The latest United Nations-buffered initiative to resolve the long-standing name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name is being complicated by domestic tensions over the contentious issue in both countries.
In Athens, the key to overcoming the impasse appears to be the stance of Panos Kammenos, the leader of the junior coalition party. Kammenos, who apart from heading Independent Greeks (ANEL) is also Defense Minister, appears to have hoped for broader political backing for a solution. However, as conservative New Democracy and Democratic Alignment have made it clear they are unwilling to compensate for the coalition’s internal divisions on the issue, Kammenos is likely to be put in the difficult position of having to decide whether to back a solution that most likely includes the name “Macedonia” – a prospect that the ANEL leader had rejected.
In Skopje meanwhile, there are growing concerns over a clash between the leftist-led government of Zoran Zaev and the country’s president, Gjorge Ivanov, who belongs to the same nationalist party as outgoing premier Nikola Gruevski.
Zaev is expected to meet Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday or Thursday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, for talks on the progress of exploratory negotiations aimed at resolving the name spat. The next step would be talks between the countries’ foreign ministers next month.
According to well-informed sources, it was clear during Tsipras’s meetings last week with Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Archbishop Ieronymos that Greece is leaning towards Republika Vardarska Makejonija (Republic of Vardarska Macedonia) as a settlement, while FYROM prefers Republika Nova Makedonija (Republic of New Macedonia ). UN envoy Matthew Nimetz is said to have put five proposals on the table: the two mentioned above as well as Republika Gorna Makedonija (Republic of Upper Macedonia), Republika Severna Makedonija (Republic of Northern Macedonia) and Republika Makedonija [Skopje] (Republic of Macedonia [Skopje]).
As Greece and FYROM struggle with domestic divisions, with their local populations protesting the latest UN-backed initiative, Russia, the United States, the European Union and Turkey are each trying to wield their influence on the outcome.