Fyrom Won't Budge on Name

A top Skopje diplomat calls his country's finn stand on the issue
'a matter of dignity'; Athens calls it a spearhead for irredentism

By George Gilson

In an interview with the Athens News, a high-level Fyrom diplomat in Skopje close to UN-sponsored talks with Greece to resolve the name dispute says his country is not ready to drop the claim to the name Republic of Macedonia.

The diplomat describes the political catch-22 which an abandonment of the constitutional name Republic of Macedonia entails. "It would mean political suicide for any government," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Greek diplomats say much the same about the prospect of abandoning opposition to that name.

In a series of campaign speeches both at home and abroad, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has gotten tough with Fyrom, calling on Skopje to do its share to reach a compromise and abandon irredentist rhetoric and acts. That includes a recent move to rename Skopje's airport after Alexander the Great, which was criticised by the EU.

A typical textbook map of 'Greater Macedonia', with no time designation,
showing the country extending deep into Greek territory, to the city of
Grevena and Mount Olympus. Greece views such maps as typical of
Fyrom propaganda, claiming exclusive territorial,
historical and cultural
proprietorship over the region of Macedonia

The Fyrom diplomat disavows any expansionist claims, insisting that "we don't have any claims on anyone. We are quite happy with our borders."

But Greece complains that Fyrom schoolbooks still present large areas of northern Greece as being part of Fyrom. A US Congressional resolution 356 of 1 May 2007 cites a 2004 Fyrom military academy textbook showing a "Greater Macedonia" extending to Mount Olympus in Greece. The Fyrom diplomat says the military textbook was withdrawn a few months ago and that the controversial schoolbook maps depict "historical maps that have nothing to do with the present Republic of Macedonia or any sorts of claims".

Greek foreign ministry sources insist the military textbook was not withdrawn and is available in English on the internet. The foreign service has accumulated plentiful evidence from recent Fyrom textbooks that promulgate the theory that the entire The Fyrom diplomat was reluctant to say that the Slav population in Fyrom hails from the ancient Macedonian dynasty of Philip and Alexander the

Great, as organised propagandists in his country have for decades, claiming the ancient Macedonians were not Greek. "It's not very clear. This is an issue between historians," he said, noting that most Slavs in Fyrom believe that "in terms of genes, the Slavs mixed with them [the descendants ofthe ancient Macedonians]".

Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis have threatened that Greece could block Fyrom's Nato and EU entry if a name compromise is not reached.

But the EU has other ideas. A July 12 European Parliament report said clearly that the resolution of the name dispute is not a precondition for membership, and that countries can freely choose their name. New Democracy MEPs approved the report and foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos hailed it as an improvement on a previous draft that spoke of the "Macedonian" government.

On July 17, Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos called for a referendum on the name dispute and for the government to veto Fyrom's entry in Nato and the EU absent a settlement.

The next step

Fyrom's membership in Nato and the EU, in which Greece is a member and wields veto power, is considered crucial to Fyrom's longterm security survival. But while Athens has brandished the threat of the veto, its northern neighbour appears unswayed.

When asked if it is not in Fyrom's interest to have a strong friend in Greece given the potentially hostile Albanian environment surrounding the small and weak state, the Fyrom diplomat turned the argument on its head. He quoted Gafurr Adili, the leader of the separatist Albanian National Army that waged war in northwest Fyrom against government forces in 2001, as saying, "How can we support a country whose name is not internationally recognised?" The diplomat suggested that accepting the country's constitutional name would have impeded Albanian terrorists. The Albanian National Army aimed to unite Albania, Kosovo, and Albanian-dominated parts of Fyrom, Serbia and Montenegro.

The Fyrom diplomat conceded there is a danger of a Greek veto on his country's Nato or EU membership, but he says the 1995 interim agreement says "if we become a member of an international organisation of which Greece is a member as Fyrom, Greece will not block that". Athens accuses Skopje of selectively using the agreement, ignoring the ban on irredentist propaganda and its basic aim of a compromise settlement. .

"Our nation was last in the region to gain statehood, and the name is basically the foundation of our identity. Because of the permanent challenge to our identity, it is becoming popular for people to look deeper in history for their roots. But we are committed to keep trying, " the Fyrom diplomat said, asserting that Greece is posing a unilateral demand without any reciprocal demands from Skopje.

Fyrom's official position is a double-name formula, under which Greece alone would use a combined name (such as the "Republika Makedonija-Skopje" proposed by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz in March 2005 to be used by all countries and not just Greece) and the rest of the world would call the country the Republic of Macedonia. Greece firmly rejects the double­name formula. While Greece accepted that Nimetz's proposal as a basis for talks, Fyrom rejected it.

Nimetz's next proposal was rejected out of hand by Greece. As the Fyrom diplomat noted, the UN Secretariat in the first years would use the Slav spelling "Republika Makedonija", and later replace that with "Republic of Macedonia", while UN member-states would be able to choose between the two, and Greece would use "Republika Makedonija-Skopje". Worse for Athens, use of the name Macedonia in the Greek province of that name would be under certain restrictions.

"We have an extremely friendly attitude towards Greece. But if we must change our name to be friends with Greece, that's not a very friendly precondition. We want to maintain our identity," the diplomatic source said.

Asked why adding the word Skopje to the name means losing identity, the diplomat said: "It's a matter of dignity. After changing our flag, amending the constitution and signing the 1995 interim agreement, we need some basic national energy to continue to build our country. Our stability and integration in Nato and the EU is also in Greece's interest."

While the UN Security Council's mandate for talks to resolve the dispute implies that some compromise is necessary, the Fyrom diplomat insists that this "can be done in more than one way". "The double-name formula is already a concession, "he said.

The Fyrom diplomat expressed guarded optimism for a settlement after the Greek election, when Nimetz expected to table a fresh proposal. "I'm sure that after the Greek elections, there will be a window of opportunity. If both sides are inventive and reach out, perhaps a solution is not impossible. That would be ideal for us because at that point we can really rely on Greece's friendship also in our subsequent EU application," the diplomat said.

geographic region of Macedonia (including parts of Greece, Bulgaria and Albania) has since the 9th century BC been the fatherland of a single Macedonian people with no connection to Hellenism. The books claim that Macedonia was violently dismembered in 1913 and that the regions in Greece and Bulgaria remain "enslaved".

(Posting Date 24 July 2007)

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