Macedonia’s new Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov is set to meet his Greek peer Nikos Kotzias on June 14 in an attempt to find a solution to the decades long “name dispute” between the neighbouring countries.
If they manage to find a solution, this would unblock years of trying by Macedonia — which is recognised by international organisations under the temporary name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM — to join Nato and the EU, and thus stabilise the crisis-hit country. Athens objects to the use of the name "Macedonia” as it is shared by a northern province of Greece.
The meeting is also aimed at restoring trust between the two neighbours, as Greece considers the new government in Skopje, voted in on May 31 after a lengthy political crisis, to be friendlier than its predecessor.
“The foreign minister of FYROM will come on Wednesday to discuss how we can further develop our relations and how to solve the name dispute. We won’t talk about the name, but about methods,” Kotzias, who comes from the far left Syriza party, was cited by Macedonian news provider Vest as saying during his address in Kozani, northern Greece.
Kotzias reportedly said on June 11 that the Greek government will not succumb to Western pressure to allow its northern neighbour to become part of Nato under the name FYROM, but only after the two countries find a permanent solution to the name issue.
Proposed alternatives in the past included Upper or Northern Macedonia.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has been more optimistic, saying that Macedonia will be soon admitted to Nato under the temporary name FYROM, while talks on the name dispute will be held simultaneously with the ongoing process of Macedonia’s EU integration.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov as saying on June 12 that Macedonia will “consider fresh proposals on its provisional name in an effort to unlock Greek opposition to its Nato membership”, the Financial Times reported.
Macedonia has been an EU candidate country since 2005 and received eight conditional recommendations to start the EU accession talks, but the process was blocked due to the unresolved dispute with Greece.
Greece also vetoed Macedonia’s accession to Nato at the Bucharest summit in 2008. This was two years into the rule of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE in Macedonia. However, following the dismissal of VMRO Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and efforts by the EU and US to resolve the Macedonian political crisis, Athens will be under strong pressure to do its bit by finding a solution to the name dispute and allow Macedonia to become part of Nato and the EU. Western countries believe that accession of Macedonia into Nato and later into the EU will help stabilise the fragile country following recent political turmoil in Skopje.
Kathimerini cited well-informed western sources in Skopje, Brussels and Berlin as saying that acceleration of the procedures to integrate Macedonia under the name FYROM will be the Western “gift” of support for Zaev and his coalition partner Ali Ahmeti, who have invested much to restore internal political peace in the country.
Zaev, from the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) struck a coalition with Ahmeti’s ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) and the Alliance for Albanians to form a government following a decade of rule by VMRO-DPMNE.
Under the VMRO-led government, relations with Greece deteriorated as it provoked Athens by renaming Skopje airport and a key motorway after Alexander the Great, an ancient Macedonian warrior claimed by both countries as national hero.
Diplomatic sources expect pressure on Greece to escalate, possibly this summer before Germany enters its pre-election period, Kathimerini said.
Admission of Macedonia to Nato will also lessen fears of “Greater Albania”, a political concept of an Albanian state encompassing parts of neighbouring countries including parts in Macedonia where ethnic Albanians are a majority. While this is not advocated by any mainstream Albanian leader, the fear that Tirana could pursue expansion periodically raises its head in the political tinderbox of the Western Balkans. Entry to Nato for Macedonia, alongside Albanian as an existing member of the alliance, would permanently lay this fear to rest.