There was a sense Tuesday that Athens and Skopje were inching toward a deal on the ongoing “Macedonia” name dispute despite domestic opposition in both countries, with several protest rallies planned for Greece Wednesday.
The prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Zoran Zaev, indicated Tuesday that he expected to telephone his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras within “a matter of days.”
“Let’s not go into details. It is only a matter of days. After I have spoken with my counterpart, the public will be informed,” Zaev was quoted as saying, adding that the issue of name talks was “sensitive” and he preferred to remain “cautious.”
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias struck a similar note in comments to state television on Monday night, claiming that he expected a deal within a few days.
Conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis Tuesday hit out at the government over its handling of negotiations on the name, describing Tsipras as “dangerous for the country’s interests.”
Mitsotakis also criticized Kotzias, declaring that “he appears to defend the arguments of our neighbor more than the self-evident claims of our country.”
Any solution must be threefold, he said, including a change to FYROM’s constitution and the removal of any references of an irredentist nature, including references to a “Macedonian” ethnicity and language.
A total of 23 public rallies are to be organized Wednesday across Greece to express opposition to a compromise in the name talks. The rallies are scheduled to begin at 7.30 p.m. in 16 towns and cities in Macedonia: Pella, Kavala, Drama, Serres, Kilkis, Polykastro, Lagada, Nea Moudania, Edessa, Florina, Kastoria, Kozani, Ptolemaida, Katerini, Veria and Siatista. Demonstrations will also be held in Larissa, Thiva, Ioannina, Rhodes, Hania, Corfu and Halkida.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos defended the “sacred right” of citizens to protest and to express their opposition to government policy.
“From thereon in, there is a national line, which we are serving,” he said.
As several bishops expressed their intention to attend the rallies, Archbishop Ieronymos said the Church’s position on the issue is “fixed.”
“It is not easy for us to lend the name Macedonia, to give it,” he said. “However these issues cannot be addressed with rallies, with cries,” he said, adding that Parliament is ultimately responsible.
Meanwhile in Skopje, there has been intense speculation about names on the table of negotiations, with MP Artan Grubi of the DUI party, a junior coalition partner, suggesting that apart from the names that have already been leaked, the names the Republic of Krusevo (Krusevska Makedonija), Republic of Modern Macedonia and Republic of European Macedonia are also on the table.
Media in FYROM meanwhile refer to pressure by the US on Zaev’s government to respond to the draft agreement by the end of the week.
Some reports indicate that Athens has compromised on the issue of language and identity in a bid to secure its demand that any name be “erga omnes” – applicable domestically and internationally.