Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Macedonian Airport Lifts Name Dispute to New Heights

Decision to rename terminal after Alexander the Great marks new phase in tug of war with Athens.

By Vladimir Mirceski in Skopje (Balkan Insight, 18 Jan 07)

The UN mediator for resolving the dispute between Greece and Macedonia flew into trouble last weekend - literally - after touching down at an airport whose new name has brought the conflict to new heights.

Matthew Nimitz landed at Skopje airport just as the Macedonians were about to formally rename it after Alexander the Great, the 4th century BC warrior whom Greeks see as the epitome of classical Greek heroism.

Although the airport still bore the old name Airport Petrovec when he landed, as Nimitz drove towards the Macedonian parliament he could hardly miss the sight of new road signs to the airport proclaiming the name of the mighty conqueror whose empire stretched practically all the way to the Punjab.

Nimitz brought an angry message from Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, complaining that the move violated the Interim Agreement regulating relations between the two countries.

After a two-hour meeting in Skopje, Nimitz maintained the move was “not a major event here”, adding, however, that the issue was “between two neighboring countries and has to be dealt with great sensitivity”.

Behind the scenes, the conversation may have been tougher. Sources have disclosed to Balkan Insight that Nimitz warned the Macedonian government of Nikola Gruevski that Greece may scrap the Interim Agreement altogether, reflecting the anger felt by the Greek prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis. The agreement regulates all issues between the two countries except for the vexed question of the name.

No comments: