Greek party leaders have rejected “Republic of Ilinden Macedonia” as a candidate name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), while opposition is also expected to arise from within ruling SYRIZA.
In telephone conversations with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the leaders of New Democracy, Movement For Change, To Potami and communist KKE all rejected the proposal, which was reportedly made by FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to Tsipras during talks last week in Sofia.
However, the Greek government considers this proposal a basis for discussion that could lead to a viable solution to the decades-old name dispute between the two neighbors.
Meanwhile, according to well-informed sources, the new name will be voted on by lawmakers in Skopje and is expected to be adopted by the majority before the European Council at the end of June. FYROM’s parliament will also be called upon to review the constitution (80 out of 120 seats are required) so as to include the new name, thus allaying Greek concerns that it be used “erga omnes,” both domestically and internationally.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis reportedly told Tsipras that the Republic of Ilinden Macedonia is “unacceptable” as it expressed irredentist ambitions.
Ilinden was the site of a revolt against Ottoman rule in 1903, but also refers to an anti-Nazi uprising in the Balkans in 1944 which, however, sought to unify the geographic area of Macedonia, including parts of Greece. Its historical connotations are seen as a stumbling block by many Greeks.
According to the conservatives, “any reference to Ilinden in the neighboring country’s name does not put an end to Skopje’s irredentism, but instead confirms and strengthens it. That’s why it is unacceptable to even discuss it.”
For her part, Movement for Change leader Fofi Genimata also expressed opposition to the Ilinden term.
To Potami’s Stavros Theodorakis, KKE’s Dimitris Koutsoumbas and the Union of Centrists’ Vasilis Leventis have all said they are not on board with the proposal.
Questions remain over the stance of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and his Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, the junior government partner. However, he is not expected to jeopardize the coalition’s political future over the issue.
In the small ex-Yugoslav republic, meanwhile, the sizeable ethnic Albanian minority appears to have no objections to the latest name proposal, although there is still no official reaction. Washington appears to fully support the plan.
On Saturday, US Vice President Mike Pence called Tsipras to encourage him to work for a solution to the chronic name dispute, a statement by the White House said.
“They agreed that the parties have an historic opportunity to resolve this issue and that time is of the essence,” said the statement. “Resolution of this issue would promote stability and peace in the region.”
If an agreement is reached, FYROM can proceed with the relevant approval procedures before the next EU summit in June, in order to receive a date for the start of accession negotiations, as well as to unlock a possible invitation to join NATO.
On Saturday morning, Tsipras also briefed President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on the latest developments regarding the ongoing name talks.
“We want a long-lasting solution,” Tsipras said, stressing that the government insists that any name will be used erga omnes and that FYROM reviews its constitution. He added that negotiations with Skopje are in a “crucial stage.”
For his part, Pavlopoulos called for the “greatest possible consensus” between the Greek parties.