Greek hopes for FYROM name looking brighter

It is perhaps the first time since the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was established that it, rather than Greece, is in the grip of a diplomatic vice. Greece has made several concessions in order to bring the situation to the point that it is now, but the international climate has been particularly negative for Greece and prospects more than dim; particularly after the USA’s recognition of the «Republic of Macedonia,» which created the risk of a diplomatic assault that would have faced Greece with the dilemma of whether to accept the fait accompli or be isolated on the international front. Athens has made systematic attempts to avert the possibility that major European states might follow the US example. Most importantly, it has stopped tolerating the foot-dragging in New York that helped Skopje gain time. While the Simitis government worked toward a composite name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Karamanlis administration has made it the cornerstone of its foreign policy and appeared as the side seeking the compromise. In that way it began to create a climate for diplomatic inroads. Given that all sides want an end to the issue as soon as possible, the idea of a mutually acceptable solution sounded logical, particularly when the other parties were reminded that the Greek Parliament would never ratify FYROM’s inclusion in the EU and NATO. Athens did not want to be the one to suggest the composite name, which would be easy for Skopje to reject and for third countries to question. It encouraged UN mediator Matthew Nimetz to submit his own proposal, having the advantage of being objective. Although there is no adjudication, it is clear that from the political viewpoint, there will be immense pressure to accept a solution; particularly since Washington has declared that it would accept an agreed solution, a declaration that raised a question about the its recognition of the name of Greece’s neighbor a short time ago. The USA’s adoption of a more flexible stance toward the name has no doubt been influenced to a great extent by Greece’s adjustment of its policy regarding Kosovo to one more aligned with that of the US. Greece’s cooperation is important for the Americans, not only because it is the only Balkan country in the EU, but because it is also currently a member of the UN Security Council, at which it will take the chair in July. According to reliable sources, at a meeting two weeks ago between Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis and his US counterpart Condoleezza Rice, the latter agreed to offer her services toward finding a solution. The message was sent to Skopje, among other places. Simultaneous public declarations in Tirana, Pristina and Belgrade regarding the need for a mutually acceptable name were no coincidence. Rice’s statements regarding the role of Greece in the Balkans made Greece’s diplomatic efforts more convincing and encouraged the three sides in Kosovo to provide Athens with their diplomatic services in the hope of reciprocation when their turn comes. Almost without realizing it, Skopje has been diplomatically surrounded. Molyviatis’s initiative in announcing Nimetz’s proposal publicly, and indirectly declaring acceptance of it, has established the climate. Past stereotypes of a small, weak country being blackmailed by its powerful neighbor are gone. The Slav-Macedonians’ initial reactions show bewilderment. Officially, they are standing by their view that only Greece will be able to call their state «Republika Makedonija-Skopje.» According to initial reports, they are likely to stand by this. Former president Kiro Gligorov’s previous statement that the name issue would be resolved in his own country’s favor and that Greece’s stance was «illogical» and «without a future,» were more in the nature of an effort to boost morale than any political response to the issue at hand. What is very interesting is FYROM Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski’s statement regarding a composite name: «We believe that this would be a greater compromise than the solution Greece is trying to impose,» he said. One wonders whether this latter statement is an indication that Skopje will accept the proposed name. Even should that be the case, however, they will do what they can to restrict the use of «Republika Makedonija-Skopje» to the UN and the EU. Past experience leads one to believe, however, that they will exhaust all avenues before agreeing. Greece will be waging a battle for the widest possible use of the official name, but the final result will depend on the name to be adopted by the major players on the international scene in their bilateral relations with the state. Athens is ready to carry out a diplomatic campaign to elicit statements in favor of the proposed compromise. According to reliable information, these can be expected from the US State Department, the EU and its member states. After all, the proposal comes from the UN mediator, not from Athens. Greece is planning to raise certain other aspects of the issue during the negotiations. Firstly, the assurance that Greek Macedonians will face no obstacles in using the term «Macedonia» and its derivatives, since it is believed quite likely that the Slav-Macedonians will claim exclusive legal rights to it. Secondly, there are a number of cultural issues, some of which were included in the interim accord. Most likely there will be an agreement in the nature of a vote by the UN Security Council, although one should not rule out the possibility of a rejection by Skopje. In that case, Athens would still benefit, as it would no longer be held responsible and its refusal to allow a country bearing the name «Macedonia» to join the NATO and the EU will be more acceptable to the rest of the world. The Greek government spokesman warned against jumping to conclusions, saying that a mutually acceptable solution would «open the way for FYROM’s accession to Euro-Atlantic institutions.» It should be emphasized that the solution proposed is not the best possible composite name. A simple and fairer one would be a geographic term such as «Gorna Macedonia» (Upper Macedonia), which gets away from the idea of a «divided Macedonian nation» and inherent irredentism, without offending the Slav-Macedonians either ethnically or aesthetically. Unfortunately, there are indications that Greece has not exhausted all possibilities for persuading Nimetz of the desirability of adopting such a name. »Republika Makedonija-Skopje» is clumsy and sounds ugly. The Slav-Macedonians prefer it to a geographical term because they believe, not without foundation, that in practice the «Skopje» will be dropped. It is positive that the Slavic language version is being suggested, but that is no deterrent.

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