Saturday, March 15, 2008

Senior U.S. official appeals to Macedonia to work harder to solve name dispute with Greece

A senior U.S. official appealed to Macedonia Saturday to work harder toward a solution on the name dispute with Greece that has clouded relations between two neighbors for 17 years and threatens to block Macedonia's bid to join NATO.

"There is a lot of openness in NATO for Macedonia but we need a solution to the name issue. We really do," Daniel Fried, assistant U.S. secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs told private A1 TV channel. "And my message was let's try to find it."

Fried briefly visited Macedonia late Friday for talks with President Branko Crvenkovski and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Both sides declined to make statements to the media after the meetings.

Fried expressed optimism that a solution over the name dispute could be found before the NATO summit in Bucharest on April 2-4.

NATO nations cranked up pressure on Greece on Thursday to allow Macedonia, which broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, to join the alliance, saying that the two countries should work harder to resolve a bitter dispute over competing claims to the name Macedonia.

"Yes, (the dispute) can be solved if there is enough political ambition and political will," Fried said.

He indirectly appealed to Macedonia to compromise, saying that the solution over the name dispute would mean that the U.S. "would pledge itself to defend Macedonia."

"That means that the other great nations of Europe, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and all of your neighbors would equally pledge to be allies," Fried said.

Macedonia, along with Croatia and Albania, is hoping to be invited to join NATO at the alliance summit. Greece has threatened to veto Macedonia's entry because of the dispute.

Greece says the name of Macedonia implies a claim to the Greek northern region with the same name. Other allies appealed to the two countries to come to an agreement in U.N.-led talks before the meeting starts on April 2 in Bucharest, Romania.

U.N. mediator Matthew Nimetz has proposed five alternative names that Macedonia could consider adopting: Constitutional Republic of Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Macedonia, Independent Republic of Macedonia, New Republic of Macedonia, and Republic of Upper Macedonia.

NATO nations said that excluding Macedonia from NATO could add to instability in the Balkan region, which is already tense over Kosovo's recent declaration of independence from Serbia.

NATO Wannabe Macedonia Demands 'Freedom and Justice'

What next for Macedonia? The small Balkan republic took out advertisements spreading over two full pages in the Friday editions of several Western papers to plea for international support in its bid to continue calling itself Macedonia. But after Greece on Thursday once again threatened to veto the country's membership in NATO if it doesn't change its name, it remains unclear when the years-old dispute might be solved.

The advertisement referenced a 1995 accord signed by Greece and Macedonia in which Skopje agreed to a constitutional amendment expressly denying any territorial claims to a province in northern Greece likewise named Macedonia. It also changed its flag at the request of Athens.

"Despite this cooperation, Greece announced that it will veto the accession of the Republic of Macedonia to NATO," the ad reads. "Where is the principle here? Where is the justice? Macedonia still believes in the true values of NATO. That is the value of freedom and justice. Not to be able to call yourself what you have been for centuries -- is that freedom and justice?"

NATO foreign ministers gathered on Thursday to discuss NATO expansion, which the alliance hopes to rubber stamp at a summit in Romania at the beginning of April. A number of NATO countries expressed concerns at plans to invite Ukraine and Georgia to join. But the group is prepared to offer membership to Croatia, Albania and Macedonia.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, though, told the press after the meeting in Brussels that "as far as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is concerned, I stressed that the policy of our neighbor country does not allow us to take the same positive view as regarding Albania and Croatia." She also accused Skopje of "an intransigent stance and its action of an irredentist and nationalistic logic."

Athens is concerned that were Macedonia the country to share a name with Macedonia the province, then Skopje might lay claim to a big chunk of northern Greece. Following Macedonia's secession from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece agreed to allow the fledgling republic into the UN and other international organizations only under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia -- or FYROM for short.

Now, the Greeks are saying they won't even allow Macedonia into NATO under the acronym, saying that the long-standing dispute has to be solved first. Athens cited Macedonia's December 2006 decision to rename the Skopje airport Alexander the Great Airport as reason for its shift. The Greeks consider the Macedonians to be Slav interlopers in the territory 1,000 years after the Greek hero Alexander the Great lived there.

United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz has been shuttling back and forth between the two sides in an effort to solve the dispute. He has proposed possible names for Macedonia that might placate the Greeks: Constitutional Republic of Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Macedonia, Independent Republic of Macedonia, New Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Upper Macedonia. Greece has proposed "Slav Macedonia" -- emphasizing that even that option was a concession, in that it would allow the Macedonians to hang on to the name Macedonia.

For the moment, though, the two sides seem loathe to call each other anything at all. While Greek officials occasionally use the awkward FYROM acronym to refer to their northern neighbors, the 1995 agreement refers only to "Party of the First Part" and "Party of the Second Part" to refer to Greece and Macedonia respectively.

Macedonia, says Nimetz, has shown "intense interest" in solving the name dispute. He is hopeful that some kind of deal can be reached before next month. Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, though, has warned that changing his country's name is "too high a price to pay" for NATO membership.

US 'Takes Over' In Macedonia Dispute

The United States is taking up a direct role in mediating the "name" dispute in which Greece is threatening to block Macedonia's entry into NATO, local media claimed Saturday citing unnamed diplomatic sources.

Daniel Fried, the U.S. Under-Secretary for Europe, reportedly told Macedonia’s leaders of Washington's more pro-active strategy during a surprise visit to Skopje on late Friday, local A1 TV reported.

He held meetings with Macedonia’s President Branko Crvenkovski and with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, although no details of the talks were made public.

In an interview for A1 on Saturday, Fried called on Macedonian leaders to seriously consider a quick compromise with Greece.

“There is a lot of openness in NATO towards Macedonia but we really need a solution to the name issue. And my message is: well, let’s try to find it,” Fried said.

During his trip, Fried reportedly told politicians that the U.S. is “strongly determined” in trying to resolve the issue ahead of NATO's Bucharest Summit in April, where Macedonia is hoping to get the green light to join the military alliance.

Athens has threatened to veto Skopje’s accession if a solution is not found by then.

Greece opposes Skopje’s use of the name “Republic of Macedonia” even though it has been recognised by over 120 countries. Athens argues the name suggests Skopje could make territorial claims over Greece's own northern province of Macedonia.

On Wednesday, the United Nations special mediator in the dispute, Matthew Nimetz, told media in Skopje of “a deep gap" in the Greek and Macedonian positions.

He had been meet leaders from both countries in a last ditch attempt to reconcile their differences.

Skopje defended its demands for a so-called 'double formula' that envisages one mutually acceptable name for bilateral relations with Greece and using its constitutional name for dealings with the rest of the world.

Athens on the other hand argues that Skopje should accept a single name for international correspondence as well as for home use.

In 1995 both sides signed a UN-sponsored agreement which included a clause restraining Athens from blocking Skopje’s attempts to join international organisations as long as it uses the provisional name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” or FYROM.

FM waves veto card at FYROM

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis yesterday told her NATO counterparts that Greece would veto a bid by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to join the alliance if the neighboring country does not help resolve a dispute over its name.

Addressing a Brussels debate on NATO enlargement, Bakoyannis said, «The policy of our neighboring country does not allow us to take the same positive view as with Albania and Croatia.»

