What's in a Name? With Macedonia, Plenty!

by George Gilson

Athens welcomed it like manna from heaven, and Skopje declared it dead on arrival. Perhaps more significantly, the United States came out in support of UN  mediator Matthew Nimetz's proposal to adopt a new name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) - "Republika Madedonija-Skopje."

The proposed term is the country's constitutional name followed by the name of the state's capital. The appendage is intended indirectly to recognise that the bulk of ancient Macedonia lay within the borders of the modern Greek state, in a region whose residents identify themselves as Greek Macedonians.

The proposal was ceremoniously announced by Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, who rushed to disclose parts of Nimetz's letter. He welcomed the appearance of a new initiative after years of inertia as a good foundation for negotiations, but noted that certain points need clarification or revision. He then briefed opposition party leaders, but concealed a number of provisions that could prove controversial in Greece.

The government's perceived duplicity caused an outcry from opposition Pasok, which proceeded to reject the deal, with George Papandreou declaring it does not "guarantee a dignified solution of the Skopje issue." Left Coalition and the Greek Communist Party (KKE) accepted the new name, but expressed reservations on the other provisions.

The FYROM leadership immediately and categorically rejected the proposal, declaring that no change to the constitutional name "Republic of Macedonia" is acceptable, except as a special dispensation for Greece to use the new name in its bilateral relations with FYROM.

Premier Costas Karamanlis came out in support of the proposal in an April 13 letter to American and European leaders, calling it "a unique window of opportunity that will contribute to the further stabilisation of the region." He declared, "I personally stand ready to back an agreement now. Greece would, therefore, be prepared to enter into this final phase of the negotiations with a positive and constructive attitude to reach a mutually acceptable solution." The letter was sent to US President George W. Bush, European Council President Jean Claude Juncker, European Commission President Jose Manuel Durrao Barosso, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Nato Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

In a letter to the two sides, Nimetz attempts to address the sensitivities of both countries, which have been negotiating a final name at the UN since the 13 September 1995 interim agreement that designated FYROM as the country's temporary appellation. In FYROM's favour, the new name includes the constitutional name (Republic of Macedonia) which would continue to be used internally, so that no constitutional revision is required.

To address Greece's objection, Skopje is added to the name, thus distinguishing the area from the Greek province of Macedonia, and all of the historical implications of the name.

The United Nations and other international organisations would use the new combined name, and UN member-states would be called upon to do the same, but there is no provision that they would be required to do so in their bilateral relations. The US recognised the constitutional name in November, but the State Department expressed support for Nimetz's plan, which is reportedly a rehash of ideas he had submitted several years ago.

The proposal also calls on the two sides to refrain, by act of omission, from permitting behaviours that are negative or insulting towards the culture and heritage of the other side. They would also be required to remove disparaging or offensive remarks about the other side, including expansionist rhetoric--long espoused by the Slavs of FYROM--about incorporating the Greek province of Macedonia into the state created and named by Tito.

Nimetz's deal underlines that no particular country or region will have exclusive use of the name Macedonia or Macedonian. Howerver, if that means changing the name of the Greek province of Macedonia to become "Greek Macedonia," it could cause a huge outcry, rekindling past passions on the name issue.

The Slavs in FYROM, who speak an idiom akin to Bulgarian, call themselves Macedonian. The Nimetz proposal calls upon Greece to recognise as "Macedonian" the residents of Republika Makedonija-Skopje, who in turn would have to recognise that there is a prefecture in Greece called "Greek Macedonia" (and not the current FYROM usage of "Macedonia of the Aegean"), and that its residents define themselves as "Greek Macedonians," with the Greek regional and cultural significance of that name.

In effect, acceptance of the UN proposal represents for Greece a full-fledged retreat from the position agreed to by party leaders in 1992, when it was decided that no name for Skopje that included the name Macedonia was acceptable.

The deal would be adopted by the UN Security Council and come into effect three months after an agreement is signed.

Article reproduced with permission from the Athens News. For more information about the FYROM issue, HCS encourages visitors to view other articles under its Macedonia Series and Editorials sections of the archives.

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