Macedonia says ‘big step’ made in name row with Greece

Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias (R) and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Skopje, 31 August. [Georgi Licovski/EPA]

Macedonia hailed a “big step” towards resolving a quarter-century-old dispute with neighbour Greece on Tuesday (5 September) over its name that has seen it blocked from NATO and European Union membership talks.

Two recent meetings between foreign ministers of the two countries in Athens and Skopje managed to “create friendly ties”, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told reporters.

“It is not a solution but a big step was made” over the name dispute, he added.

The quarrel between Skopje and Athens dates back to Macedonia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and has poisoned neighbourly relations.

From the outset, Greece denied its neighbour the right to use the name Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek region.

The issue has damaged ties and Athens blocked Skopje’s entry to the European Union and NATO.

Greece and the EU recognise the small landlocked country by its provisional name, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), under which it was also admitted to the UN.

Macedonia says 'FYROM' name no better than 'Klingon'

Macedonia rejected suggestions on Wednesday (18 July) it could end a row with Greece over its name by adopting an unwieldy acronym instead, saying it was as alien as the “Klingon” language in Star Trek.

Skopje has long insisted that this designation was only provisional, but in June, Zaev, a Social Democrat, seemed to relax the line of his nationalist predecessors.

“I am convinced that today we have better perspectives to resolve this delicate problem,” Zaev said on Tuesday.

Any solution prepared “together with the opposition” will be put a referendum, the prime minister added.

“The final decision will be on the citizens of Macedonia.”

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said during his visit to Skopje last week that his country would back Macedonia’s membership to both the EU and NATO as soon as the name row is resolved.

Since Zaev took office, the US and the EU have been pushing the country towards NATO membership and possibly opening EU accession negotiations. Zaev suggested last month in Brussels that his country could join NATO and the EU under a provisional name.

New Macedonia leaders vow to revive EU/NATO bid

Macedonia’s new leaders showed fresh resolve to revive the country’s stalled bid for membership of the EU and NATO on Monday (June 12) by vowing to mend relations with estranged EU neighbours Greece and Bulgaria and implement long-delayed reforms.

During  Zaev’s visit to Sofia on 20 June, it was announced that Bulgaria and Macedonia will soon sign a bilateral treaty, removing some obstacles to Skopje’s bid to join NATO and the EU.

Bulgaria and Macedonia start removing hurdles to relations

During new Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s visit to Sofia on Tuesday (20 June), it was announced that Bulgaria and Macedonia will soon sign a bilateral treaty, removing some obstacles to Skopje’s bid to join NATO and the EU.

But ever since, Zaev has been attacked by the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party of Nikola Gruevski, claiming that he is betraying the national interest.

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