Greece Blasts Fyrom Nationalism


FAR from bringing a name settlement nearer for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom), UN mediator Matthew Nimetz's latest proposal was followed by a fierce war of words between Skopje and Athens.

Greece complained on October 15 that a local protest against a tank firing range (residents claim that depleted uranium shells were used) in the northern Greece province of Macedonia was exploited by Skopje for nationalist gain. While Skopje said a Fyrom TV crew covering the protest was deported, Greece said the crew was briefly detained when filming near a military facility.

Fyrom Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski reportedly spoke of "encircled" villages in Greece populated by Slavo-Macedonians. "We don't want self-appointed protectors," residents of Lofoi, in northern Greece, replied in a statement.

Gruevski met on October 16 with Fyrom President Branko Crvenkovski to hammer out a response to Nimetz's proposal, which entails the mandatory use of the name "Republic of Macedonia" in international organisations but its optional use in bilateral ties (a provision rejected by Greece).

Crvenkovski, though considered by some a moderate, initially rejected the proposal and called for significant changes.

The consensus in the Greek foreign ministry appears to be that Skopje's hardline nationalist stance will be fuelled by the politics of the spring presidential election, in which Gruevski hopes to elect his own candidate.

Greek foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said on October 15 that Gruevski's government is cultivating "the serpent's egg", implying poisonous, ultra-nationalist outbursts.

But the Greek political parties were equally troubled by the Nimetz plan, which was met with a flood of strong criticism.

Rightwing Laos party leader George Karatzaferis, whose party rejects any use of the term "Macedonia" by Skopje, told the Athens News that he expects the latest proposal to evolve into an even worse one for Greece over time.

"They [Fyrom] will seek to get a proposal that is even more improved for them and worse for us. If we accept and they reject, the next proposition will be worse," Karatzaferis says, suggesting that the Greek government should not have rushed to accept a compound name including the term "Macedonia".

Karatzaferis believes that opposition Pasok and Syriza were dragged by his party into adopting a tougher line on the Fyrom issue. "They [Pasok] became embarrassed and now they are back-pedalling. From the moment they saw that the vast majority of Greeks agree with us, they've been backing off," he says.

In a poll conducted by Public Issue and published on October 12 in Kathimerini, 53 percent of Greeks oppose accepting the name "Northern Macedonia". Moreover, a whopping 77 percent insist that the new name must be used by everyone, both within Fyrom and in that country's bilateral ties.

Asked by the Athens News how Greece can persuade Skopje to accept a new name for all uses if it cannot even persuade the UN mediator, Koumoutsakos said: "The success or failure of any effort is judged by its final outcome, not by the stages of a negotiating process."

Though over 100 countries have recognised the country by its constitutional name ("Republic of Macedonia"), 67 percent of those surveyed believe that Greece can prevail and secure a better solution in talks. But most (63 percent) say that this will not likely happen in the next six months.

While Athens has threatened to veto giving Skopje a date to start accession talks at the December European Union summit, the European Commission has made clear that a date for Fyrom is unlikely anyway. A key reason is the electoral violence and tampering in the general elections last June. Serious problems in meeting various benchmarks have been underlined in repeated statements by Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn.

One of the key problems for Greece is Fyrom's demand for recognition of a "Macedonian" ethnicity and language. Famed Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, in a letter published in Ta Nea on October 14, criticised Greek academics for not disproving Skopje's specious claims.

Pasok's shadow foreign minister, Andreas Loverdos, told the Athens News: "Skopje has decided not to settle with us in a compromise, so Greece should not act as if a compromise is imminent. Greece should not make concessions that the other side grabs and capitalises on."

Loverdos believes that Fyrom's intransigence does not rest on US backing. He says that while Washington has made clear to Skopje that it seeks a solution, Fyrom is "in a paroxysm of post-electoral nationalism" that will continue at least until the presidential elections.

"Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannnis has not realised that the other side does not want a solution, and that is why she received Nimetz's ideas so positively," he said.

(Posting Date 27 October 2008)

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