Skopje Won't Play Ball

By George Gilson

MATTHEW Nimetz' latest - and last - attempt to resolve a name dispute got off to a less than propitious start, when top officials of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia publicly declared they will not consider any change to the constitutional name. Barely had the UN envoy deposited his proposals with Greek Ambassadaor Adamantios Vassilakis and FYROM counterpart Nikola Dimitrov, that Skopje moved to immobilise Greece's main bargaining chip, a threatened veto of FYROM's Nato accession next April.

"More than 90 percent of citizens have declared themselves for Nato membership. However, the simultaneous change of the constitutional name [Republic of Macedonia] in accordance with the Greek desire is too high a price for this priority, and that is unacceptable to us even if it refers to Nato membership," Fyrom Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said in an interview on November 4, three days after Nimetz met with the two sides.

But in a boost for Greece, US Ambassador to Nato Victoria Nuland urged Gruevski in November 8 talks in Skopje that his government should settle the dispute with Greece. She also said Skopje must "sprint" to gain membership.

Greece argues that a resolution of the name dispute will give Fyrom a much-needed ally at a time of potential regional instability. The UN mediator is expected to visit both Athens and Skopje by the end of November.

The Greek government has undertaken its own diplomatic blitzkrieg, with Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis visiting both Berlin and London to whip up support for Greece's positions. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband acknowledged Greece's self-evident veto right. During talks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on November 7, Bakoyannis said. "We seek a solution that will allow the two countries to co-exist in common alliances and the common European edifice."

She told parliament's foreign affairs committee on November 8 that a mutually agreed solution is the prerequisite for Greece to approve Fyrom's Nato and EU membership.

Fyrom's hard line sparked nationalist salvos in Greece. Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki, responding to Fyrom maps showing large chunks of northern Greece as part of that country, declared that parts of Fyrom that had substantial Greek populations (as Monastir) might have been better incorporated in Greece. The remarks brought a withering attack on the bishop by the Left Coalition party and the press.

While Communist Party leader Aleka Papariga, after November 7 talks with PM Karamanlis, seemed amenable to a composite name including Macedonia, ultra-right Laos called Fyrom by its pre-World War Two name, Vardarska, and dared the government to openly threaten to veto Fyrom's Nato accession.

Left Coalition leader Alekos Alavanos flew to Sklopje for talks with President Branko Crvenkovski, PM Gruevski and Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki.

(Posting Date 19 November 2007)

HCS readers can view other excellent articles by this writer in the News & Issues and other sections of our extensive, permanent archives at the URL
. The author is a journalist and writer for the English-language Athens News. Readers enjoying this article may wish to view other fine selections or to subscribe to this publication by visiting the website

All articles of Athens News appearing on HCS have been reprinted with permission.

2000 © Hellenic Communication Service, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved.