Putting Skopje in the corner

Greece has warned Skopje that it intends to hold a national referendum on whether to allow the neighboring country to seek NATO and EU membership using the name «Republic of Macedonia.» But the threat could well fizzle out. Up to now, the government has avoided any referendum talk that would pour more oil on the flames, partly because it deems that Washington would push Skopje to accept the UN’s compromise proposal. However, Greek hopes have been dashed. In the absence of US pressure, the Slav-Macedonians rejected the name «Republika Makedonija-Skopje.» In fact, Greek officials appeared to have underestimated the US recognition of FYROM as «Macedonia» while overestimating US talk about a «strategic relationship» with Greece. In advancing the Slav-Macedonian position, UN envoy Matthew Nimetz effectively behaved as a mouthpiece of Washington’s Balkan policy, which is to quickly settle all outstanding regional disputes. The US would not mind a compromise on the name issue, but it has had no real reason to push things in that direction. As long as the US takes the Greek alliance for granted, it will promote a solution in line with Skopje’s interests. FYROM will change its stand only if forced to, if it sees a threat to its NATO and EU ambitions. Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis has hinted at a referendum on the issue, but he does not appear determined to go that far. So it’s hard to see how FYROM would be intimidated. A massive rejection of FYROM’s aspirations in a public referendum would set a political precedent and block Skopje’s path to international organizations. At the same time, it would spare much of the international pressure on Athens. Skopje would be left with no choice but to negotiate a more just compromise, also under US encouragement.