Thursday, April 03, 2008

Greece angered by offensive billboards in Skopje

Athens has condemned billboards in Skopje that show the Greek flag with a Nazi swastika in place of the white cross. Officials warned Monday (March 31st) that Macedonia's aspirations to join NATO could be harmed.

A private organisation reportedly put up the posters, as part of a promotional campaign for a photography and graphic arts exhibition. The Greek ambassador to Skopje, Alexandra Papadopoulou, has lodged a demarche with the Macedonian government, demanding their immediate removal.

Greek foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said on Monday the billboards offended his country's national symbol and its "fight against fascism and Nazism" during World War II.

Describing the content of the posters as an abuse of the freedom of expression, Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki distanced the government from the billboards. He expressed his deep regret to Papadopoulou over the "particularly unfortunate incident taking place at a particularly crucial moment".

Macedonia has been hoping to receive an invitation to join NATO during the Alliance's summit in Bucharest that opens on Wednesday. The heads of state and government of the 26 member nations are expected to consider Albania, Croatia and Macedonia's membership bids during a formal debate on the military pact's further expansion Thursday. Admitting new members requires unanimous approval.

While voicing support for Albania and Croatia's bids, Greece has threatened to veto any decision to bring Macedonia into the Alliance unless a solution to the name dispute between the two countries is reached by the start of the summit.

Greece argues that its neighbour's use of the name "Macedonia" implies territorial claims on a northern Greek province, also called Macedonia. It wants the government in Skopje to agree to a modified name that would clearly distinguish the two.

UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz, who has been mediating the name talks between the two countries, has proposed a number of possible solutions in recent months. Each has been rejected by one or the other side.

Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis reiterated her country's determination to block Macedonia's NATO accession until the dispute is resolved.

"No mutually acceptable solution means no NATO invitation," she said on Monday. She reiterated, however, Greece's support for Albania and Croatia's bids.

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based journal Le Vif/L'Express reported on Monday that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has proposed the name "New Macedonia" as a compromise solution. The idea is one of several put forward that would retain the word "Macedonia" in combination with one or more additional terms.

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