Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bid to End Macedonia Name Dispute

There are renewed efforts to resolve one of the thorniest diplomatic disputes in the Balkans.
By Borjan Jovanovski

The United States last week welcomed a proposal by leading international


think-tank to end the deadlock between Athens and Skopje over the use of the name Macedonia.


The problem arose in 1992 when the republic seceded from the Yugoslav federation only to encounter opposition from neighbouring Greece to its adoption of the name Republic of Macedonia.


Athens objected because the northernmost province of mainland Greece is also called Macedonia and the Greeks claimed exclusive right to the title.


They also suspected Skopje might use the new state's name as a springboard for expansionist claims, not least because hard line nationalists have long dreamed of a "united" Macedonia, encompassing Vardar Macedonia (the former Yugoslav republic), Greek Macedonia and Pirin Macedonia (which belongs to Bulgaria).


After Greece launched an economic embargo in 1993, UN-mediated talks took place the following year. Seven years on they have achieved little.


In its report of December 10 published in Skopje, the International Crisis Group, ICG, proposed a bilateral treaty between Skopje and Athens in which Macedonia would acknowledge Greece's share in the cultural heritage of Macedonia by including it in the Macedonian school curriculum.


At the same time, Macedonia would respect Greek use of the name for the province of Macedonia and renounce any intention to exploit its constitutional title to Greece's disadvantage.


NATO, the European Union and other states would formally welcome the bilateral treaty through exchange of diplomatic notes with the parties, acknowledging Macedonia's right to be called "Republika Makedonija" and assuring Greece of support if the pledges in the treaty are violated.


Finally, the United Nations and other international organisations would adopt and use the name "Republika Makedonija". Hence in the UN register Macedonia would be listed under the letter "R".


The ICG said that to ensure the plan's three elements were put into practice, Macedonia would have to let NATO troops remain on its soil until September 2002, followed by an OSCE presence after December 2002 with a mandate to monitor elections.


After Washington and some EU capitals expressed support for the idea, the ICG representative in Skopje, Edward Joseph, said the proposal should be acted on without delay.


He said the solution was "a compromise for both parties" which was particularly urgent owing to the "dangerous internal security situation" in Macedonia.


Although the international community is committed to Macedonia's territorial integrity, many of its citizens feel it is undermined by the hostility of neighbouring states.


Apart from Greece's refusal to recognise the republic's name, Bulgaria denies the existence of a Macedonian language (which it insists is Bulgarian), while Serbia's powerful Church denies the independence of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (whose dioceses until 1967 formed part of the Serbian Church).


Joseph said the ICG had drawn up the plan with a view to completing last year's internationally-mediated Ohrid accord, which was designed to end an uprising by disaffected Albanians in the west of the republic.


"The protection of Macedonian national interests, the issues of Macedonian national identity were not taken into consideration [in Ohrid]," he said. "The Ohrid agreement will only be completed and finalised when the issue of securing the Macedonian identity is resolved."


While some local media dismissed the initiative as a "new plot against Macedonia", most political parties were positive.


Ljupco Georgievski, prime minister and head of the governing nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, VMRO-DPMNE, said it formed a good basis for discussions, though he doubted Athens would concur and criticised the document for describing him as an obstacle to the Ohrid agreement.


The biggest opposition party, the Social-Democratic Union, and the two main Albanian parties also made positive noises.


"We must not miss this opportunity for resolving the dispute with Greece," said Ljubomir Frckovski, a former foreign minister. On a cooler note, another one-time foreign minister, Blagoj Handziski, said the proposal had a certain logic to it, as the ICG was the inspiration for the Ohrid agreement, "and those solutions made the entire structure of the state less efficient".


General enthusiasm for the plan in Skopje is unlikely to be echoed in the Greek capital. "The acceptance of the name Republika Makedonija for the Greek prime minister could be very risky," a senior Greek diplomat said in Athens.


The Greek minister for foreign affairs, Jorgos Papandreou, also poured cold water on the chances of a rapid breakthrough in one of the thorniest diplomatic tangles in the Balkans.


Papandreou told the Macedonian newspaper Dnevnik that while a solution acceptable to both parties should be found, "for the time being such a solution does not exist".


Vladimir Jovanovski is a journalist at the Skopje magazine Forum.