OPINION

Athens must devise FYROM proposal

We knew that finding a name to be used by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was never going to be an easy issue. That country’s Slav-Macedonian leaders were never willing to accept anything other than plain «Macedonia.» The ideological concept of a «divided Macedonian homeland» was the founding myth of the federal state within unified Yugoslavia back in the 1940s, and when Yugoslavia broke up, it became the founding national myth of the new state. Trapped in its untenable position of «neither ‘Macedonia’ nor a derivative thereof,» Greece made it very easy for Skopje to win the first crucial rounds of the diplomatic battle. The same applies with respect to the minority view (also damaging to the national cause) that the name didn’t matter. Athens was satisfied with the temporary solution provided by «FYROM,» which became a sort of fig leaf. However, time worked in favor of the Slav Macedonians, since their state was gradually recognized under their chosen name by the majority of UN members. The Karamanlis government had two choices. If it had allowed FYROM to join NATO under that name, it would have committed a national crime by default and relinquished its only weapon. Skopje would have no reason to yield one inch. «Macedonia» would prevail once and for all. Greece would be left with nothing to do but admit defeat. So Athens went with the second option, which was to allow accession to NATO on the condition that an agreement was first found over the name. Although Skopje has a lot to lose if it doesn’t join and if its accession to the EU does not move forward, it will exhaust all avenues before taking a step backward. Of course Athens cannot force them to change their country’s name, but they can make their refusal costly. For the Slav Macedonians, it is of vital importance to join NATO and the EU; it means protection for the shaky unity of their state that remains vulnerable to the irredentist tendencies of the Albanian minority. But losing a year will not be the end of the world. And they hope that if Athens exercises its veto, US pressure will be brought to bear on Greece. To avoid this, Greece will need to have its own proposal ready for a composite name that refers to the geographical factor, such as «Upper Macedonia». This would provide a framework for UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, who seems to be heading down the slippery slope of a dual-name solution. If Greece can achieve this, all it will then need is persistence and patience.