OPINION

The FYROM issue, reconsidered

The comments made by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis at the Council of Europe last week as regards the ongoing dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s official name may not have created a new basis from which to tackle the problem but they are worth noting as they contain small indications of a change in tactics by the Greek side. The media jumped upon several statements made by Karamanlis in Strasbourg, particularly his assertion that he is «a Macedonian, along with another 2.5 million Greeks» – a reference to the premier’s roots in the northern region of Macedonia. But Karamanlis did not say this in a manner concealing hostility to the FYROM capital of Skopje. Moreover, no one can accuse the premier of nationalistic rhetoric; he has been excessively cautious in his comments on the problem ever since it arose in the early 1990s when he was a parliamentary deputy in Thessaloniki, the capital of the Macedonia region. On the other hand, Karamanlis is not of such an advanced age that excuses emotional outbursts such as that of his uncle, the late president Constantine Karamanlis, who publicly shed tears for Macedonia. The deadlock over FYROM’s official name continues. Successive governments in Skopje have refused to make any concessions despite the goodwill that has always been displayed by Athens, the moderate stance that has been demonstrated in recent years by Greek governments (in contrast to the extreme stances of the early 1990s) and the significant presence of Greek business interests in the neighboring country. But Greece did not make an active effort to find a mutually acceptable solution through bilateral talks and allowed the problem to escalate into the focus of a major dispute which has simply consolidated the deadlock. Athens restricted itself to showing goodwill to Skopje rather than exercising pressure on the neighboring country with the aim of reaching a settlement. And the occasional «strict verbal warnings» issued by Athens have not made any difference whatsoever. Last Wednesday was the first time that Karamanlis stated so clearly that Greece’s support for Skopje’s European Union and NATO bids is not unconditional. Generally, he displayed skepticism regarding the intentions of the Skopje authorities to reach a compromise and reiterated that Greece has made significant efforts towards achieving progress. Karamanlis’s administration has shown good will, accepting a United Nations proposal for «Republika Makedonija-Skopje» as an alternative name for FYROM – which is not popular with the Greek public – but was rejected by Skopje. So the Greek PM’s comments last Wednesday should be taken very seriously by Skopje but also by the USA, which can play a key role in solving the problem.