The national identity of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s inhabitants is threatening to become a stumbling block in the negotiations between Athens and Skopje to resolve their decades-old name dispute, as suggested on Thursday in the comments made by FYROM’s leadership.
“No one, not even our Greek neighbors cannot deny us the right to be Macedonian and to speak the Macedonian language, a member of the Slavic group of languages,” FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said after meeting with United Nations special envoy Matthew Nimetz, who arrived in Skopje after visiting Athens earlier in the week.
FYROM President Gjorge Ivanov echoed the same sentiment, insisting that a solution to the name dispute must not compromise the national identity of the “Macedonian” people and the dignity of the “Macedonian” language.
For his part, the American diplomat, who reiterated that it is time for a “breakthrough on the issue,” said he heard nothing during his visit to Greece that would suggest FYROM’s national identity was being disputed.
Diplomatic sources in Athens said Greece’s position on the issue of the tiny Balkan nation’s identity is clear.
“We do not interpret Mr Nimetz and he shouldn’t interpret our positions,” diplomatic sources said on Thursday.
Greeks say the Slavic population inhabiting FYROM cannot claim to have a Macedonian identity or language, as the latter have been a part of Greece’s history since the times of the warrior kings of ancient Macedonia.
Nonetheless, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias struck a positive tone on Thursday, telling Reuters news agency that he expects a solution to the name dispute in June.
When asked what would happen if that didn’t occur, he responded, “It will be settled.”
Kotzias, who insisted that a solution is in Greece’s national interests, said Athens is working on a draft that could be become the “basis upon which we could start to cooperate.”
“It won’t be a Greek text containing only our own views, nor a done deal-compromise,” he told Reuters, adding that he hoped the draft would be ready in February.
The Greek minister said that the most significant difference between Athens and Skopje concerns references in FYROM’s constitution that Greece believes imply territorial claims to its own province of Macedonia. These reference, he told Reuters, must be changed.
The leftist-led coalition government says a compromise could mean a composite name including the term “Macedonia” with a geographical or chronological qualifier, but it has been met with opposition from the junior coalition partner, Independent Greeks (ANEL), the Church and large swaths of the Greek population.