Macedonia Looks to US to Lean on Greece

Skopje hopes Washington will stop Greece from making the name dispute an obstacle to Macedonia’s EU membership.

Macedonia Looks to US to Lean on Greece

Skopje hopes Washington will stop Greece from making the name dispute an obstacle to Macedonia’s EU membership.

Two weeks before the European Commission is set to give its verdict on Macedonia’s EU candidate status, the prime minister, Vlado Buckovski, has headed off to the United States to seek support for his country’s integration into the EU and NATO.


The government is turning to Washington out of fears that the decade-long name dispute with Greece may seriously harm its EU aspirations, after Athens warned it might veto a Brussels decision on Macedonia because of the row.


Without a strong partner or patron inside the EU, Macedonia is turning to Washington in the hope that the US may persuade Greece not to make a resolution of the name dispute a condition for Macedonia’s EU integration.


At a time of deep divisions within the EU, Macedonia backed the US-led invasion of Iraq and also sent troops there. It also supported the US position in the controversy within the EU over the International Criminal Court, ICC.


As a reward, in November 2004 the US abandoned its former neutrality over the name dispute and recognised Macedonia under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia.


But Greece has remained defiant, and continues to block international recognition of the name Macedonia, as it has done since the republic declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.


The Greeks insist its use implies territorial pretensions towards the region of northern Greece that bears the same name.


Under Greek pressure, the EU, NATO and the United Nations recognised the state under the cumbersome compromise title of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM.


Since the UN Secretary General Koffi Annan appointed a special representative in 1995 to mediate between Skopje and Athens, little progress has been made.


In September, the UN special representative, Matthew Nimitz, proposed a new solution under which Macedonia would be called by its constitutional name by those countries that have already recognised it as such. In bilateral relations with Greece, however, the name would be Republika Makedonija - Skopje.


For international use, Nimitz said the country should keep its chosen name but transcribe it as Republika Makedonija until 2008, after which it could use the name Republic of Macedonia.


Some observers said the Nimitz compromise bore the clear imprint of US views on the dispute.


According to Slobodan Casule, a deputy and former foreign minister, writing in the daily Dnevnik, “When Nimitz puts a proposal on paper he is acting as a representative of the UN Secretary General but at the same time he represents President Bush.”


The media in Greece agreed, saying Nimitz’s proposal reflected America’s desire to reward Macedonia as a loyal ally.


Athens duly rejected the compromise. “The Greek government and people reserve the right to block [Skopje’s] participation in any international organisation should this be attempted under a name other than FYROM,” said Greek officials.


The harsh tone raised fears in Skopje that Greece might spoil Macedonia’s chances of becoming a member of the EU. Stakes are high for the republic as the EU perspective has been the only one to unite the ethnically divided country since an armed conflict ended there in 2001.


After meeting the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, on October 25, Buckovski said the country expected US support for Macedonia’s integration into the EU and NATO.


He said that just as the US had stepped in last November, during a crucial time when Macedonia was holding a potentially explosive referendum, he anticipated that Washington would help again at another time of need.


“I expect active support for Macedonia’s integration into NATO in 2008 but also for obtaining EU candidate status by the end of this year,” said Buckovsk, leaving nothing open to doubt.


A former foreign minister, Ljubomir Frckoski, said he was confident that Washington could resolve the dispute if it chose to.


“The Americans seem to have decided to resolve the name dispute and in general to close the issue of the country’s stability before talks start on [neighbouring] Kosovo’s final status,” he said.


Iso Rusi, editor of the online magazine Lobi, agreed, “The US wants to get out of the Balkans by 2006 and by then they want to close all remaining open issues, including the name dispute.”


Many believe that the Bush administration could influence its partners in the EU to support Macedonia’s bid for membership.


“There is no doubt that Washington can help Macedonia. The question is how much and which way,” said Frckovski.


Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative, ESI, said Greece’s obsession with name dispute had prevented it from assuming the role of Macedonia’s EU patron.


“It is a pity that because of the name dispute Greece cannot play the role that Austria played for Croatia,” he said, referring to Vienna’s energetic, and in the end successful, sponsorship of Croatia’s EU membership bid.


Tamara Causidis is assistant editor of BIRN Macedonia and a regular BCR contributor.


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