Just days after the general elections in Macedonia, the US reminds the government in Skopje that it has unfinished business regarding the name dispute with Greece.
By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
A quick solution to the name dispute, boosting reforms needed for EU membership as well as further implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Peace Accord should be top priorities of the new government, said Thomas Countryman, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia at a press briefing in Washington on Tuesday.
“In terms of next priorities, we absolutely believe that this would be the right time, as soon as the new government is formed, to bring to closure the discussions with Greece over the name of Macedonia,” Countryman said.
“We look forward to that being concluded so that Macedonia can continue on the path to NATO and the European Union,” he added.
“We believe this is within reach and can be done,” Countryman said. The VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, which is currently in power, won the elections on Sunday, and are expected to form another government in the coming weeks.
Greece and Macedonia have been locked in a dispute over the name Macedonia for two decades.
Athens refuses to let Skopje join NATO and EU before solving this issue. It insists that Skopje’s use of this name implies territorial claims against Greece’s own northern province, which is also called Macedonia.
In what may be seen as a positive sign, the Macedonian government announced on Tuesday that the Greek PM George Papandreou called his Macedonian counterpart Gruevski to congratulate him on his election victory.
In 2010, Gruevski and Papandreou held a series of meetings aimed at unfreezing the cold bilateral relations and hopefully reaching a solution to the long standing dispute. However, the meetings were assessed only as a courtesy gatherings without significant substance.
Former Macedonian chief of diplomacy, Slobodan Casule says that a name solution is possible in the coming period, but argues that the US would have to step up pressure on both sides if that is to happen.
The US is now “only insisting on what was previously already agreed and that is the name Republic of Macedonia with the adjective Skopje in brackets,” Casule explained, adding that Skopje in 2008 hinted some form of this name might be acceptable.
Casule told Balkan Insight the moment is good for a compromise, “especially now when the Macedonian government has a fresh mandate and stable majority” and “when Greece is knocking at the doors of international monetary organisations asking for financial help to curb its internal crisis”.
Casule also sees as encouraging the fact that Gruevski’s current junior government partner, Ali Ahmeti of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, who is expected to rejoin Gruevski in the new government, promised his supporters during the election campaign that a name solution is just around the corner.
Various opinion polls done in the past year have showed that the country’s Albanians, who make up one quarter of the population, are generally more supportive of agreeing to a name compromise if this means resumption of EU and NATO accession bids.
Ethnic Macedonians, on the other hand, are more resistant to and emotional about a possible name change.