Greece's FM blamed FYROM's «intransigence» and «nationalistic and expansionist stance» which, she said, «has left us with no choice.» However, she added, it was not too late for progress. «I hope there is still time to reach a mutually acceptable, practical solution to be implemented immediately,» she said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hoped Greece and FYROM «will reach a solution,» noting that the Balkan state «ought to be admitted» to NATO.

NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reiterated his view that the dispute involves «a country that is a NATO member and a country that is not.»

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who met with FYROM Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in Skopje yesterday, encouraged the Balkan nation to work «with a constructive outlook» toward settling on a new name.

Meanwhile, FYROM's government has been working to promote its NATO bid. A two-page advertisement in Britain's The Times newspaper yesterday listed 30 reasons why FYROM would make a good NATO member. The advert features photographs of FYROM troops serving in Afghanistan. Similar adverts are due to run in other foreign newspapers today.

FYROM pleads for 'justice' and a place in NATO

FYROM took out full page ads in the Western press on Friday to complain that its neighbour Greece is unjustly blocking the path to membership of NATO because FYROM refuses to change its name.

It said Macedonia had already made concessions to Athens, including a constitutional amendment denying any territorial aspirations to the Macedonian provinces of northern Greece.

There had been no security incidents since the former Yugoslav republic declared independence in 1991, one ad said. Skopje and Athens have had diplomatic ties since 1995. Greek companies are the major investors and the atmosphere is friendly.

"Despite this cooperation, Greece announced that it will veto the accession of the Republic of Macedonia to NATO (and) is asking for support for this stance from the other NATO members."

A second advertisement topped by a photograph of Macedonian troops under NATO command in Afghanistan ticks off 30 reasons why "Macedonia deserves NATO membership", because it has met all democratic, economic and military standards.

"Where is the principle here? Where is the justice?" asks the government. "Not to be able to be and call yourself what you have been for centuries -- is that freedom and justice?"

Greece and Macedonia signed an interim pact in 1995 to cool the name dispute, which had triggered a serious Greek economic embargo in the early years of the republic.

But the row has dragged on, with Greece denouncing Macedonia's "irredentist, nationalistic intransigence".


United Nations special envoy Matthew Nimetz, who has the task of shuttling between the feuding neighbours, said on Thursday that Skopje was showing "intense interest" in solving the dispute before NATO's April 2-4 summit in Romania.

Greek newspapers say suggested names include the Democratic Republic of Macedonia, the Constitutional Republic of Macedonia, the Independent Republic of Macedonia, the Republic of New Macedonia and the Republic of Upper Macedonia.

The comic aspect of the row was unconsciously highlighted on Friday by the Macedonian ad's reference to Greece as "the party of the first part", an echo of the Marx brothers' hilarious dialogue lampooning lawyerly disputes.

But Greece has been unswerving in its opposition to what it regards as usurpation of the name Macedonia by a Slav people who arrived on the scene a thousand years after Alexander of Macedon, the Greek hero Alexander the Great.

The republic of Macedonia has borne that name since it was created as part of federal Yugoslavia after World War Two. But the name goes back to 500 B.C. and the region known as Macedonia takes in parts of Greece, Albania, Serbia, and Bulgaria.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski says changing names is "too high a price to pay" for NATO membership.

If Macedonia is left out while Croatia and Albania join the alliance, he says, it will be a slap in the face to NATO powers and a blow to the fragile Western Balkans region.

"A Greek 'No' to Macedonia is a 'No' to the governments of the United States, Germany, France, Turkey, Slovenia and all other NATO members who are interested in seeing Macedonia, Croatia and Albania as members of the alliance," he said.

Some Macedonians concede, however, that his government's renaming of Skopje airport last year was an ill-timed gesutre of defiance. It is now called "Alexander the Great Airport".

Friday, March 07, 2008

Record Inflation Hits Macedonia

Macedonia's finance minister called for public calm Friday, insisting that there was no need to panic over recent price hikes in the country.

The price increases have followed a record 9.6% rise in inflation in the first two months of 2008.

Minister Trajko Slavevski said that the high inflation afflicting Macedonia's economy is a short-lived phenomenon, because "there is no increased demand in credits that could further feed the rise in prices".

His statement comes after the National Bank of Macedonia, NBM, increased the referent interest rates Wednesday, as part of a package of extraordinary measures aimed at tackling the unforeseen rise.

The Bank also stated that the country's foreign currency reserves of over €1.5 billion will be enough to keep inflation within controllable parameters.

Macedonia's State Statistical Office insisted last week that the increase is mostly a result of a rise in food prices of over 18% since the beginning of the year, which accounts for around 75% of the overall inflation. However, in its Wednesday press release the NBM admitted that inflation has been increasingly noticeable in other areas too. It also warned of the "rather intensified" negative psychological factor that inflation had on prices.

The NBM argues that the increase in demand of goods that initiated the inflation is a result of an "intensified rise in wages and crediting over the past few months".

In the last quarter of 2007, the nominal rise in the average net income was 11.8%, while in real terms it was just 6.6%.

In January 2008, the annual rate of crediting growth in Macedonia's commercial banks rose to 40%.

The last few weeks have seen financial experts publicly argue that the annual inflation rate at the end of 2008 could substantially exceed the projected two per cent if the January and February trend continues.

Greece rejects Macedonia Nato bid

Greece has said it cannot support Macedonia's bid to join Nato, because of an unresolved dispute over its Balkan neighbour's name.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis told reporters in Brussels that Athens backed inviting Albania and Croatia but could not consent to asking Macedonia.

The decision threatens to derail Nato's plans to invite all three Balkan states at a summit in Bucharest in April.

Athens objects to its neighbour taking the name of a northern Greek region.

It says the name implies a territorial claim on the region, which Macedonia denies.

Ms Bakoyannis made the comments in a speech handed to reporters after a meeting of Nato foreign ministers.

"Unfortunately the policy followed by the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in its relations with Greece, particularly as concerns its intransigent stance and its actions of an irredentist and nationalist logic, do not allow Greece to take the same positive stance as in the case of Croatia and Albania," she said.

However, she said she hoped there was still time to reach "a mutually acceptable" solution in time for next month's Nato summit.

A UN envoy is currently trying to find a compromise for both countries.

Greeks see red over Macedonia name

What's in a name? A lot if it is Macedonia. The row over the only former Yugoslav republic to gain its independence without bloodshed must rank as one of the world's craziest diplomatic disputes.

Macedonia's desire to join Nato - along with Croatia and Albania at a summit early next month - has given the spat new life, with Greece threatening to veto Macedonia's application unless it finds something else to call itself.

The row boils down to Greece's refusal, ever since Macedonia broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, to accept the name Republic of Macedonia. Greece rejects the name on the grounds that it implies territorial ambitions towards Greece's own northern province of Macedonia, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Greece felt so strongly about the issue that it imposed an economic embargo that nearly destroyed the economy of the small country (population 2.1 million). Greece lifted the blockade in 1995, only after Macedonia declared that it had no claims on Greek territory and dropped an ancient Greek motif from its flag.

But the two countries never settled the issue of Macedonia's name. While Macedonia wants to be known as the Republic of Macedonia; Greece insists on the clunky 'Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia', or Fyrom for short.

If the row was confined to just Greece and Macedonia, the world's diplomatic brains would leave these two to their own devices. But this is the Balkans, where mind-bending diplomatic complexities are commonplace (think Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo).

