of the name dispute ahead of his trip, though he has in the past spoken in favor of a composite solution.