Referendum mooted over FYROM name

Athens is hoping for a solution acceptable to both sides but insists
it will not accept a fait accompli as its diplomatic muscle grows

(‘Kathimerini’, English edition, 4 April, 2005)
[link]

by Stavors Lygeros

UN mediator Matthew Nimitz
There is reserved optimism on the Greek side that UN mediator Matthew Nimitz (left) will present a proposal to break the deadlock over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The situation has changed since the outbursts of the early 1990s, but the government still has cards up its sleeve. Greece has not ruled out accepting a composite name for its neighbor.

A meeting in the US a few weeks ago between Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis and UN mediator Matthew Nimitz raised hopes that something was finally about to happen regarding the dispute over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

These hopes were boosted when Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis included a meeting with Nimitz on the agenda for his own visit to the US, and a second visit by Valinakis to New York to meet the UN mediator.

According to official sources, this flurry of diplomatic activity is not due to any change of heart in Skopje, but because Nimitz is soon to present his proposal to the two sides for a mutually acceptable solution.

For some years Athens has appeared ready to accept a composite name and recently has been saying so in public. The Slav Macedonians reject the idea, as they always have, but simply say they are willing for Greece to call their state “Macedonia-Skopje” in bilateral relations alone. Of course Greece has no cause to accept a diplomatic defeat with a dose of humiliation thrown in.

Changed climate

Greece’s unproductive stance and spasmodic actions during the early 1990s, when it rejected both “Macedonia” and a composite name, did nothing to advance its cause. Its position became even more difficult last November when Washington recognized Greece’s neighbor by the name “Macedonia,” although that recognition brought the issue into the limelight once again. Greece’s clear stance in favor of a composite name, combined with Skopje’s intransigence, has altered the climate on the world stage. Not only does the European Union continue to use the term FYROM, but even the Americans have recently appeared more open to Greece’s views.

Greece has always, and repeatedly, emphasized the potential benefits to FYROM if this problem were resolved. For the moment there is reserved optimism that Nimitz’s proposal will break the deadlock and open the way to constructive negotiations. If this hope is destroyed by intransigence on the part of the Slav Macedonians, Greece just might look elsewhere. The prospect of including FYROM in Euro-Atlantic structures, which is becoming more specific and tangible, gives Athens an advantage it has so far not exploited.

Some time ago, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis made it clear that he would not accept a country bearing the name “Macedonia” joining NATO or even applying to the EU. This was implied in his letter to President George Bush (November 2004) and in a letter from Molyviatis to his European counterparts.

Athens does not want the situation to reach that point. For the moment it is supporting a future for FYROM in Europe. A few days ago, the Joint Parliamentary Committee, with the participation of Greek Eurodeputies, decided to propose to the European Commission that it grant FYROM the status of candidate for membership next December.

No apathy

However, according to reliable sources, Athens is not willing to stand back and watch in the event (still unlikely at this stage) that Europe tries to close this issue by collectively recognizing FYROM as “Macedonia,” as the Slav Macedonians hope.

Nationalist fervor prevents them from realizing that Greece is their only neighbor that has no claim against them and at the same time is in a position to help them. According to one diplomatic source, this also prevents them from realizing that Athens has cards up its sleeve and that it has learned from its mistakes.

The Slav Macedonian leadership has always exhausted all avenues before being forced to take even a small step backward; this has not changed, although the circumstances have. If they are faced with a dilemma, it will not be easy for them to sacrifice their future in Europe, particularly when they realize that the EU environment is the best one for the unity of their shaky statehood.

Nevertheless, according to reliable sources, it is significant that Molyviatis is emphasizing to all concerned that it is not only the government’s stance that should be considered, but Parliament’s. Both governments have signed 35 bilateral accords. However, the Greek Parliament has not ratified them because of the name issue. No matter what the composition of Parliament, the result would be the same regarding the ratification of FYROM’s entry into any Euro-Atlantic organization if no solution has first been found to the dispute.

Extreme solution

According to reliable sources, Athens is even considering, as a final resort, declaring a referendum on the entry of FYROM to the EU. The right to do so exists and has been used before. In the early 1970s, France held a referendum on the entry of Britain to the then European Economic Community. After all, referendums are in fashion at the moment, notably on the European Constitution and Turkey’s accession to the EU. Of course, no decision has been made, but the scenario is under consideration. It is not even necessary for the government itself to take the initiative. According to well-informed sources in both Europe and the US, the Slav Macedonians are being informed that it would be a great mistake to underestimate Greece’s diplomatic and political clout. The statement by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding Athens’s role in the Balkans does not seem to have been simply a compliment to her counterpart. And of course it is not unrelated to the fact that this summer, US diplomats will be needing Greece’s help with Kosovo.

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