Greece, however, seems to be fighting a losing battle: about 100 countries now recognise the small Balkan country as such.

The UN has even appointed a mediator to solve this diplomatic conundrum. Matthew Nimetz has come up with five alternative names to Macedonia: Constitutional Republic of Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Macedonia, Independent Republic of Macedonia, New Republic of Macedonia, and Republic of Upper Macedonia. So far no deal.

"Neither government was able to feel comfortable with all the ideas I proposed" for a negotiated settlement, the hapless Nimetz said after talks with a senior Greek diplomat in the northern city of Thessaloniki, where thousands of Greeks turned out in protest against Macedonia's name. Counter-demonstrations, of course, took place in Skopje, the Macedonian capital.

Can you help out the UN with your suggestions for a name for Macedonia that could satisfy Athens?

We can't support Macedonia NATO entry: Greece

Greece can not support Macedonia's entry into NATO, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni says, due to an unresolved dispute over the Balkan country's name.

"As far as the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia is concerned, I stressed that the policy of our neighbour country does not allow us to take the same positive view as regarding Albania and Croatia," Ms Bakoyanni told a news conference after a NATO meeting in Brussels.

Macedonia hopes to be invited alongside Croatia and Albania at an April 2-4 summit to join the 26-member military alliance.

Athens has said it will block Macedonia's NATO and European Union accession until the two agree on a name for Greece's northern neighbour, which broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Greece rejects the name Macedonia because it says it implies territorial ambitions towards Greece's own northern province of Macedonia, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Bulgaria MP: Macedonia Was, and Is Bulgarian

The leader of the VMRO party Krasimir Karakachanov presented in parliament Wednesday a protest declaration regarding the repressive measures against citizens of the Republic of Macedonia who declare themselves Bulgarian.

"A country which does not follow the European standards, and which persecutes its citizens with Bulgarian self-consciousness, has no place in the European Union", the VMRO declaration reads.

MP Karakachanov called upon the key state institutions - the President, the Parliament, and the Council of Ministers - to adopt this position.

Karakachanov said the protest declaration was triggered by the recent case in the Macedonian town of Veles, where the local police filed a suit against the Bulgarian citizen Dragi Karev for building in his own yard a bust of Todor Alexandrov, a famous Bulgarian revolutionary hero from Macedonia.

"In the recent months the treatment of Macedonian citizens, which declare themselves Bulgarian, is taking very ugly and antidemocratic forms", the declaration concludes.

Karakachanov ended his speech with the words: "Maceonian was and is Bulgarian, long live Bulgaria".

The VMRO political party that he chairs is the successor of the Internal Macedonian and Thracian Revolutionary Organization, founded in 1893.

Greek Minister opposes using veto against Macedonia

A Greek Minister and a member of the ruling Nea Democratia opposed Greece's intention to apply veto for membership of Macedonia in NATO.

Using the right of veto to block membership of Macedonia is in collision with the interests of both Greece and Macedonia, Greek Minister of Mercantile Marine Yorgo Vulgarakis said.

Vulgarakis's previous posts include Minister of Public Order and Minister of Culture.

The far-right People's Orthodox Movement (LAOS) announced a protesting rally for tomorrow in Thessaloniki, and the party's leader George Karatzaferis slammed the Government about the way it handles the name issue.

Misdemeanor charges in regards to Aleksandrov's statue

The Veles police on Tuesday requested initiating a misdemeanor procedure against Veles resident D.K., in whose yard a statue of Todor Aleksandrov was erected.

The procedure is initiated for misdemeanor per Article 18 of the Law on breaches of public law and order, for unauthorized public placing of flag or coat of arms that does not contain attributes proscribed by law.

The indicted on 02.03.2008 in the yard of his house in Veles unveiled a monument of Todor Aleksandrov without approval of relevant city authorities, is stated in the Police communication.

Macedonia Seeks To Modernise Airports

Macedonia intends to privatise its two commercial airports in a bid to modernise and expand their facilities, it was announced Friday.

Advertisements both in local and international newspapers will be published in order to attract investors, Macedonia’s Transport Minister, Mile Janakievski said at a press conference in Skopje.

“These adverts call on investors to express their interest in taking over the management of Skopje and Ohrid airports,” Janakievski said, noting the tender for gathering bids will be launched later this year.

Macedonia will offer a twenty year concession for the airports and the successful company will be expected to modernise the infrastructure at both airports and expand the runway at Skopje.

The Transport Ministry says this has the potential to radically increase the frequency of passengers at the terminals.

In addition to the concession for the two existing airports, the chosen company will also have to participate in the construction of a third airport intended for cargo transport near the eastern Macedonian town of Stip, the ministry said.

It is hoped the airport will ease the movement of Macedonia’s agricultural goods to foreign markets.

Greek name fury threatens NATO bid

NATO's secretary-general said Monday that Macedonia's hope of joining the military alliance could be dashed if it fails to settle a 17-year-old name spat with Greece, a long-time NATO member.

The former Yugoslav republic hopes to win NATO's endorsement to join the 26-member alliance at a summit in Bucharest, Romania, next month. But Greece has threatened to veto those plans if its northern neighbor does not change its self-given name and agree to a new one.

The country is officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia but is commonly referred to as Macedonia -- which is already the name of a historically important region of Greece.

"We have to realize that Greece is a staunch ally," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters after talks with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Athens. "Aspiring nations are not members and that is a basic difference."

Scheffer, who met earlier with Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, said there is "no certainty that invitations will be issued" to FYR Macedonia, Croatia and Albania during a key meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels next week.

"Invitations," he said, "will be issued only on the basis of (the) performance of aspiring members." He refused to elaborate and it remained unclear whether the NATO chief might put Macedonia's application on hold until relations with its Greek neighbor have healed.

Squeezed between Greece, Albania, Bulgaria and Kosovo, Macedonia secured independence from the Yugoslavia without bloodshed.

Now, years after offering its support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and after signing a string of treaties that exempt U.S. citizens from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, it expects to win NATO's go-ahead to join the security organization.

What's more, say officials in the capital of Skopje, Kosovo's declaration of independence and fears of fresh unrest in the region have given urgency to Macedonia's bid to come under NATO's security umbrella.

Athens has long argued that the name Macedonia implies territorial claims on its northern province of the same name -- the birthplace, also, of Greece's most revered ancient warrior, Alexander the Great.

In recent weeks, a special United Nations negotiator has proposed five alternative names for Macedonia to consider, but negotiations in New York over the weekend failed to yield any signs of a breakthrough in the dispute that has festered between Greece and Macedonia for 17 years.

Nearly 90 percent of Greeks favor a veto on Macedonia's membership bid if no compromise solution is found, according to a weekend opinion polls published in the Athens daily Kathimerini.

"The door to NATO is open to any aspiring member," Scheffer said. "But to go through it, though, there are preconditions, and entry is not an automatic process."

PM to FYROM: "No solution, no invitation"

Prime minister Costas Karamanlis renewed his warning to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Monday, stressing that failure to resolve the name dispute would bar its membership of NATO, in statements after meeting his Slovakian counterpart Robert Fico in Athens.

During talks, Karamanlis and Fico reaffirmed the good climate in relations between their two countries. In joint statements afterward, Karamanlis referred to Greece's relations with Slovakia in the EU and NATO, adding that the prospects for further development of bilateral economic relations had been discussed during the meeting.

