Grande premiere: Officials from Greece and FYROM meet at the United Nations on Wednesday seeking to end the 27-year-old Macedonia name dispute, a Greek precondition to give green light to FYROM to access the EU and the NATO. At the same time, Tsipras’ junior coalition partner insists on any name except “Macedonia”.
27 years after the name dispute erupted and a couple of failed attempts to solve the conflict, UN Special Envoy for the issue, Matthew Nimetz decided to sit down with diplomats from the two countries at UN headquarters after their governments showed a new willingness to end the row.
“I think the people in both countries are maybe ready to hear some solutions that are consistent with national interests but also have some element of compromise that would resolve the problem,” the UN envoy said in an interview to Greek state broadcaster ERT on Monday.
Nimetz, an American who has been trying to end the name dispute since 1994, said he saw some “positive momentum” while UN sources did not rule out a breakthrough at the meeting.
Greece maintains that the use of Macedonia suggests that Skopje has territorial claims to its own Macedonia — a northern region that boasts the port cities of Thessaloniki and Kavala.
Macedonia is known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at the United Nations, but the Security Council acknowledged when it agreed to UN membership that this was a provisional name.
It has also been admitted to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund under that name.
Some of the solutions floated include using the name New Macedonia or Northern Macedonia, but Greek nationalists argue that there should be no reference to Macedonia at all.
Asked about prospects for the talks, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric sounded a cautious note.
“These are discussions that have been going on for quite a long time. They’re very delicate discussions,” he said. “Let’s wait to see what happens.”
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said this month that he believed a solution could be found by July, while his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras has said the issue should be settled this year.
Tsipras this week pushed back against the influential Greek Orthodox Church after it said any compromise with Skopje should not include the use of “Macedonia”.
A compromise on the name is expected to be put to a referendum or presented to the parliaments for endorsement, which could stoke nationalist fervor.
Attending the UN talks will be Macedonia’s ambassador to the United States, Vasko Naumovski and Greece’s representative Adamantios Vassilakis.
All sides hope that a solution will be found before summer. However, just hours before the talks at the UN started, Tsipras’ junior coalition partner, nationalist Panos Kammenos insisted on his position to not accept the name “Macedonia” for FYROM.
Επίσημος χάρτης της Γιουγκοσλαβίας του 1937 με τα Σκόπια Βαρντάσκα pic.twitter.com/NWpWjiivDa
— Panos Kammenos (@PanosKammenos) January 16, 2018
Kammenos uploaded a map of Yugoslavia mentioning the old name of its former Republic as “Vardaska”
The leader of Independent Greeks has also recently said that a Referendum should be held in Greece over the name.
Many wonder whether it is Kammenos’ position opposing the government compromise approach or the government strategy to put pressure on FYROM during the negotiations.