Macedonia calls for pressure on Greece in name dispute
Prospects for a settlement of the Greek-Macedonian dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic are the worst in 18 months, and a breakthrough may require the intervention of the US and Europe’s leading powers, according to Nikola Gruevski, the Macedonian prime minister.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Gruevski said the Greek and Macedonian governments had made some progress towards a compromise when the socialist George Papandreou was prime minister in Athens from 2009 to 2011, but this progress had gone into reverse after Antonis Samaras, a conservative, took over in June 2012.
Mr Gruevski placed the blame squarely on Mr Samaras, accusing him of moving to “one of the most radical positions that Greece has adopted in the history of the problem”.
The dispute’s origins lie in the violent break-up of communist Yugoslavia and Macedonia’s declaration of independence in 1991 under a name, the Republic of Macedonia, which Greece regards as both an encroachment on its cultural heritage and an implicit territorial claim on a northern Greek province also called Macedonia.
The quarrel has paralysed Macedonia’s integration into Europe’s security and economic structures by causing Greece to block the young state’s entry into Nato and the European Union. Macedonia has been a candidate for EU admission since 2005, but formal membership negotiations have never begun.
It’s much worse than before. The situation could be unblocked if Greece were to come under pressure from countries like the US, Germany and France. But if not, it won’t be.- Nicola Gruevski, Macedonian prime minister
A controversial architectural redesign of Skopje, Macedonia’s capital, includes colossal statues of Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II of Macedon, celebrated as symbols of the new state, much to the fury of Greeks who revere them as ancient Greek heroes.
Mr Gruevski denied that the project, which is known as Skopje 2014 and whose cost has run into several hundred million euros, was responsible for hardening Greece’s line on the name dispute. “After we created our own country, we thought it would be good to have 20 or 30 statues of people from our history. It was never our idea to cause problems with the Greeks,” he said.
Asked what pressure he wished to see applied on Greece, Mr Gruevski said the big powers should remind Athens that the International Court of Justice, whilst not passing an opinion on the name dispute, ruled in 2011 that Greece had been wrong to block Macedonia’s application for Nato membership three years previously.
“I’d like to see pressure go in the direction of respect for the ICJ’s decision. I’m asking for respect for international law. Otherwise what is the point of the court, and what is the point of international law?” Mr Gruevski said.
The latest proposals for solving the name dispute were floated in April by Matthew Nimetz, a US diplomat who serves as UN special representative on the issue. He suggested that the state should go by the name of the Upper Republic of Macedonia in multinational settings, but that countries could use the term Republic of Macedonia in bilateral relations with Skopje if they so chose.
These proposals were turned down by Greece, which made clear it wanted one name for all purposes and floated the idea of the Republic of Upper Macedonia. These suggestions have proved unacceptable to Mr Gruevski and his government.