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News 08 Jan 18

Macedonian, Greek Nationalists Mobilize Against 'Name' Deal

As optimism grows about a rapid solution to Macedonia's dispute with Greece over its name, nationalists on both sides of the border are rallying against a possible compromise solution.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonian FM Nikola Dimitrov and his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias. Archive photo: MIA

Right-wing nationalist and diaspora organizations in both Macedonia and Greece have launched campaigns against what they fear may be a rapid solution to the long-running dispute over Macedonia's name.

In Greece, the campaign is focused against any compromise name for their northern neighbour that includes the term "Macedonia", which they insists is exclusively Greek.

Macedonian rightists for their part seek the withdrawal of their country from the UN-sponsored name talks.
 
The front-runner in the anti-compromise camp in Macedonia is Macedonian Human Rights Movement International, MHRMI, which is based in Canada.

In December, this group started renting billboards in the capital, Skopje, and issued statements demanding Macedonia's withdrawal from the name talks that are due to intensify this year.

The campaign, called “Our Name is Macedonia”, features billboards portraying a boy, referring to the historic significance for future generations if a compromise name alters Macedonia’s identity.

“If it [the name] is changed once, it will be changed everywhere and forever,” it reads.

“Would you like to be called ‘New Macedonians’, 'Northern Macedonians’, ‘Skopjans’, ‘Vardars’ or simply MACEDONIANS?” the campaign billboard also asks.

In a statement on January 4, the movement called the current government, led by the Social Democrat, Zoran Zaev, a “regime”, accusing it and the US State Department of curbing media freedom in the country in order to push for an unacceptable name change this year.

 “As we warned all along, Macedonia’s name, identity, language and history are a matter of negotiations aimed at satisfying our oppressors … We absolutely expect and demand stark defence of our basic human rights of self-determination, to remain what we always were - Macedonians,” the movement said.

In Greece, the Greek Federation of Cultural Associations of Macedonians, and some other diaspora movements, have announced protests and launched a petition against any UN-sponsored compromise name that would include the term "Macedonia".

The campaign also includes a clip that insists that Macedonia has been an indispensable part of the Hellenic identity for over 3,000 years, highlighting that “Macedonia means Greece”.

The organizers said they would stage protests in Greek cities in the coming months, urging Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to hold a referendum on the use of the term "Macedonia" by the neighbouring country.

The campaigns in both countries were launched as Skopje and Athens in December rebooted UN-sponsored talks on their dispute after three years of stalemate.

They have agreed to intensify talks in early 2018, expressing optimism that a compromise solution can be reached in the first half of this year, so that Macedonia can join NATO at the July summit of the alliance.

The so-called name dispute centres on Greece's insistence that use of the word "Macedonia" implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of the same name.

As a result, in 2008, Greece blocked Macedonia’s NATO entry and has also continued blocking the start of Macedonia’s EU accession talks, despite several positive annual reports from the European Commission on the country’s progress.

The US and the EU have welcomed the renewed talks. They are seen as key backers of the mission to find a solution that would both secure Macedonia’s Western integration while also limiting Russian influence in the Balkans.

Click here to read the League of Macedonian Americans's reactions to the article.

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