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News 24 Jan 18

Speculation Flourishes over Macedonia Name Proposals

Media have been speculating about a series of alternatives for a new name for Macedonia suggested by the UN negotiator leading talks aimed at resolving the country’s longstanding dispute with Greece.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias in Athens. Archive photo: MIA

Amid silence from officials in Athens and Skopje, most media in both countries have speculated that the latest ideas suggested by the UN mediator Matthew Nimetz during the last round of talks in New York on January 17 contain five alternatives for a new name for Macedonia for international use.

The adjectives New, Upper, Northern or Vardarska - stemming from Macedonia’s biggest river, the Vardar - in front of the word Macedonia have been mentioned, plus the possible name Republic of Macedonia (Skopje).

All these proposals have already, in one form or another, been at the table at the UN-brokered name talks, which are more than two decades old. 

Nimetz himself noted that his new package contains little new in terms of concrete proposals, and that the key novelty is the different circumstances in which both sides now seem genuinely willing to reach a compromise. 

Prominent Greek daily Katimetini, citing unnamed sources from the Greek government, this week said that it seems like the Greek side leans toward the name Republic of Vardarska Macedonia for its northern neighbour.

On the other hand, according to the same newspaper, which was cited extensively by Macedonian media, the Macedonian side is more keen on the Republic of New Macedonia.

Over the last few years, proposals containing the terms Vardarska and Upper have been mentioned as possible solutions. However, they have upset some politicians and political observers from neighbouring Bulgaria.

Their argument was that these terms could imply that Macedonia has territorial claims on Bulgaria’s own part of the geographical region of Macedonia, which is currently shared between the Republic of Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria.

According to documents that BIRN has obtained, mediator Nimetz suggested the name Upper Republic of Macedonia back in 2013. 

Although the Macedonian authorities signalled approval for Nimetz’s proposal at the time as a basis for resolving the dispute, Greece rejected this proposition outright.

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. Athens insists that a new name must be found that would make a clear distinction between the Greek province and the country.

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 proposal Republic of Macedonia with the name of the capital Skopje in brackets is also not a new idea. It was mentioned as the most favourable solution for Macedonia back in the early years of the dispute during the 1990s, as a formulation closest to the original constitutional name of the country.

However, apart from the fact that it was never seen as a viable option by Athens, some Macedonian observers have also expressed doubt, fearing that is could jeopardise national identity if other countries opt to call the majority of citizens of the country Skopjans, rather than Macedonians.

As for Macedonia’s largest minority, the Albanians, their leaders have in the past repeated that they would accept whatever name that the Macedonian majority accepts, with the exception of the formulation Slavic or Slavo-Macedonia.

Albanian leaders in Macedonia have argued that by determining the name of the country by the Slavic origin of the majority of the population, their ethnic interests could suffer.

So far neither Athens nor Skopje officially commented on Nimetz’s latest set of ideas, insisting that the talks are in a delicate stage and that they need some time to review them.  

The first tangible hint about whether the talks are moving in the right direction is expected to be known by the tone of Wednesday’s meeting between the Greek and the Macedonian Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, set to take place on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

More on the subject is also expected within the next ten days when UN mediator Matthew Nimetz is expected to visit both capitals to take their pulse on his latest proposals.

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