Macedonia's prime minister says he is ready to renounce his country's claim to be the sole heir of Alexander the Great’s legacy, a potential concession that could lead to the easing of a long-standing dispute with Greece.
"I give up [the claim] of Macedonia being the sole heir to Alexander,” Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told TV station Telma in an interview late on December 22.
“The history belongs not only to us, but also to Greece and many other countries,” the left-leaning prime minister added.
Alexander the Great is the famed ruler of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia.
Greece has objected to Skopje's use of the name “Macedonia” since its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, arguing that it implies territorial ambitions on the part of the country.
Athens’ objections have complicated Skopje's aspirations to join NATO and the European Union.
Greece in 2008 blocked Macedonia's bid to join NATO under its provisional name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) because of the dispute.
Zaev did not indicate how or if the country’s name would change if it were to give up the claim as Alexander’s sole heir.
Macedonia’s former conservative government pushed the use of the name, naming the country's main highway and airport after Alexander and building a 28-meter-high monument in Skopje's main square.
Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski blamed his VMRO-DPMNE party's fall from power on his refusal to compromise with Athens in the dispute. Gruevski has stepped down as party leader and was replaced by technocrat Hristijan Mickoski at the party convention on December 22.
Matthew Nimetz, the United Nations special representative for the naming dispute, said on December 12 that the issue “can and should be resolved” next year after the parties met for the first time in three years in Brussels.
Nimetz, a U.S. diplomat who is the personal envoy of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said after a meeting with Greek and Macedonian envoys that “the atmosphere is a much better one and from both Skopje and Athens there is an indication that we should make an intensive effort to resolve this issue that has been outstanding for so many years.”
In his interview, Zaev also said he was optimistic Macedonia would be rewarded for its reform process with an invitation soon to begin EU membership talks.
“If we continue with reforms at a good pace, Macedonia will get a date for starting negotiations with the EU at the June summit,” he said.