Skopje politicians bicker over Macedonian name dispute


The government in Skopje reacted strongly to statements made by Radmila Šekerinska, vice president of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia in which she said that the authorities of her country and Greece are equally to blame for the name dispute dividing the two neighbours. EURACTIV Greece reports.

In an interview with EURACTIV Greece, Šekerinska argued that Skopje and Athens are “brothers in crime” on the stalemate of the name issue and slated Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, the leader of the centre-right Vmro-Dpmne, for using the name dispute to strengthen his power rather than trying to solve bilateral problems.

Šekerinska is a former deputy prime minister responsible for European affairs and leader of the opposition in the country’s Parliament.

Making an excuse for Greek diplomacy

The former minister of foreign affairs and MP of the ruling center-right Vmro-Dpmne, Antonio Miloshoski, claimed that Šekerinska was "making an excuse for Greek diplomacy" by by treating the culpability of both countries equally.

“This gives additional artillery to every Greek ambassador, every Greek minister for foreign affairs, not to personally attack our country, but to use Ms Šekerinska's words to blame our country", he said.

In an unsigned article titled “Sekerinska’s Statements make the Greeks happy” published by the Skopje daily Kurir, the anonymous author suggests that there was synchronisation between the opposition SDSM and the Greek government on the issue.

The article said that Šekerinska blamed Gruevski for his unwillingness to solve the problem, “a thesis that the Greeks have been trying to get over to the international community for years”.

It added that Šekerinska did not say a word about rejected initiatives for direct meetings made by Gruevski to his Greek counterpart, but rather complained to the Greeks that “Gruevski allegedly did not make ??the necessary societal reforms”.

Greeks see allies in Skopje

The Secretary General of the department International Relations of the Greek center-right party New Democracy, Ioannis Smyrlis, told EURACTIV Greece that the intransigent attitude of Gruevski was blocking the prospects of EU membership of his country.

“This intransigent attitude is now being recognised by opposition officials of our neighbor country and it is high time Gruevski changed his approach," he said.

He also said that Greece has made clear for years that it wants a common accepted name erga omnes.

Erga omnes” means using the name to be agreed in "relations with everyone", thus rejecting the notion that a name "for internal use" could be kept.

Nikos Chountis, MEP of the leftist opposition Syriza, told EURACTIV Greece that the political forces in Skopje should realise "that they have to contribute to the resolution of the name dispute which is actually an international problem".

"They have to abandon their internal reactions which are for domestic consumption and realise that the resolution of the problem will open the prospect of EU membership for the country," Chountis said.

No progress at UN-sponsored talks

Nikola Poposki, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia, said that after the latest round of UN-sponsored talks to find a solution to the name dispute, which were held in September, mountains stood between the two neighbouring countries.  

“The standpoints coming from the south [Greece] are the basis for the problem. We have had no assurance whatever that they want to become part of the solution," he said, cited by the website Balkan Insight.

"We can be partners about everything else but when it comes to the name dispute, mountains stand between us,” Poposki underlined.

As Balkan Insight wrote, Poposki’s remarks leave little space for optimism about forthcoming UN-sponsored talks set to take place in New York.

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.

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