Ahead of Wednesday's arrival in Skopje of United Nations special envoy Matthew Nimetz, the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Zoran Zaev, insisted that his country’s plans to hold a national referendum over the name dispute with Greece would not be an obstacle to a solution but rather will serve as a guarantee of its permanence.
“[The referendum] will be an added guarantee to Greece that the solution will be permanent and will remain forever,” Zaev said in remarks that were seen as part of the effort by Skopje to expedite negotiations for a settlement in its ultimate bid to join NATO.
At the same time, FYROM’s government spokesman Mile Bosnjakovski announced the neighboring country will soon change the names of highways and its main airport that were named after Alexander the Great, which was something that had further fueled Greece’s concern of irredentist claims to its own adjoining province of Macedonia.
Bosnjakovski made his comments before Nimetz’s arrival on Wednesday in Skopje. The UN envoy will meet on Thursday with FYROM’s political leadership.
Speaking on Wednesday to FYROM’s state-run MIA agency, the American official described his meetings in Athens this week as positive, adding that he hopes Thursday’s meetings in Skopje will also be encouraging.
It will be Nimetz’s first meeting with the FYROM leadership since his talks this week with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who presented a Greek proposal for the drafting of a joint document that will tie up all loose ends between Athens and Skopje.
According to sources, the names Nimetz has proposed as a solution still remain on the table – namely Republika Nova Makedonija (Republic of New Macedonia), Republika Gorna Makedonija (Republic of Upper Macedonia), Republika Severna Makedonija (Republic of Northern Macedonia), Republika Vardarska Makedonija (Republic of Vardarska Macedonia) and Republika Makedonija (Skopje).
Nimetz also recommends that every country reserve the right to choose which version of the name it will use – the Slavic, the English, or one in their own language.
Opponents of a compromise deal are organizing a rally Sunday in Athens, backed by the Greek Orthodox Church, whose head, Archbishop Ieronymos, has changed course after
initially saying that demonstrations “are not needed.”