Greece Pushes for Fyrom Compromise

Foreign "Minister Bakoyannis calls for the acceptance of a double name including 'Macedonia', and several parties agree

By George Gilson

FACING mounting international pressure, the Greek government is, for the first time in 15 years, scampering to secure broad political support on a settlement of the festering name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis came out clearly in favour of a hyphenated double name that will include the term "Macedonia", an option once ruled out at a summit of party leaders under then-president Constantine Karamanlis. The party leaders then included Bakoyannis' father (then-premier Constantine Mitsotakis), Pasok leader Andreas Papandreou, Communist Party general secretary Aleka Papariga and Left Coalition leader Maria Damanaki (today a Pasok MP).

While many people over the years have argued that a new party leader summit chaired by the Greek president would be needed to change that policy, the government is poised to opt for a meeting of the National Council of Foreign Policy, a consultative body where all parliamentary parties are represented. Today, only LAOS president George Karatzaferis is insisting on the need for a presidential summit.

Athens' move comes after a series of alarming international signals on the prospect of achieving a much-touted "mutually agreed compromise". On a recent visit to Skopje, Rosemary DiCarlo, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs, told Fyrom officials that the dispute with Greece over the name could not keep Skopje out of Nato. The comment made clear that Washington is completely ignoring Athens' very public warnings that it could veto Skopje's Nato entry at a foreign ministers' meeting in December and a summit next spring.

Bakoyannis, in an October 14 interview with Kathimerini, said the issue is at a critical juncture due to a possible Nato invitation to Fyrom. Noting that Greece has kept its side of the bargain to support Fyrom - in which it is the largest investor - Bakoyannis said that Greece will make yet another compromise by accepting a "double name", one that would include the term Macedonia. If Skopje does not respond again, she made clear that Greece will exhaust all means at its disposal, implying a possible veto.

UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American, is continuing contacts with both sides, and many expect he will table a new proposal, possibly as early as November. Greek negotiator Adamantios Vassilakis and Fyrom counterpart Ambassador Dimitroff are expected to meet soon. With some speaking of possible direct talks between the foreign ministers, Bakoyannis said she will be receptive if Nimetz proposes it as part of the UN process.

For his part, Nimetz appears less than receptive to Greece's sensitivities about Fyrom's irredentist propaganda. When asked in a recent interview with the Skopje daily Dnevnik about Fyrom's move to rename its airport after Alexander the Great, Nimetz trashed Alexander as a man responsible for the death of thousands and the destruction of many cities. The remarks caused a firestorm in Greece, leading Bakoyannis to declare that "history cannot be rewritten".

Any new mediation effort is hardly a guarantee of success, given Fyrom's hardline public stance. When Fyrom UN General Assembly President Sejdiu Kerim last month introduced Fyrom President Branko Crvenkovski as "President of the Republic of Macedonia", Crvenkovski answered Greece's complaint defiantly: "My country is and will be called Republic of Macedonia."

But Greek opposition parties have shown an encouraging willingness to compromise based on a double name including the word "Macedonia". Evangelos Venizelos, who is running for the Pasok presidency, said that a "settlement will be mutually agreed, and hence a synthetic name that does not offend our side historically, culturally or politically."

Greece categorically rejected a prior Nimetz proposal that limited the use of the word Macedonia by the northern Greek province of that name.

Left Coalition leader Alekos Alavanos publicly supported accepting a double name including the word Macedonia (Gorna or Nova - Upper or New - Macedonia are considered possible proposals).

(Posting Date 24 October 2007)

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