The Greek premier also said that there were margins for further advancing economic relations, and for greater cooperation in the areas of culture, tourism, research and technology, and energy.

Greece, Karamanlis continued, placed great importance on ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, adding that he and Fico also discussed developments in the Balkans, while emphasis was placed on stability in the wider region and on its European prospect.

Fico, who was earlier received by President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, called for closer cooperation with Greece and an increase in the number of Greek investors in Slovakia, while he also invited Karamanlis to pay an official visit to Slovakia, accompanied by a delegation of Greek entrepreneurs.

The Slovakian prime minister said that the discussions with Karamanlis focused on mainly two sectors: state assistance, on the part of Slovakia, for investments in the tourism sector, and cooperation in the defence industry sector.

Fico announced that a memorandum on cooperation in the defence industry sector would be signed between the two countries in the immediate future.

Turning to Kosovo, Fico said his country's positions were similar to those of Greece.

He said that the creation of an independent Kosovo was a violation of international law, and added that it would be very difficult for his country to recognise Kosovo.

The Slovakian prime minister further pledged that his country will ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

Earlier, Fico was received by President Papoulias who said, on greeting the Slovakian prime minister, that the two countries shared common interests and common problems, particularly that of Kosovo, "which we believe requires particular caution so that there will not be reactions".

Karamanlis message to FYROM

Karamanlis also sent a new message to FYROM, replying to press questions after his meeting with the Slovakian prime minister.

The Greek prime minister reiterated that no solution to the FYROM name problem meant no invitation to join NATO.

"We are seeking a mutually acceptable solution, as mandated by the UN Security Council, as well as the European way of resolving differences," Karamanlis said.

"We have taken steps forward, and await FYROM to also take steps forward," the Greek premier stressed.

"We have direct interest in the Balkans, and support the Euro-Atlantic course of the Balkan countries. But stability depends on the relations of good neighborhood, and this is also set out as a criterion of assessment by NATO as well," he said, adding that "Greece cannot consider that these criteria have been met so long as FYROM persists in its stance".

"Our position is clear: no solution means no invitation to NATO," Karamanlis stressed.

On Kosovo developments, Karamanlis stressed that a KFOR presence must be ensured, and that the primary goal was peace and stability.

He reiterated that Greece was interested in the European prospects of the countries of the region, and particularly Serbia, "a prospect that we are working for", while, to a question on a prospective recognition of Kosovo by Greece, Karamalnis said that "Greece feels no pressue" and will take its decisions based on the national interests.

Fico, in turn, said he knew of no other region in which one ethnicity had two states. "It is a violation of International Law that can lead other countries with minorities to imbalance as well".

No End to Tribalism? The Dispute Around the Copyright on “Macedonia”

No solution in the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece. The latest round of negotiations, which was held in New York this weekend, did not yield any tangible result. The Karamanlis government is now openly putting Macedonia’s adherence to NATO in question and suggests a Greek veto. At the very least, the Greek side seems to have acknowledged that there is no threat to its territorial integrity coming from Macedonia. A stunning discovery!

I have said it before. It is an absurd fight over an absurd issue. Both sides are to blame for this deadlock, but there are limits to what still can be considered decent, even within a Balkan context. Greece will have to live with the fact that Macedonia is a shared name, with the exception that for the Republic of Macedonia, the name defines nation, region and state. And the three do not coincide. For Greece, Macedonia is just one of many regions, and by the way one, which had been shamefully neglected for decades, until the remote and underdeveloped North of Greece has been revitalised thanks to generous European Union funds and programmes. Far too generous in the beginning to be managed properly, if my memory doesn’t play tricks on me.

By no means is Greece’s existence threatened by the name issue. Macedonia’s may be. And this is where both NATO and the EU have to start taking their commitments seriously. If stability is what we want in the Balkans, this game has to stop. The Macedonian government has shown good will to a certain limit. It is time to speak up and publicly pronounce what could be heard in the couloirs in Brussels for years: that the Greek attitude is at best incomprehensible. It is time to exercise gentle, friendly, but resolute pressure on the Greek government to put an end to this charade. And it is time for the UN to mediate more aggressively.

The issue is not as singular as Athens and Skopje try to portray it. There are other regions, which by the caprices of history ended up being shared by two or more states. Take Moldova, take the Banat. People and peoples in the Balkans have a shared history. A shared history of violence, of population shifts. This is for instance why Salonika is not predominantly Turkish and Jewish today, but Greek. This is why Smyrna is today Turkish Izmir. The list is endless. The creation of the Macedonian state, and the recent adding of an independent Kosovo (not to forget Montenegro) to the equation are just the logical consequences from this history. Here it has to end, though. And Greece bears a great deal of responsibility for making it stop.

If Greece does not realise where its strategic interests lie, it should not be surprised if the next issue on the agenda of Balkan conflicts will be the Epiros region - or Çam to the Albanians.

Tribal reflexes are getting us nowhere in the 21st century. Balkan nations, of which Greece is one, will have to quickly shift their attention to the real issues. To me it is much more exciting and promising that one centre of ultra high-speed computer infrastructure for the European science network GEANT will be the Balkans. Scientific and technological progress is so rapid and its impact on daily life so immediate that this dispute seems like a story from yesteryear, if I were to put it mildly.

For fifteen years I have been hearing that Greece wouldn’t move on this issue because it was a sure recipe for losing elections. In that case, maybe the Russian “guided democracy” is a thing to contemplate: no need for real elections frees your head for tough decisions…

Vision! Come on, where are you hiding?

Greece Threatens to Block Macedonia EU, NATO Entry

Greece will not allow its northern neighbour Macedonia to join NATO or the European Union until a dispute over its name is settled, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said on Friday.

Karamanlis, speaking before United Nations-led talks between the two countries in New York later in the day, told parliament that only a solution acceptable to both sides would lead Athens to lift its objections.

Greece has rejected the name Macedonia ever since the state broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, saying it implies territorial ambitions against Greece's own northern province of Macedonia, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

"I want to be very clear on this. The intransigence of our neighbour is dashing its ambitions to join NATO and the European Union," Karamanlis said. "If there is no settlement, the neighbouring country cannot aspire to join NATO. Our position 'no solution-no invite' is clear."

U.N. envoy Matthew Nimetz has proposed five possible new names for Macedonia. He will start a new round of talks with both sides on Friday at the United Nations in New York in the hope of resolving the dispute before a NATO summit in April.

Macedonia, which hopes for an invitation at the summit to join NATO, uses its name in bilateral ties with many countries, but is called "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" at the United Nations, and by NATO and the European Union.

Protesters stoned the Greek representative office in Skopje this week, the second such incident in a fortnight, chanting anti-Greek slogans and singing the national anthem.

Greeks will stage two rallies next week in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Culinary (and Other) Delights of Macedonia's Tikvesh Wine Region

In this engaging travel piece, the author recounts a summer expedition into Macedonia’s wine country, and a trip down the country’s ‘other’ lake - Tikvesh, which is also the general name for the entire dry and dusty region of south-central Macedonia where the country’s best wine is cultivated and where life still moves to an age-old bucolic village rhythm.

