Has Athens lost FYROM name fight?

The latest proposal by UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz to resolve the longstanding name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, dealt a severe blow to Greek expectations. Last spring, officials at Greece’s Foreign Ministry deemed that, after a long period of inaction, they had finally managed to pressure the government in Skopje into abandoning its intransigent stand on the issue. It was strongly believed that Washington saw Greece as its main ally in the Balkan region and for that reason it would push the Slav-Macedonian establishment into a compromise with Athens. The Greek hopes were dashed. It now seems that the US recognition of Greece’s northern neighbor as «Macedonia» last November was underestimated here. Skopje did not yield an inch. It wants the name «Republic of Macedonia» to be used internationally, except in relations with Athens, where it accepts the name «Republic of Macedonia-Skopje.» Their intransigence paid off, as Nimetz proposed their demand as a compromise settlement. Skopje officials will continue to reject any compromise as long as they are given the room to do so. They will only enter serious negotiations if they are forced to – and the best way to do so is to attach a political cost to their policy. Greece’s conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had only hinted at this in the past. He recently reiterated his warning. Greece has the power to prevent the neighboring country from joining international organizations such as NATO and the European Union. The government has also hinted at a potential referendum on the issue. Greece’s intentions are clear. It wants to push things toward a commonly acceptable solution. But if the other side fails to deliver, it will have to face up to the consequences of its policy. Given that the survival of FYROM goes through membership of the transatlantic alliance, the country will have to adopt a more responsible stand. In the coming month, EU governments are expected to discuss FYROM’s candidacy for membership while NATO will make a similar decision next year. Time is limited. The government cannot afford a diplomatic blunder on the issue. A veto threat is useless if the other side is not convinced you can use it.