Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Macedonia name issue still a stumbling block

With Macedonia hoping for a NATO invitation in 2008 and Greece threatening to block it, there are pressing reasons to resolve their decades-old name dispute. But UN envoy Matthew Nimitz -- brokering negotiations between the two sides -- still faces a task akin to the labour of Sisyphus, the legendary king cursed to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity.

Both countries are proving tough bargainers, with Greece prepared to exercise its power within the EU and NATO, and its neighbour banking on getting enough international recognition to put pressure on Athens.

Late last week, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski firmly rejected the idea of a "dual name", under which the country would keep its constitutional name but use a different one internationally.

Any name other than Republic of Macedonia -- the name given in the constitution -- is unacceptable, Gruevski said.

The dual name idea is included in a new set of proposals presented by Nimitz at the start of the month. The prime minister said that while the document contains some good points, others pose a problem for Skopje.

"There is an item that is definitely unacceptable for us, which says that the Republic of Macedonia is to accept for international use a name other than the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia," Maxfax quoted him as saying.

Earlier, Macedonian leaders issued a statement opposing any name change, even if this means being denied NATO entry. The ruling VMRO party, its ally the Democratic Party of Albanians and the opposition Social Democrats have presented a united front on the issue. Polls show overwhelming opposition -- approaching 100% -- to a new name for international use.

Greece, however, argues that the name "Macedonia" implies claims on Greek territory and distorts history. According to the Greek daily Kathimerini, Athens is signaling that it would accept a composite name – such as Nova Macedonia or Upper Macedonia -- that clearly distinguishes the country from the Greek province of Macedonia.

Greek diplomats have already circulated proposals to this effect to members of the UN Security Council, NATO and the EU, Kathimerini said.

"Greece wants to solve the problem -- it is making a sincere effort in this direction," Nimitz said in an interview with the paper.

According to Denko Malevski, a former Macedonian foreign minister and UN ambassador, Greece "wants a fast solution, fearing complication after the recognition of the Republic of Macedonia's constitutional name by Canada" and other states.

However, he added, the political situation in Macedonia and Greece makes such a solution difficult to achieve.

Current Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki, meanwhile, hopes that "Greece will give advantage to regional priorities. The resolution of the name dispute is a factor for our stability, and our stability is beneficial for the Republic of Greece," he says.

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