A sunny summer day’s breeze opened the gates of something that turned out to be a most pleasant surprise - my discovery of an isolated but stunning expanse of land, water and the past in south-central Macedonia. A trip organized for international expats living in the country took us to Lake Tikvesh, an area relatively unknown even to many of us Macedonians, and well off the beaten track for most occasional tourists to this Southeast European country.

Lazy Lake Tikvesh meanders northwest from the Mariovo hills to the Tikvesh vineyards.

Although few know it, the long, snaking Lake Tikvesh is Macedonia’s biggest man-made lake. It is located 12 kilometres southwest of the town of Kavadarci on the River Crna, or 3 kilometres from the village of Vozarci. The lake, which was built in 1968, is some 30 kilometres long and traces its long and narrow course southwest from Mt. Kozjak, where the River Crna widens to create it.

An idyllic boat trip from the northern Kavadarci side of the lake took us on an hour-long tour all the way across to the other end of the lake, from where the River Crna feeds into it, flowing down over the mountains above the vast Mariovo plains. The constantly-changing features of the terrain remained vivid throughout our voyage, with the landscape changing from the gently undulating vineyards of the southern slopes of the Tikvesh wine region to arid, semi-desertified rock hills, and finally to the lush forests that predominate on the lake’s lower half.

The whole area of Lake Tikvesh, I found, is particularly rich in fauna. The lake is simply bursting with fish; the most remarkable is the sheatfish, a legendary type of catfish that can reach up to two metres in length. The wider rocky region of Tikvesh also plays host to 23 endemic species of predatory birds (17 of which nest in the area), making this region an ideal spot for anglers and bird watchers alike. Specifically, the endangered predators present in the Tikvesh National Reserve are the Shot-toed Eagle, the Griffon Vulture, the White Egyptian Vulture, and the Bearded Vulture.

Indeed, because of all these natural rarities, the Macedonian government has officially designated some 10,000 hectares of untouched forests in the Tikvesh region as a protected national reserve.

Aside from the fantastic nature, my interest in cultural heritage was piqued when we came across a small bay at the southern, Mariovo end of the lake, where a truly wonderful collection of art was hidden - early medieval Orthodox frescos painted on remote rocks high above the lakeshore. In a similar vein, for me the lake’s biggest attraction came further on the southwestern shore, in an area only accessible by boat. Here, directly above the lake, I encountered the Polog Monastery with its church of St. George, a significant monument of culture dating back to the fourteenth century. Richly decorated with frescoes, the church is assumed by historians to date back ultimately to the ninth century, as its architectural style is very similar to that found in the churches of Ohrid.

The medieval Church of St. George stands guard over the lake.

When we finally made our way back up the lake to the Kavadarci shores, it was time to venture out to taste what culinary delights the Tikvesh area had to offer. The chief two among these, I soon found, were Lake Tikvesh’s delicious fish and the area’s top quality wines.

Out of the many restaurants in the area, we choose a small family-owned restaurant in the village of Vatasha, adjacent to the town of Kavadarci. It turned out to be an excellent decision. Vatasha is a peaceful village located in deep forests on the shores of the river Luda Mara; the name literally means ‘Crazy Mary,’ because in the past high water levels in spring have caused dramatic flooding in the whole area. For Macedonians, Vatasha is most famous for its World War II memorial, which commemorates the 1943 massacre of local Macedonians by the Bulgarian occupying army. Another must-see site in the village is the medieval church dedicated to the Mother of God.

Our little restaurant was delightfully located amidst the tranquility of Vatasha’s lush nature, and we were serenaded by the sounds of water bubbling from nearby springs. Instead of opting for the well-known premium quality wine produced by Tikvesh winery or something from the smaller but also excellent Bovin, Povardarie or Dudin, we accepted our convivial hosts’ offer of the genuine homemade wines of Vatasha - and we were not disappointed!

Indeed, it was truly the drink of the gods that we discovered in that remote village restaurant. And it perfectly matched the catch of the day, carp from Lake Tikvesh. Interestingly enough, the locals distinguished their homemade wines according to gender- mashko (masculine) and zhensko (feminine) reds, perhaps hearkening back to some primeval time when wine had archetypical relations with religion, customs and fertility rites. Yet even in the modern age, we discovered that in keeping close to the earth the Tikvesh people really know how to keep the old traditions of vinecraft alive.

How to describe the tastes we enjoyed on that balmy summer’s afternoon? Both the ‘male’ and ‘female’ wines were exceptionally flavorful, the former having a more strikingly edgy taste, while the latter seduced one’s senses with its charming mellowness. Both were notable for their fruitiness and deep color; long after our glasses had been drained, deep, dark red stains remained, running down the edges. These colorations attained almost the status of ink, very much evidencing the wine’s deepness and intensity of taste. The singular quality of these local masterpieces cannot easily be described. Since such concoctions of course cannot be found in stores, we felt lucky to be able to savor them there at their point of origin, in an overlooked but extraordinary little corner of Macedonia’s heartland.


When to Go

The ideal time to visit Tikvesh is the last week of September, when the town of Kavadarci hosts the annual Wine Fest, which celebrates winemaking in one of Europe’s oldest winemaking regions (wine production in the Tikvesh region dates well over 2,000 years back).

How to Get There

The Tikvesh region (including Lake Tikvesh, the town of Kavadarci, the village of Vatasha and so on) are located conveniently just west of the major north-south E-75 highway that connects Skopje with Greece’s northern port city of Thessaloniki. Tikvesh is approximately a one-hour drive south from the capital, and about a two-hour drive up from Thessaloniki.

Ideally, a visit to the Tikvesh region can be combined with a trip to one of Macedonia’s best preserved ancient towns - Stobi, located just 15 kilometres north of Kavadarci, and perhaps some of the local vineyards, where premium Macedonian wines can be sampled and purchased. Also adjacent are the Vitacevo Plateau and the Mariovo plains, which with their unspoiled nature and centuries-old ghost villages remain perfect getaways for hikers, romantics and adventure-seekers alike.

Note: for organized visits to the Tikvesh National Reserve, contact the Management of the Tikvesh National Reserve by email at: e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or by phone at +389-(0)43-411503 and +389-(0)43-411603.

Reders interested in the Tikvesh area’s diversity of wildlife can contact Mr. Tome Lisichanec from the Wild Flora and Fauna Fund of Macedonia at: +389 (0)75 541-874.

Finally, wine-tasters interested in visiting a small local winery can make arrangements by calling +389 (0)70 218-531; ask for Marjan.

Injuries & Arrests After Macedonia Protest

Skopje _ Nine police officers were injured, including one seriously, and eight people arrested after a rally in which thousands of Macedonians protested in defence of the country's constitutional name.

The arrests and injuries came after the demonstration when a small group of youths tried to break through the police cordon to reach the Greek embassy, but failed. Protesters then threw stones at the police officers.

Police said Thursday that eight people were arrested, while nine police officers, were injured. One of the officers received serious head injuries.

A photographer was also hurt.

Earlier some 5000 Macedonians had gathered outside the Macedonian Parliament for the protest, which passed off peacefully.

The crowd, made up of mainly young people, were waving Macedonian flags and displaying banners with messages reading, "We have only one name", "Our name is not for sale" and "The Youth says Macedonia."

"Macedonia was, is, and will be Macedonia," was the main message of the protest.

Several students from the organisers, two popular young pop singers and a famous actor addressed the crowd before the protesters dispersed after about an hour.

