By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
After the Greek and Macedonian Foreign Ministers discussed a possible deal on Macedonia’s name in Skopje on Friday, both sides suggested talks were moving closer towards a solution.
Greece and Macedonia are optimistic about finding a solution to the dispute over Macedonia’s name that has marred bilateral relations and hampered Macedonia’s EU and NATO accession, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Dimitrov, said in Skopje.
“To a large degree, we already agreed what we want for our future and the other topics, Kotzias said after the meeting with Dimitrov.
He said that if the talks went well, once the two sides agree on the crucial issue of a compromise name for Macedonia, and on the scope of its use, they expect the UN mediator, Matthew Nimetz, to draft a text informing the UN Security Council and General Assembly “that the problems have been overcome and that we can move forward.
“We believe in honest agreements that will benefit both sides and where there will be no winning and losing side but a compromise. Greece desires a compromise,” Kotzias added.
The meeting in Skopje focused mostly on ironing out the differences between the Greek and the Macedonian draft agreements that both sides exchanged prior to the visit.
While Greece says the new compromise name must be put in the Macedonian Constitution, as an additional guarantee, Macedonia prefers a solution that would apply only for international use.
The Macedonian Foreign Minister for his part also said the discussion with his colleague was good.
“This in practice is the second real meeting when we talked about all the crucial elements. We are talking about a very delicate balance,” Dimitrov said.
“I spent half of the day thinking what is important for the Greek public and the other half [about] what is the most important for us here in the Republic of Macedonia. If a small step is done in one direction, the entire equation is being shifted,” the minister explained.
The Greek media marked the talks as historic because Kotzias arrived on the first direct flight taken by a Greek government mission to Skopje in 12 years.
This happened after Macedonia previously, in sign of good will, renamed the airport as Skopje International Airport. It formerly named it after Alexander the Great.
The name dispute centres on Greece’s insistence that the 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 makes a clear distinction between the Greek province and the country.
As a result of the unresolved dispute, Greece blocked Macedonia’s NATO membership in 2008. It has also blocked the start of Macedonia’s EU accession talks, despite several positive annual reports from the European Commission on the country’s progress.
The name talks are expected to resume next week when Kotzias and Dimitrov are expected to be joined by UN mediator Nimetz.
During his stay in Skopje, Kotzias also met Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, and is set to meet Parliament Speaker Talat Xhaferi as well as other political party leaders.
During the talks between the two ministers, a small group of people organized by several right-wing organizations protested in front of the Foreign Ministry in Skopje against a possible change to Macedonia’s name.