By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia said it will start replacing ‘Alexander the Great’ name signs from the busiest airport and highway – once its decision to rename them to satisfy Greece becomes official.
Macedonia will soon start replacing the old “Alexander the Great” name signs from Skopje airport and from the E-75 highway that leads toward Greece.
The government’s decision to rename key infrastructure was published on Thursday in the official gazette.
New signs erected along the highway will instead bear the new name, “Friendship”. The airport will be simply renamed “Skopje International Airport”.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced that Macedonia would rename the airport and the highway as part of concessions reached with his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, at their first meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 24.
The move was designed to ease relations with Greece, in the hope that this would increase the chances of successfully concluding UN-sponsored bilateral talks on Macedonia’a name. This would then unlock Macedonia’s stalled EU and NATO accession process.
The long-standing “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 makes a clear distinction between the Greek province and the country.
As a result of the unresolved dispute, in 2008, Greece blocked Macedonia’s NATO entry and 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.
Greece also saw the old names of the airport and highway as a deliberate provocation, insisting that the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great was an exclusive part of its own, Hellenic heritage.
Athens has praised its neighbour’s move to rename infrastructure as a step in the right direction towards building mutual trust.
Meanwhile, the UN-sponsored talks between the two sides are expected to resume soon.
At the last meeting, on Tuesday, in Vienna, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Dimitrov, discussed details about a possible name agreement for a marathon seven hours.
After that meeting, Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev said progress has been made in three out of seven points contained in the latest proposal package for a name solution forwarded by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz. He did not reveal specific details.
“That is a signal for us and encouragement for the Greek side that it is possible to find a solution,” Zaev told Macedonian media on Wednesday.
Unofficially, possible name solutions involve using adjectives such as “Upper”, “Northern” or “New” in front of the term “Macedonia”.
But these lie only in the realm of speculation. Hardline Greek nationalists oppose any use of the term “Macedonia” by their northern neighbour.
Greek officials have also said they would like to see a name change that would be “erga omnes”, for all uses, not just bilateral use, and want changes made to the Macedonian constitution to eliminate all risk of Macedonian irredentism.
Zaev said earlier this month that his country was ready to accept a compound name with a geographical qualifier put alongside the name Macedonia.
The government did not comment on making constitutional changes, which would require a two-third majority in parliament, which it does not have.