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Greek Leader Ready To Accept 'Composite Name' For Macedonia


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) and Macedonia counterpart Zoran Zaev meet in Davos on January 24.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) and Macedonia counterpart Zoran Zaev meet in Davos on January 24.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says he is ready to accept a "composite name" that includes the moniker "Macedonia" to settle a long-standing dispute over the name of its Balkan neighbor.

Tsipras's televised comments on January 27 came after he held talks in Athens with key political leaders, including those of most opposition parties, in an effort to set a joint strategy for upcoming United Nations negotiations on the matter.

Tsipras failed to receive backing from the opposition parties, with Conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis leading the push back, saying, "We will not divide Greeks to unite Skopje."

The Greek prime minister responded in a televised address by claiming that Mitsotakis was too influenced by "extremists" in his party.

"We must not listen to nationalist outbursts or fanatical shouts," he added.

Tsipras acknowledged that there remained a long way to go before a settlement is agreed, but said he was prepared to accept a "composite name...with a geographical or historical reference" that would include the name "Macedonia."

That could mean a name such as Upper, or New, Macedonia, he said.

Macedonia kept its communist-era name after declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. But the move angered Greece, which says it implies territorial claims to a Greek province of the same name as well as to Greece's history.

Greece has since insisted that the country be referred to internationally as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and blocked its path to European Union and NATO membership until a solution to the dispute is found.

Authorities from both Greece and Macedonia have said they want to settle the issue this year, and the two sides have agreed to intensify consultations.

Matthew Nimetz, an envoy for the United Nations, is scheduled to meet with the Greek leaders on January 29 and then travel on to Macedonia two days later. During recent meetings, Nimetz handed both sides ideas for overcoming the dispute, but details were not released.

At the same time Tsipras was meeting with Greek political leaders, his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, and President George Ivanov were discussing the issue with Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska Jankovska, and Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Bujar Osmani, as well as heads of the main political parties in Skopje.

The "coordination meeting" went late into the night on January 27, but no statements have yet been issued.

Greek nationalists have taken to the streets to protest concessions to Macedonia.

Organizers of an antigovernment protest planned for February 4 in Athens said they hope to draw 1 million in a demonstration against allowing Macedonia to use any form of the moniker in the country's name.

Protesters also converged outside the coordination meeting in Skopje, with demonstrators objecting to Zaev's plan to rename Macedonia's main highway and airport, both named for Alexander the Great.

They demanded negotiations on the country’s name change be terminated.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, dpa, BalkanInsight, and AP
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