There were claims by speakers that the protest was merely a dress rehersal that should serve as a warning to anyone who dares to change Macedonia's name.

Macedonia should halt United Nations-sponsored negotiations on its disputed constitutional name because they are absurd, the speakers told the crowd.

Large numbers of police were deployed to secure foreign embassies. Police in riot gear sealed off all streets leading to the Greek Liaisons Office in the centre of the capital, to prevent a repeat of an last week's incident where youngsters attempted to pelt the building with stones.

Athens disputes Skopje’s use of its constitutional name, “Republic of Macedonia” saying the term Macedonia is a part of Greek national heritage and its use by others implies territorial claims on its northern province of the same name.

A rally led by the Greek ultranationalist right wing party Popular Orthodox Rally Party, LAOS, in Greece's northern city of Thessaloniki was supposed to happen at a same time but was rescheduled for next week at the last minute.

It was expected to urge Greek leaders not to accept any compromises in the name dispute.

On February 19, the UN mediator in the dispute, Matthew Nimetz handed both sides a proposal for a compromise solution in a last ditch attempt to resolve the 13 year-old dispute before April’s NATO summit in Bucharest, where Greece is threatening to veto Macedonia’s membership bid if a solution is not reached by then.

A Toast to Tradition

A favorite spirit may be threatened when Macedonia begins negotiating for EU membership.

LISICE, Macedonia | As the distillation process ends and the homemade brandy called rakija drips into a pot, all of Stojan’s neighbors gathered in his back yard, waiting to taste the fresh liquor.

“Cheers!” they shouted in a chorus, celebrating the old Macedonian tradition of producing the brandy. “It’s a really strong one, pure and warming,” Stojan, 62, concluded after taking a sip of his new batch.

The brandy, which is distilled mostly in private homes, is made from fermented grapes and usually contains about 50 percent alcohol. For Macedonians, the joy of rakija is as much in its production as it is in the drinking. Producers often invite friends to taste the product, spurring neighborhood parties. The liquor is considered the national drink among many countries of the former Yugoslavia.

Some Macedonians make a living or supplement their incomes by selling the brandy produced at home, especially in wine regions such as Tikves in the south. But the brandy’s production may diminish when Macedonia begins negotiating for European Union membership. Talks could begin as early as late 2008.

According to EU standards, alcohol production must be licensed, and homemade products put up for sale must carry a tax. Macedonia plans to begin complying with these standards when accession talks begin.

The majority of rakija producers in Macedonia distill in their own kitchens or yards, and they currently pay no tax to the government for their sales. Many are unaware that EU standards would make their unregulated operations illegal. The government has yet to spread the word.

The homemade brandy is popular in other countries in the Balkans and southeastern Europe. When Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, protests were staged in front of the Parliament in Sofia to demand that rakija not be taxed. There have also been discussions on the topic on Internet forums set up in Serbia, another EU hopeful. Some respondents radically claimed they would prefer dying to joining the EU, mainly because of limitations on traditions like homemade alcohol.

“We don’t like the EU anymore. Why do we need so many limitations and standards that only complicate our lives and contribute towards the loss of our culture and spirit as Macedonians?” said Stojan, who gave only his first name.

Rakija isn’t the only product under threat. Regulations will also be placed on homemade wines and cheeses put up for sale. Moreover, the killing of animals for food in private homes will be forbidden.

According to the European Commission, killing outside slaughterhouses “is restricted to a very limited number of circumstances, such as disease control.” What’s more, “approved methods” of killing must be used in those limited circumstances. All meat for human consumption, however, must come from licensed slaughterhouses.

These laws are violated in many EU countries, where traditions frequently trump health or agricultural regulations, but people risk being caught and fined if they sell their unregulated products or slaughter animals.

Macedonia doesn’t have official data about the number of people producing and selling domestic food products. But so ingrained is the tradition of home production that the numbers are easily in the thousands.

Many people interviewed said they were unaware that their way of life may change soon. They worry that the EU standards will smother their cultural and economic traditions.


Bojan, 58, from the village of Dracevo, hadn’t heard of the looming EU standards. He started to cry when he learned that he would not be allowed to slaughter animals for food or produce his own milk and dairy products for sale.

He lost his job as a locksmith 10 years ago, Bojan said, and home production is what now brings food to his family’s table. Other, modest income comes from Bojan’s work in nearby fields his father left to him when he died. Bojan had to take out a loan to get a tractor to work the fields.

In his back yard, Bojan raises chickens, goats, pigs, and a cow. He uses the animals to feed his family, and he sometimes sells some eggs, milk, and meat to others. With the money he makes he buys other goods his family needs.

“We will starve to death if this happens,” Bojan said of the coming regulations. “I’ve lost my job once, and this is the only way to secure food for my family.” He added that he had thought life would be better if his country entered the EU.

Other Macedonians who hadn’t heard about the regulations refused to believe it, calling it a joke. They said they will continue to make products or purchase them from neighbors.

“We won’t give up the rakija … the honey, the incredible domestic cheese – EU or no EU”, says Lidija, 29, from Skopje.

“This practically means that besides gaining the possibility to travel freely [without a visa], everything else is just too much bureaucracy,” she added, referring to the benefits of EU accession. The right to visa-free travel in the EU is a perk many Macedonians are looking forward to, though it could be years in the making.

The government doesn’t have a campaign planned to inform the citizens about the changes that will occur once EU negotiations start. Officials admitted that the campaign has been delayed in part because of the possibility that there will be negative reactions from the citizens, as there were in Bulgaria.

However, officials also claim that like it or not, the clock is ticking.

“We purposely delayed the solving of this issue because the tradition of domestic production is a several-centuries-old tradition,” said Zivko Jankulovski, the government’s vice president for agriculture and education. “However, very soon we will have to start dealing with it.”

Jankulovski emphasized that not all domestic production will not be banned. Although killing animals for meat will be forbidden, other production will just be regulated.

People will be allowed to produce rakija in their homes, for instance, if they have a license to do so. They can sell it so long as they follow new tax requirements.

“There also will be some trainings and exams connected to the right of producing your own alcoholic drink,” Jankulovski said.

Which of the government ministries will be in charge of conducting an information campaign remains a mystery, but it likely will be the Agriculture or Economy ministries.


Jankulovski said it will be very difficult to boost public awareness of the issue and to calm down the people it upsets. Moreover, it will be a challenge to change people’s habits and force them to stop their home production or license and tax it.

Experts have said that the introduction of EU standards may have negative side effects, like increasing poverty in some regions where people currently rely on domestic food production for extra income. If the regulations force them out of business or they choose to bow out on their own for fear of being caught, their income could be lost.

“Agricultural workers are quite often forced to produce and sell domestic rakija because there are not enough wineries to buy out the grapes that they produced,” said one agricultural expert, who spoke on condition on anonymity. “Similar conditions are present in stockbreeding.”

But some experts have also said there are dangers in domestic production that the EU standards will help alleviate.

Unregulated stockbreeding allows animals slaughtered for meat to go unvaccinated, raising concerns that people will consume tainted meat. Similarly, unregulated production of alcohol and dairy products put up for sale presents health risks associated with poor or contaminated ingredients.

Stojan said that while the government should tell people about the new standards, he won’t worry until Macedonia is an EU member – a development that is years away.

