Skopje and Athens are ‘brothers in crime’ on Macedonia name dispute

Radmila Sekerinska.jpg

The stalemate on the Macedonia name dispute between Athens and Skopje is a “lose-lose game”, and the two governments are “brothers in crime" on the issue, says Radmila Šekerinska, vice president of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia. EURACTIV Greece reports.

A majority of EU countries recognise Macedonia under its constitutional name the Republic of Macedonia, but many side with Greece in rejecting the term, calling the country the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom).

Athens insists that the name “Macedonia” implies territorial and minority claims to its own northern province, also called Macedonia.

The issue threatens to block the country’s attempts at EU accession, as Greece, as an EU member state, holds a veto over any new applicants.

Radmila Šekerinska, the former deputy prime minister responsible for European affairs and leader of the opposition in the country’s Parliament, slated Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, the leader of the centre-right Vmro-Dpmne, for focusing on the name dispute issue and aiming to fuel internal tensions rather than trying to solve bilateral problems.

“He was actually predominant of using the name issue for domestic purposes in the internal political debate and he didn’t even attempt to create a consensus-based approach on behalf of the Macedonian negotiators”, she told EURACTIV Greece.

Šekerinska added that the name issue stalemate was being used as an excuse “for some of our domestic so-called reformers not to deliver on any of the necessary changes to society”.

‘Political manipulations’

Šekerinska went further by blaming the current governments in Athens and in Skopje for keeping the two countries “hostages”.

“I do think that the current Macedonian and Greek governments are brothers in crime in the way that they are taking the two countries as their hostages and trying to politically manipulate the issue rather than improving the bilateral relations”.

She said that her country paid the heaviest price for the name dispute but she added that Greece had lost out on huge investment opportunities particularly after the veto exercised by Athens in a 2008 Nato summit.

“I think that Greece has wasted an enormous opportunity in the last several years especially after the veto in 2008, to be much stronger in the Macedonian market, to have more investments, to have a bigger political role in the region and present itself as the European player in the Balkans," she said.

“I do think that Macedonia is paying a much larger price but I believe this is a lose-lose strategy, and the two prime ministers are to blame."

Greece ‘avoided criticism of hypocrisy’

Greece's priorities for its upcoming tenure of the European Council's rotating presidency do not include enlargement policy, despite a previous commitment by Athens to promote the bloc's expansion into the Western Balkans.

Šekerinska said that any other approach would be “hypocrisy”.

“The Greek government probably avoided criticism for hypocrisy as it would be very difficult for the Greek presidency to claim that enlargement is a priority if actually one of the countries that could make a step forward is still blocked due to a veto by Greece,” she said.

Referring to the prospects of her country under a Greek veto, she said that if a candidate sees its prospects frozen, “then you deteriorate internally. This is the big lesson”.

The deputy opposition leader added that the public was becoming increasingly indifferent to and disappointed with the European Union. She added that the situation of the media in her country was “deplorable”.

“A large number of journalists and media outlets who want to do their job professionally are under enormous pressure”.

Media reports have denounced the silencing of press critical of the Gruevski government.

Asked what would be the “perfect name” for Macedonia, she answered: “When I was little I was complaining that I dislike my name, but then I realised that having a rare name actually helps. So time is an element. As a citizen of this country – and I was raised in it under the name of Macedonia – I really do not understand the Greek position. But international politics just like domestic politics must sometimes solve a problem which seems irrational.”

Šekerinska, who was born in 1972, spent her childhood in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was made up of six republics, including Macedonia. At that time, Greece had no objection to the name.

Macedonia declared independence from the dissolving Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991.

The country is an ethnic mosaic. Slavic Macedonians represent the largest group (64% of the population). Ethnic Albanians are the biggest minority (25%), with Turks (3%) and Roma (1.9%) also present. The government of Macedonia however says the majority of the population are not Slavs, but descendants from Alexander the Great.

Of all the hurdles standing in the way of Macedonia's EU accession, the so-called 'name dispute' with Greece appears to be the biggest.

Seen from Athens, the official name used by Skopje – the Republic of Macedonia – is an open challenge to the Greek region of Macedonia. In reprisal, Greece vowed to veto Macedonia's participation in international organisations, including the EU, until the issue is resolved.

Although Macedonia is recognised as the country's constitutional name most EU countries, the name dispute with Greece has led to an impasse for the country's membership of both the EU and Nato. UK, Poland, Romania and 13 other EU countries call the country Macedonia, while France, Germany, Spain and 9 other EU members call it Fyrom.

Greece also considers that Skopje is misappropriating large chunks of its ancient history. The airport in Skopje was named after Alexander the Great, who is seen by Greece as a hero of its ancient history. Recently, Skopje angered Athens by erecting a giant statue of a ‘warrior on horseback’ resembling Alexander the Great.

  • 1 January - 31 July 2014: Greek EU presidency

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