A renewed push is underway to resolve a 25-year-old dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name.
After a meeting in Athens, the Greek foreign minister and FYROM’s deputy prime minister for European Affairs said both sides were committed to resolving the issue within six months.
The dispute has held up FYROM’s aspirations of joining the European Union. Greece has blocked the ex-Yugoslav republic’s attempts to join NATO and objects to its EU membership bid, arguing that the word Macedonia implies a territorial claim over Greece’s northerly region of the same name.
“2018 is a golden year for opportunity for my country to make progress in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration. That is why we are committed to finding a solution,” said Bujar Osmani, FYROM’s deputy prime minister responsible for European affairs. He added that there was “sincerity and commitment” by Greece to resolve the issue.
Athens says there is now a window of opportunity to find a solution following the election of a more moderate government in Greece’s neighbouring country.
“The issue… is to create conditions for the widest possible consensus to put behind us a problem which has weighed on the country, and the wider region, for the past 25 years,” said Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos.
The two sides have already agreed that FRYOM should adopt a “composite” name, which diplomats believe could be either “New Macedonia” or Vardarska Macedonia.
However, nationalists on both sides are opposed to compromise. Greeks are very sensitive about the name issue, and rallies have been planned in the north of the country later this month against any compromise which may use the name Macedonia.
A new round of talks with a United Nations mediator is due in New York in late January.
The Balkan state, which declared independence from ex-Yugoslavia in 1991, agreed to be known as FYROM under an accord four years later seen as an interim measure – until a deal with a name acceptable to Greece could be reached.