A high level meeting between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his counterpart from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Zoran Zaev on the margins of the World Economic Forum in Davos showed that both sides are keen to finally solve the name dispute. In the joint press conference that followed the 2-hour meeting both sides reiterated their good intentions.
Zoran Zaev proudly announced that FYROM is taking important steps to show its good will in resolving the name dispute and for this reason it plans to change the name of Skopje’s airport – currently named “Alexander the Great” – and of major E75 motorway, while the central motorway running through FYROM to the border with Greece will be renamed the “Friendship” motorway.
These steps demonstrated that his government “does not have any irredentist claims against Greece and showed its good faith,” Zaev said and added that his government remains committed to the UN process and its mediator Matthew Nimetz. “We are committed to building trust between our countries with the ultimate goal of helping to overcome the problems between our countries. We are at a time when we can create good-neighbourly relations,” he said.
Are these steps enough for Greece to agree on a new name and turn on the green light for FYROM’s accession to EU and NATO?
On his part, Tsipras underlined that the relations of the two countries must rest upon a firm foundation of mutual respect and good neighbourliness, noting that this meant more than just solving the name issue.
“It means that we must first tackle irredentism in all its forms and with guarantees that we will leave no window open that might allow similar provocations to be created anew in the future,” the Greek prime minister said.
Tsipras sent a very clear message that all the open issues must be resolved in order for FYROM to make progress in its ambitions to join the EU and NATO. He made it clear that the two countries must agree on a compound name for use in relations to everyone (erga omnes).
All fine and good. But did the two leaders touched the crucial issue of the FYROM Constitution? In the amendment of 1991, when FYROM gained independence from Yugoslavia and the name dispute arose, it is clearly stated that the country’s “nationality is Macedonian” and “the cyrillic alphabet is the official alphabet of the Macedonian language.
Macedonian language? Macedonian nation? Greece vehemently rejects such terms as “irredentist” as it is based on FYROM’s nationalist ambitions that the present “Macedonian [geographical] territories as occupied by Greece, Bulgaria and Albania.”
In its official position on the name dispute, the Greek Foreign Ministry notes that “the name issue is a problem with regional and international dimensions, consisting in the promotion of irredentist and territorial ambitions” on the part of FYROM.
Macedonia as used by FYROM, “counterfeits of history and usurpation of Greece’s national, historical and cultural heritage.” the ministry notes adding:
Historically, the term “Macedonia”, which is a Greek word, refers to the Kingdom and culture of the ancient Macedonians, who belong to the Hellenic nation and are unquestionably part of Greek historical and cultural heritage.
The only name Athens accepts for Skopje is that the term Macedonia is being used “in a compound name with a geographical qualifier for use in relations to everyone (erga omnes).”
Is Zoran Zaev willing to change the Constitution but also manage to persuade his lawmakers to vote for changes that will ‘alternate’ what they consider as “Macedonian identity”?
Maybe the Constitutional issue is too early to be discussed in public. Resolving the name dispute has still a long way to go, according to official schedules, negotiations are expected to last until early summer.
UN Special Envoy for the name dispute, Matthew Nimetz, is planning to visit Athens and Skopje January 30 and 31, 2018.
PS My cat claims Zaev took a further step to get rid of FYROM’s irredentist positions: he went to the meeting with Tsipras without a tie.