“I’ll make my rakija until someone comes in my house and reads the standards,” Stojan declared with a laugh. “But first I’ll let authorities try my homemade rakija and then let them read my obligations.”

Watching his friends celebrate his brandy, he added: “I’ll live for today.”

Monday, March 03, 2008

In Kosovo, sacrificing principles for oil

Once again the Bush administration is sacrificing its conservative principles to satisfy our nation’s seeming insatiable thirst for foreign oil.

The latest victims of our oil lust are the ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo. Until Feb. 18, Kosovo was part of Serbia. That changed overnight when Kosovo unilaterally declared independence.

The United States, Germany and the United Kingdom were quick to recognize Kosovo’s declaration. Russia and Serbia flatly rejected it.

Yes, folks, Kosovo’s independence is all about oil – at least from a Western perspective.

In a press release that gleaned little media attention in the United States, Switzerland’s Manas Petroleum Corp. announced on Jan. 10 that “Independent resource evaluation confirms existence of giant oil and gas prospects on Manas Petroleum’s Albanian exploration blocks.”

The announcement indicated that there are potentially 3 billion barrels of oil and 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the areas explored. Some of these areas lie near Albania’s border with Kosovo.

Kosovo’s population is about 90 percent ethnic Albanian. The remaining 10 percent are nearly all ethnic Serbs. Under Tito, in the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo was a semi-autonomous region which enjoyed special political privileges in the Yugoslav system.

During the breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbia’s President Slobodon Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomy and kept a tight grip on the ethnic Albanians through an internal security force composed almost exclusively of Serbs.

Serb domination of Kosovo ended when a NATO occupation force, the Kosovo Force (KFOR), forcibly interposed itself between the ethnic Albanians and Serb forces.

For the Serbs, Kosovo is a place of religious history and national pride. If the Serbs had an Alamo, it would be located in Kosovo. There, in an area that has become known as the Field of Blackbirds, thousands of Serbian “warrior saints” stood their ground in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Polje, only to be slaughtered by the invading Ottoman Turks.

The Serbs continued to resist the Turks during the ensuing five centuries of Ottoman domination, which did not end until 1912, when Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria defeated the Ottomans in the First Balkans War. To this day, the Serbs view themselves as defenders of Christianity who held the line against the incursion of Islam into Western Europe.

During that famous battle, ethnic Albanians fought side by side with the Serbs against the Ottoman invaders. But during the subsequent years of Turkish rule, most Albanians adopted Islam, while the Serbs clung to their Orthodox Christian tradition. Today, Kosovo is the historical seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

During the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia, rampaging ethnic Albanians reportedly destroyed more than 100 Orthodox monasteries and churches in Kosovo, some of which were nearly 1,000 years old. The UK Independent reported in November 1999 that the Albanian destruction of Serb holy sites in Kosovo continued even after NATO’s KFOR arrived.

Kosovo’s neighbor, Albania, is currently struggling to integrate with Western Europe. Islam in Albania today is something less than radical. In fact, the number of Christians in Albania may be nearly even with the number of Muslims.

However, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), a nonprofit, independent, nongovernmental organization that works to resolve world conflicts through diplomacy, reported in July 2006 that “a tiny but growing minority (in Albania) is turning toward Wahhabi Islam.”

This could spell future trouble for the West. The Wahhabis are a violent, extremist sect of Islam that originated in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century. It has been argued that Osama bin Laden had gravitated toward Wahhabi beliefs prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

It appears the West sold out the Kosovo Serbs in order to gain assured access to Albania’s newly discovered petroleum reserves. Albania’s strategic location on the Adriatic Sea guarantees the West easy access to Albanian oil, without having to deal with unsavory governments.

In the coming months, look for a growing political support for Kosovo’s union with Albania to form a Greater Albania, something that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.

The West will sit idly by as Albania expands its borders, knowing that a Greater Albania will be inclined to sell oil to the West and is not likely to be influenced by the Serbs and Russians.

After Kosovo, the next target for Albania will probably be its neighbor, the Republic of Macedonia. Ethnic Albanians make up nearly a third of the Macedonian population.

While it is doubtful that a Greater Albania could gobble up all of Macedonia, it may attempt to annex the ethnic Albanian areas of Macedonia contiguous to the Albania-Macedonia border.

Macedonia might just allow this to occur in order to hasten its admission to the European Union.

Zachary Hubbard is a retired Army officer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He served as the chief of intelligence assessments and senior Balkans intelligence analyst for the NATO Stabilization Force in the former Yugoslavia. Hubbard is a member of The Tribune-Democrat’s Readership Advisory Committee.

After Kosovo: Next Stop Greater Albania?

TETOVO, Macedonia -- Walk down any street in this Macedonian town and you would be forgiven for thinking that an international border has accidentally been crossed.

Stores have Albanian names, cafes have a distinctly Albanian flavor, and the red Albanian flag bearing a black double-headed eagle flutters on the streets.

Albanians form an overwhelming majority in an arc of northwestern Macedonia bordering predominantly Albanian Kosovo, which proclaimed its independence from Serbia this week. The same is true of slices of southern Serbia and Montenegro.

After Kosovo's leap toward self-determination, is the next step a Greater Albania to pool together the region's ethnic Albanians in a unified state?

Don't count on it.

The notion has been frequently floated in recent years, and there are some nationalist ethnic Albanians who advocate unification.

But there appears to be little overall public enthusiasm for it _ not in Albania itself, not in newly independent Kosovo, and not in Albanian-dominated areas of neighboring countries.

Part of the resistance lies in the markedly different experiences of Albanians in recent history.

Ethnic Albanians have not lived in a unified country since the Ottoman Empire's grip over the Balkans ended in the years before World War I.

In the intervening decades, they lived under dramatically different regimes. Enver Hoxha's brutal four-decade isolationist rule of Albania _ and that of his successor Ramiz Alia _ left his countrymen cut off from the outside world until the 1990s.

Life in Marshal Tito's Yugoslavia was more sophisticated, despite the restrictions of the communist regime.

So when Albania opened its international borders for the first time in 1991, Kosovars found they had little in common with their brethren to the southwest.

But Kosovars have also likely calculated that the move would be bad for their future as well.

It was tricky enough for the province to declare independence over the vehement objections of Serbia and Russia. Calling for a pan-Albanian state would likely provoke an even stronger response, not only from Serbia but from other Balkan neighbors.

The United States and EU heavyweights France, Germany and Britain would also probably oppose any abrupt move toward Albanian unification. And Kosovars know that their new _ and barely financially viable _ country depends on the goodwill of these Western states.

Kosovo may also find that being a sovereign country is preferable to becoming a province of a larger state once more.

Sabit Bunjaku, an economist in the Kosovo capital of Pristina, used to support the idea of a Greater Albania, but now thinks it should be laid to rest. "Our demands are being fulfilled, so why ask for more?" he said.

Despite the apparent apathy for the idea of Albanian unification, concerns do persist, particularly in Macedonia, where ethnic Albanian rebels took up arms against government forces in 2001, launching a six-month conflict.

"The biggest fear for me, as a Macedonian, is that Kosovo's independence will bring only partition for Macedonia," said Marina Stevcevska, an economist in the capital, Skopje.

For its part, impoverished Albania has set its sights firmly on eventually joining the European Union and NATO _ with all the financial benefits that could bring _ and most politicians seem unwilling to jeopardize those goals.

