Greece, Macedonia melt ice
Officials in Skopje seek rational solution to find a way out of the name problem by July
12 January, 2018
Greece and Macedonia agreed last Tuesday to make a renewed effort to settle a dispute over the latter's name which has been dragging on for decades and holding up its aspirations of joining the EU, news wires reported. In the last years, Athens has repeatedly blocked the ex-Yugoslav republic's attempts to join NATO and has put obstacles to its EU membership bid, because it says the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim over Greece's own northerly region of that name.
“We are committed to finding a solution in these six months,” Bujar Osmani, Macedonia's deputy PM responsible for European affairs, said. “2018 is the golden year of opportunity for my country to make progress in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration. That is why we are committed to finding a solution,” he added. Visiting Athens, Osmani said he believed there was a “sincerity and commitment” by Greece to resolve the issue.
Under a 1995 accord, Greece has only agreed that the country be referred to as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, as an interim measure until the dispute is resolved. It will not acquiesce to the country joining NATO or the EU, of which Greece is a member, under the FYROM banner, Reuters reported. “There are a lot of emotional layers. We need to peel them off to find a rational solution,” Osmani told reporters after meeting Greek officials.
Greeks are very sensitive about the name issue, and rallies were planned in northern Greece later in January against any compromise which may use the name Macedonia. But Athens says there is now a window of opportunity to resolve the row following the election of a more moderate government in the neighbouring country which appears more amenable to a deal. “Right now the issue is to create conditions for the widest possible consensus to put behind us a problem which has weighed on the country, and the wider region, for the past twenty five years,” Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.
Greece and Macedonia were due to hold a new round of talks with a United Nations mediator in late January. The Balkan state declared independence from ex-Yugoslavia in 1991 but almost immediately found itself at loggerheads with Greece. But in early January, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told reporters that Athens wants to solve the dispute this year. “I think 2018 will be the year when foreign policy issues that have been stuck in the mud for decades will be resolved,” he pointed out after a meeting of Greece's inner cabinet.
In an interview to Greece's Alpha TV, Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev also expressed hopes that Skopje and Athens have a real chance of settling a decades-old dispute over the name. “I believe it's possible to find a solution by the end of the first semester of 2018. Our strategic orientation is conclusively toward the EU and NATO,” he said.