Saturday, March 15, 2008

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.

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