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Macedonia: New Developments In Name Row With Greece

Since late March, a growing number of reports in the Macedonian press suggest that movement may be in the offing in the long-standing dispute between Skopje and Athens over the name of Macedonia. Under Greek pressure, the United Nations and other international institutions recognized Macedonia in 1993 under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) rather than under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia.

Greek politicians argue that the name Macedonia implies territorial aspirations towards the northern Greek province of the same name. Successive governments in Skopje have always denied such allegations. To avoid using the name Macedonia, Greek authorities and media prefer to call Macedonia either FYROM or Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2002, 2 April and 3 July 2003, 17 March, 8 April, and 9 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 and 27 June 2003, and 25 February 2005).

Greece's view of Macedonia as a potential threat to its territorial integrity is not shared by all UN members. Some countries -- including the United States -- recognize the constitutional name in their bilateral relations with Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 2, and 5 November 2004).

Most Macedonians, for their part, regard the formula Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM -- as well as Greece's insistence that Macedonia change its flag and its constitution -- as humiliating and insulting. The more sober supporters of Macedonia's constitutional name -- including the government -- argue that Greece breached international law when it forced the term FYROM and the constitutional changes upon Macedonia. (The flag was changed in 1995 to remove a symbol that the Greeks considered Greek. The constitution was amended in 1992 to specifically exclude "territorial pretensions.")

Since Macedonia did not accept this Greek formula, it asked the UN to help resolve the dispute shortly after its recognition as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Ever since, talks have been under way in New York, which have so far have yielded little or no results. A number of proposals and compromise formulas, such as "Upper Macedonia" or similar constructions have been rejected by Skopje, while Athens continues to refuse Macedonia's constitutional name. The biggest concession Skopje is ready to make is to accept a double formula -- one for its international relations, and one for its bilateral relations with Greece.

This situation is unlikely to change with the latest proposal, allegedly made by UN mediator Matthew Nimitz. According to Macedonian and Greek media, Nimitz proposed the formula "Republika Makedonija -- Skopje." The crucial point of the proposal is the fact that it is to be used in its Macedonian form only and not be translated as "Republic of Macedonia -- Skopje."

Both Greek President Karolos Papoulias and Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis welcomed the new proposal, according to the public Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT). Molyviatis, who met with opposition leaders to discuss the new proposal, said on 8 April that it could be the basis for a new round of negotiations with Skopje. He stressed, however, that the proposal does not fully satisfy him. Papoulias, who as Greece's foreign minister signed the preliminary agreement with Macedonia in 1995, also expected the proposal to be a good basis for further negotiations.

The fact that Molyviatis met with opposition leaders to discuss the issue also shows that the name dispute is as much an issue in Greek domestic politics as an international one. After Macedonia declared independence in 1991, Greek politicians sparked nationalist protests against the alleged territorial claims of the new state. As a result, Greece's biggest parties -- the governing conservative New Democracy and the opposition Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) -- are reluctant to accept any compromise solution, since this would be seen as a defeat.

Meanwhile, the Macedonian leadership reacted to the media reports with a mixture of skepticism and resolve. Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski suggested on 8 April that it could be a Greek media hoax. "Our media must not be part of the game [of the Greek media]," Buckovski said. "We shall quietly wait for the talks in New York to continue on [11 April]."

After meeting with Nimitz late on 11 April, Macedonian Ambassador to the United States Nikola Dimitrov refused any comment, thus leaving open the question as to who proposed the latest formula. President Branko Crvenkovski also said he did not know whether the latest proposal indeed came from Nimitz. "The term 'Republika Makedonija -- Skopje' is a good basis for constructive talks on a solution for the bilateral relations between...Macedonia and...Greece, that is, as a possible way for Greece to approach us," Crvenkovski said.

But the president also made clear that Macedonia will not accept anything but the name Republic of Macedonia in its dealings with the rest of the world. "This is the constitutional name, and [in that context] the proposal that was presented to the Greek public is unacceptable for us."