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License To Bicker: Macedonian Number Plates Raise Greek Ire

A photo posted on the Internet that seemed to suggest Greek officials were covering the letters "MK" with "FYROM" on the license plates of Macedonian cars entering the country outraged many in the former Yugoslav republic.
Greece and Macedonia's already strained relations have taken a turn for the worse in recent days thanks to a row over license plates.

Macedonia's decision to issue new number plates for cars in February with the letters "MK" seems to have raised hackles in Athens even though Skopje says it was merely bringing its auto registration into line with EU standards.

Now, a photograph posted on the Internet that seemed to indicate that Greece was covering up the offending letters on the license plates of any Macedonian cars entering the country has sparked outrage across the former Yugoslav republic's social networks.

Macedonia's name has long been a sore point between the two countries thanks to Greece's insistence that Macedonia implies a territorial claim by Skopje to a province in northern Greece with the same name.

That is why Macedonia is still officially referred to by the United Nations as "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM).

Although many UN members, including four members of the Security Council, have unilaterally abandoned this moniker and now refer to the country by its constitutional name, "the Republic of Macedonia," the dispute has hampered Skopje's progress toward EU and NATO membership, which Greece has blocked.

It's not surprising, therefore, that many Macedonians were dismayed when reports surfaced claiming that Greek border officials were putting an "FYROM" sticker over the letters "MK" on Macedonian cars entering the country.

According to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, even the country's foreign minister, Nikola Popovski, waded into the argument.

"We believe that energy should be focused on cooperation rather than on creating a shameless and baseless provocations like these sticker incidents," Popovski said at a press conference.

Greece moved quickly to try and dispel the tensions by issuing a statement through its liaison office in Skopje, which insisted that it was placing a "sticker on the back windows of the vehicles in question and not on the plates themselves."

Nonetheless, it staunchly defended its policy of using the stickers by saying it was simply "stating the Greek reservations regarding this code."

Amid fears that the issue could damage tourism because so many Macedonians who regularly holiday in Greece would now be deterred from going, the Greek liaison office insisted that "citizens of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia are welcome in Greece."

"Any attempts at discouraging them from visiting Greece or any misleading statements are counterproductive," it added.

-- Coilin O'Connor

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