The first ever meeting between the prime ministers of Greece and Macedonia took place on January 24 when Macedonian’s Zoran Zaev met his Greek peer Alexis Tsipras on the sidelines of the Davos forum in Switzerland.
The meeting looks like the final effort by Skopje to find a solution to the long-standing name dispute between the two countries. Greece objects to the name Macedonia, adopted by its neighbour after it broke away from former Yugoslavia in 1991, as it has a northern province with the same name, and for years has blocked Skopje’s ambitions of joining the EU and Nato.
At the joint news conference following the three-hour meeting, Zaev said that the government will rename Skopje airport and the country’s main motorway, both bearing the name Alexander the Great, as a sign of good will for reaching a solution to the thorny issue.
According to Zaev, the solution should be acceptable for both sides and protect the national interests of the two countries. He added that finding a solution will be relevant to Macedonia’s aspirations to join the EU and Nato.
“We will rename the airport and the motorway [that leads to Greece], which will be called ‘Friendship’,” Zaev announced with a smile on his face.
He reiterated that Macedonia has no territorial claims towards Greece, one of the biggest fears of Athens.
However, he stressed that not all the overtures should be from Skopje. “On the other hand, Greece should show a good will in the process of the name solution,” Zaev underlined.
The negotiation process will continue and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov will be in charge of it from the Macedonian side, Zaev said.
At the news conference, Tsipras underlined that the issue of irredentism should be dealt with.
However, he said he is happy about the negotiations process between the two countries, saying it is moving towards its end.
For Tsipras, the issue should be solved with pragmatism and responsibility, and the new name for Greek northern neighbor should be erga omnes — a Greek phrase meaning “to be used by everyone”.
For Greece, these efforts are aimed at contributing to the stability of the Balkan region.
After both countries’ negotiators held talks with UN envoy Matthew Nimetz in New York last week, government officials in Skopje will hold a coordination meeting on January 27, together with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and the leader of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party Hristijan Mickovski. Nimetz will visit Macedonia next week to see the reactions of the Macedonian side.
“I am hopeful that this process is moving in the positive direction,” Nimetz said in New York.
According to media reports, several potential names for the country were proposed at the latest round of talks. These include Republic of New Macedonia, Republic of Northern Macedonia, Republic of Upper Macedonia, Republic of Vardar Macedonia and Republic of Macedonia (Skopje).
However, at the weekend tens of thousands of Greek citizens held a mass protest in Thessaloniki against the use of the name Macedonia by its northern neighbour. They say any solution should involve the country being completely renamed. Another protest is planned in Athens on February 4, according to Greek Reporter.
However, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said that the protest would not affect ongoing negotiations to find a solution to the name dispute.