Seeking to douse the fire that began after the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev implied there is a “Macedonian” minority in Greece, Skopje insisted on Tuesday that it remains firmly committed to the name deal it signed with Greece in June.
“We are strongly committed to the full implementation of the Prespes agreement, and all of our actions and statements are made in good faith to support it,” it said in a statement.
Zaev reportedly told lawmakers in Skopje on Saturday that the deal would allow the teaching of the “Macedonian” language in Greece to “Macedonians.” The remark caused an uproar in Greece, while United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz reportedly intervened with a phone call to Zaev in a bid to defuse tensions.
In its statement, Skopje said that “language policies in both countries are not determined by the Prespes agreement,” and cited Article 4, Paragraph 3 of the deal that stipulates it will not interfere in Greece’s internal affairs.
“As a country that aspires to join the EU, we understand that countries take care of their own citizens and countries in the Balkans do not interfere in neighboring countries on any given issue,” it said.
“We understand and respect that the question of what languages are taught in Greece is an issue of internal affairs and domestic policy.” It said that Zaev is “fully committed to a policy approach that brings European values to the Balkan region and is committed to improving good-neighborly relations.” “We regret if his comments were understood in any other way.”
After a summit of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that “we are ready to welcome FYROM as our new member under its new name, the Republic of North Macedonia, as soon as the name agreement is implemented and I really hope that will happen soon.”
On the sidelines of the summit, Greece’s Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos said he agreed with FYROM FM Nikola Dimitrov that “problematic remarks” which raise questions about the true meaning of the Prespes agreement must be avoided.
For its part, New Democracy denounced Zaev’s remarks, as well as the name deal, as “unacceptable,” saying it keeps alive “ahistorical and irredentist claims.”