In the end, Albanians might indeed find a unity of sorts _ under the umbrella of an expanded European Union.

Theodore Couloumbis, professor of international relations at the University of Athens, said that he sees two options for the Balkans.

They could go the route of seeking "to redefine the map, to regain or to gain territories," Couloumbis said.

The other path, he said, "and the one I hope that most people in the Balkans are opting for, is the European option."

Saturday, March 01, 2008

'No Timelines' In Macedonia Dispute

Macedonia's President Branko Crvenkovski says that there is no timeline for solving "the name dispute" with Greece.

After meeting the European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Crvenkovski dismissed that claims that Skopje is under pressure to quickly reach a solution to the dispute.

"Negotiations on the name issue started by taking into consideration two things - firstly, no imposed solution, and secondly there are no timelines," Crvenkovski said.

Referring to threats from Greece that it might veto Macedonia's bid to join NATO at the alliance's Bucharest summit in April if no solution is found, Solana said he "doesn’t like vetos."

"I hope very much that solution is found during negotiations in New York," Solana added.

Solana also confirmed that regional issues were discussed at the meeting with the Macedonian President.

Crvenkovski suggested that Brussels can count on Skopje’s support for the EU's new law and order mission which is due to take over the United Nations administration in Kosovo.

He also added the EU had a role to play in helping Macedonia and Kosovo demarcate their shared border.

"We support the Ahtisaari plan among other things since it had a precise solution for the demarcation of our borders with Kosovo," Crvenkovski said, referring to the blueprint for Kosovo's 'supervised independence' devised by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The plan is set the become the basis of Kosovo's new constitution.

"As a partner for solving this issue we don’t look only to Pristina but also to the EU which is present in Kosovo," he concluded.

Archeological site discovered in Ohrid

A valuable archeological site was found in the old area of Ohrid, near the St. Sofia church, during building of a house in this part of the town.

According to the director of the Cultural Heritage Protection Paskal Kuzman, it is an early Christian basilica from 4 or 5 century with a well-preserved mosaic. He added that the basilica most probably is a part of an Episcopal court that the archeologists expected to find at the Plaoshnik site.

The experts of the Cultural Heritage Protection institution and the Museum performed research and the construction works were halted, and, as announced by the institution, the site of the finding will be expropriated.

According to Kuzman, Ohrid's old part, and especially the locality known as Mancevci, hides enormous cultural and historical heritage that is yet to be discovered.

Premier dangles FYROM veto

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis for the first time yesterday made known his views on the proposals by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz on the Macedonia name dispute and warned that Greece would block the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s bid to join NATO unless a mutually acceptable solution is found.

Speaking in Parliament, Karamanlis said, “Without a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue, there can be no invitation to participate in the same alliance.”

The premier said that “zero hour” had almost been reached. FYROM is hoping to be granted membership of NATO at a summit in April.

“Our positions, arguments and the means at our disposal are well known,” said Karamanlis, hinting at the possible use of Greece’s veto powers at the NATO summit in Bucharest.

“If the neighboring country really wants to join NATO and the European Union, it has to show in practice that it can be a real ally and partner,” the prime minister told MPs. “It has to go its own share of the distance so we can reach a mutually acceptable solution to the outstanding name issue.”

Karamanlis came under attack from opposition leaders for the leaking of Nimetz’s proposals to a daily newspaper.

“You have dealings with the media but you do not trust the political parties,” said PASOK leader George Papandreou, who has in the past served as foreign minister.

“This leak does not help the Greek government at all. As a former foreign minister, with plenty of experience of documents being leaked, you should fully understand what I mean,” Karamanlis replied.

On the issue of Kosovo, the premier said that his government would make a decision “in the near future” on whether to recognize the province, which declared independence last Sunday.

He defended the government’s decision to maintain Greece’s presence in the European peacekeeping force in the region.

“We are not happy with the developments [in Kosovo],” said Karamanlis. “But we are also not happy to see American flags fluttering in Kosovo and Russian ones in Serbia.”

PASOK leader: No to double name for FYROM

Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou strongly objected to any "double name" for FYROM, in an interview on all issues appearing in the Saturday edition of TA NEA newspaper, while he also called on the Greek government to "not unilaterally recognise" Kosovo.

He further spoke of PASOK's prospects following its latest Congress, and noted an "open" possibility for cooperation with the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN), while he also said he was unwavering on the issue of transparency.

Papandreou said that PASOK, both as government in the past and as the main opposition today, explicitly ruled out the prospect of a double name for FYROM, and accused the government of "agreeing to negotiate a double-name solution". He also described as a "most adverse development" the "unilateral recognition (by countries) of Kosovo, outside the framework of the UN", and called on the government not to unilaterally recognise Kosovo independence.

He also endorsed the undertaking of "all the necessary initiatives in the UN and the EU for resolution of the Cyprus issue" and pledged that he will be at the side of the new President of Cyprus to emerge from this weekend's run-off election, both as president of PASOK and as president of Socialist International (SI).

Papandreou further differentiated himself from the stance of former (PASOK) prime minister Costas Simitis, who had backed a special relationship between the EU and Turkey, stressing that "our stance must remain that Turkey has the right to become a member of the EU, but also the obligation to fulfill, without divergence, the commitments it has undertaken towards all the EU member states".

To a question on there being possible political expediency behind PASOK's proposal for the setting up of a parliamentary fact-finding commission on the Siemens scandal, Papandreou replied that "our proposals are not revengistic", adding that "PASOK has nothing to fear in the Siemens case" and that his party "has not hesitated in taking difficult decisions in matters of transparency".

Asked whether members who had taken sides with Evangelos Venizelos or Costas Skandalidis in their candidacies for the party leadership against Papandreou would also be included in the PASOK organs, he said that "everyone has their work, role and responsibilities", while clarifying at the same time that "the rationale of sharing out positions and posts does not suit us".

Asked whether the idea of governmental cooperation with SYN had permanently collapsed, Papandreou replied that "the ability of programmatic cooperation is, for us, open...the quandary lies with the other side".

Latvia supports Macedonia's NATO bid

Latvia supports Macedonia's aspiration to join NATO, Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins said after meeting his Macedonian counterpart Antonio Milososki in Ohrid today.

On the basis of the accomplished internal reforms and participation in the peacekeeping missions abroad, Macedonia deserved to receive an invitation from the NATO Summit in Bucharest, said Riekstins. He also expressed hopes that Macedonia will start the negotiations for accession to EU in the course of this year.

As regards the official Athens' position that the resolving of the name dispute is a condition for membership in NATO, Milososki said that the leaders of the Macedonian political parties will convene for another meeting on Sunday to come up with the final position, Makfax's correspondent reported.

Commenting the Greek State Television's airing of footages of incidents in Belgrade while presenting them as violent events that took place in Skopje, Milososki said it was a clear case of misuse that can only undermine further the trust between the two countries.

"Despite these unconstructive steps, the Republic of Macedonia will continue with the constructive approach," Milososki said.

He also condemned revealing of the latest proposal for resolving of the name issue by the Greek media.

"Revealing the proposal of the mediator Matthew Nimetz in some of the Greek media, which most likely used a source of their Foreign Ministry, is an unfair move," Milososki said.

Skopje's daily Dnevnik also published today the document containing Nimetz's proposals.