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News 18 Dec 15

Macedonian, Greek, Ministers Vow to Rebuild Trust

The foreign ministers of Macedonia and Greece met in Athens and agreed to work on rebuilding trust - although the two sides remain divided by 'mountains' on the 'name' dispute.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Photo by: mfa.gr

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Poposki, agreed to work on rebuilding trust between the two countries at a meeting in Athens.

Poposki said Macedonia "has a strategy to have good relations with Greece" but added that when it comes to the dispute over Macedonia's name, the two countries remain separated by "mountains."

"The positions of the two governments are well known and we should conclude that the positions are opposed, and for this reason we need to climb mountains and get past the mountains to reach a solution," Poposki said after the talks.

Kodzias reiterated that Greece wanted "an honest compromise [on the name issue] that combats irredentism and extremist nationalism and helps the future perspectives of both sides".

Among the trust-building measures, the two diplomats discussed improving economic ties.

Greece blocked Macedonia's accession to NATO in 2008 and is currently blocking Macedonia's attempts to join the EU in connection with the dispute over Macedonia's name.

Greece claims the use of the word Macedonia implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of the same name.

Athens has been blocking Macedonia's EU integration although it obtained EU candidate status in 2005, and although European Commission reports have recommended a start to Macedonian membership talks since 2009.

Largely owing to the "name" dispute, the two sides have not signed a single bilateral treaty since 2007.

Vlasis Vlasidis, a Balkan and Slavic studies professor at Thessaloniki University, told BIRN that the meeting, which follows the June visit of the Greek minister to Macedonia, is aimed at ending the "cold war" between the two neighbours, as a prerequisite for a settlement on the "name" issue in future.

"The two ministers are showing openness for discussion, so that a path may be opened for improving diplomatic ties. The refugee crisis shows that this is a necessity," Vlasidis said.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly from the Middle East, have crossed Greece and Macedonia this year on their way to Western Europe.

Last week, Macedonia hosted consultations between the Macedonian and the Greek foreign ministries, the first of the 11 agreed-trust building measures.

Strengthening economic cooperation and cultural ties, opening a new border crossing in the Lake Prespa region as well as improving transport links between the towns of Bitola and Florina are just some of the measures that were agreed previously.

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