By Miki Trajkovski and Goran Trajkov
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit to Skopje brought renewed hopes that the UN will help end the long-standing name dispute between Macedonia and its southern neighbor, Greece.
Ban met with the Macedonian parliament Wednesday (July 25th), and told lawmakers that he was dedicated to resolving the dispute, which has kept Macedonia out of NATO and forced it to accept the official designation “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in the UN and international circles.
“Both sides need to demonstrate commitment by promoting a positive atmosphere through their actions and public statements,” Ban told the lawmakers. “You have to join the EU. I am dedicated to helping.”
The UN chief pledged the he and the organizations’ mediator for the dispute, Mathew Nimetz, will find a solution.
Macedonian President George Ivanov urged the UN chief to put pressure on Greece to respect the Interim Agreement of 1995, which formalised bilateral relations between the two countries, and last year’s Hague ruling, which said the Greece’s block of Macedonia’s NATO bid was illegal.
“Our future is blocked by a question that comes from the past. From the Greek authorities we seek to follow the reality,” Ivanov said.
Aleksandar Gjorgjiev, Macedonian government spokesman, presented an agenda earlier this month to further talks on forging a solution to the name issue. The agenda includes meetings between state representatives and officials, signing a co-operation declaration, organising a joint education-historical committee, a joint contact-center for the interior ministries and opening a new border crossing near Dorjane.
The future meetings will be aimed at improving the dialogue and strengthening mutual trust, Gjorgjiev said.
Former Macedonia Minister of Foreign Affairs Slobodan Casule told SETimes that Greece no longer has room to maneuver.
“Greece … will have to implement the interim agreement. The question is with which temporary name we will approach the international organisations. [UN Security Council] Resolution 817 is an agreement about the name and the membership of Macedonia in NATO and EU,” Casule said.
According to Greek media, Macedonia has presented three scenarios to solve the problem: to seek UN membership under its constitutional name, to open a new case before the International Court of Justice and to reject the interim agreement.
Bosko Stankowski, a doctorate of international law at Cambridge University, told Focus news earlier this month that Athens will try to be a step ahead of Skopje.
“Greece will try to stop any initiative in the UN, explaining that the name dispute has implications for security and as such cannot be considered by the General Assembly. It is possible for Greece to give some initiative in the negotiations and to try to present itself as a constructive party,” Stankowski said.
But, Kostas Ifantis, associate professor of international relations at University of Athens, said the timing isn’t good for any hope of settling the Macedonia name dispute given Greece’s economic crisis and with a new coalition government in place.
“I’m not optimistic, there’s no indication there is movement from either party, either Skopje or Athens. There is no progress or intention to compromise and the Greek government doesn’t want to engage in negotiation right now,” he told SETimes.
The Macedonian public also wants good neighborly relations, but is unwilling to give up their country’s name.
“My name is Saso, my best-man gave me that name and nobody absolutely nobody can call me another name … Such is the dispute with our southern neighbour, my country’s name is Republic of Macedonia, not FYROM,” Skopje resident Saso Nanov told SETimes.