Seeking a balance on the FYROM name issue

Antonio Milososki, the foreign minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), cited Charlemagne, Andorra, PASOK’s Theodoros Pangalos and New Democracy MP Nikos Georgiadis in this interview with Kathimerini’s Sunday edition on his country’s relations with Greece and FYROM’s insistence at being known as «Macedonia.» Greece has accused your country of intransigence and warns it will raise obstacles to FYROM’s joining NATO and the European Union if its government insists on joining under any other name than that accepted at the UN. Does this concern you or do you see them as empty threats? It is easy to stick a label on someone, accusing them of being intransigent or otherwise, when it concerns their own personal name or ethnic name. However, try to imagine that your own country’s name was being questioned and that Greece was under pressure to change its constitutional name chosen by its people. Then you will more easily understand the position of the Republic of Macedonia. As far as our accession to NATO and the EU is concerned, we are happy that today, compared with 15 years ago, there is almost no politician in Greece who is not convinced that stability in the Republic of Macedonia is what will ensure the stability of Greece’s regional interests. It is in our mutual interest. That is, we expect Greece to support our accession to NATO and the EU in the near future, based on the principles of the interim agreement that has proved to be a firm basis for developing our mutual relations. Sometimes we hear harsher statements coming from Athens regarding our accession to the EU, but I believe that some of those messages have a component that is for domestic consumption. Yet sometimes we also hear open and positive messages, such as an appeal a year-and-a-half ago by Greek Deputy Nikos Georgiadis for Athens to face facts and accept its neighbor’s name as it is, the «Republic of Macedonia,» which as he said, is used by every other country in the world. What led your government to rename Skopje’s Petrovec Airport after Alexander the Great? I wonder if it had anything to do with facilitating local and international transport or whether those in Greece who suspect it is a move in view of possible negotiations over the name, as happened in the past with your country’s flag, are right. There is no hidden agenda or intention to provoke the Greek government behind the decision to rename Petrovec Airport «Alexander the Great.» It was an initiative on the part of the state air carrier for two purposes: to pay humble tribute to a famous historical figure who transcended the boundaries of the Balkans and whose name was known in many countries: in Greece, just as in the Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Albania, Egypt, Bulgaria, even India. Secondly, it was to bring more international attention to Skopje’s airport since the government is planning to grant the management of the airport to an international company. The same reasoning was behind the renaming of Ohrid airport as «Apostle Paul.» Whatever the reasoning, your decision caused displeasure among the Greek public and reactions from the political world. Given Greece’s sensitivity on this issue, do you think that such actions do anything to improve bilateral relations? We regret that this move caused such negative reactions on the part of certain Greek politicians and some of the media. To be honest, we did not expect that. In any case, bilateral relations with Greece are so stable, mainly in the sectors of trade, tourism and business investment, that the name issue cannot really put them at risk. The airport name should not complicate talks being carried out within the framework of the UN. Personally, I believe that the renaming of the airport should not affect our differences over the name and that it could challenge us, if approached in a positive manner, to reassess our attitudes about what can be disputed and what cannot. If we see Alexander the Great within a «European prism» then undoubtedly he is a figure who should unite rather than divide us or raise anachronistic questions as to who has more or less right to the Balkans’ rich history. For example, Charlemagne could be useful as a European example of someone whom modern Germans, French, Luxembourgers, Belgians and Italians all consider part of their common history, while the small country of Andorra praises him in their national anthem. No one questions that at all. For me it is an example of how «monopolistic» nationalism can be overcome in our region. Yours is a new government. Can one suppose you will bring fresh ideas to the name issue or do you plan to continue as your predecessors have done? No one should expect dramatic changes to our position on the name issue. The government of the Republic of Macedonia has maintained – over some time – a position that we think is logical and which offers the potential for a mutual compromise. It is the double formula, on the basis of which Athens and Skopje will have talks on a bilateral compromise. In reality, this argument is bilateral, since there is no name issue between Skopje and Beijing, Buenos Aires, Warsaw or Havana, Sofia, Belgrade, Ljubljana, London, Moscow or Washington. It is simply a disagreement between Athens and Skopje. That is why we are willing to take a constructive approach to this bilateral issue to find a mutually acceptable solution with the Greek government within the framework of talks being carried out at the United Nations. How do you perceive a mutually acceptable solution which both sides say they are working toward, yet cannot find a balance? Athens has rejected your government’s proposal for a double name, that is «Republic of Macedonia» for everyone else and another just for Greece to use. It has never been easy to find a balance in the Balkans when two parties disagree on something. Still, we believe that the UN-mediated talks, although taking a long time, are positive, since Greece has perceived the essential importance that the name Republic of Macedonia has for our national identity, our domestic cohesion and our country’s stability. On the other hand, we realize that the name issue is a sensitive one for Athens from the point of view of Greece’s cultural identity. We understand their positions. However, I believe that one of the best answers to your question regarding an acceptable solution was given recently in a radio interview (January 6, on Athens 9.84) by Theodoros Pangalos, a former foreign minister, who said that «the name question is artificial, it was created by (former foreign minister Antonis) Samaras in order to stir up a nationalist campaign to which Greece has been held hostage ever since.» I would add that artificial issues are the most illogical and difficult to find logical solutions for. Therefore we will find the mean more easily if we approach the subject logically. Does UN mediator Matthew Nimetz’s idea of a double name bother you, specifically the «Republic of Macedonia-Skopje» in Cyrillic script, which Athens has agreed to as a basis for negotiations? It was Nimetz’s second-to-last proposal, put forward in April, 2005, which the Macedonian government rejected because it disagreed with the a double formula being used as a way of reaching a compromise. Shortly afterward, in October 2005, Nimetz presented his final proposal providing for the name «Republika Makedonija» in Latin characters to be used only at the UN, and Republic of Macedonia for international use, while the Republic of Macedonia-Skopje would be used for communication with Greece. In that case, the government of Skopje took a constructive stance that the proposal was a firm base for a compromise solution. Unfortunately, Greece rejected it. A pity, as it was a good opportunity.

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