(Not) in name alone: Why Athens objects to Skopje in EU, NATO

In 2004, over 13 years after its independence from Yugoslavia, the Republic of Macedonia had submitted its application for membership of the EU. The EU accepted the application in 2005, but Greece objected saying Macedonia’s name implied a territorial claim on the northernmost Greek province of the same name.

Written by Jamie Mullick | New Delhi | Published:June 21, 2017 1:30 am
NATO, Nikola Dimitrov, Macedonia in NATO, greek, european union, Nikos Kotzias Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias with his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov in Athens. (Reuters)

Last week, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov arrived in Athens to formally request the government of Greece for help in Macedonia’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU). The move was part of efforts to settle a 27-year-old naming dispute between the two nations that has led to Athens stonewalling all efforts by Macedonia to join the two organisations.

In 2004, over 13 years after its independence from Yugoslavia, the Republic of Macedonia had submitted its application for membership of the EU. The EU accepted the application (and those of five other countries) in 2005, but Greece objected — saying Macedonia’s name implied a territorial claim on the northernmost Greek province of the same name.

The name game

The ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia, which existed from the mid-7th century BC to the mid-2nd century BC, was largely located in what is now the Macedonian region of northern Greece. However, ever since it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the predominantly Slavic nation of Macedonia has been claiming the official name of Republic of Macedonia. And Greece has been provoked into accusing it of deliberately appropriating cultural symbols and personalities from ancient Greek history to support its claim to the name.

When Skopje joined the United Nations in 1994, objections from Greece ensured it was formally inducted as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, or FYORM.

This question of nomenclature was a constant irritant in the relations between the two countries during the nine-year rule of former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who built his support base on heavy nationalist rhetoric that rejected all of Greece’s demands. But under the administration of new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who was sworn in on May 31 at the head of a coalition of parties, the Macedonian stance has softened.

Zaev has taken a much more conciliatory approach towards Athens, and even attacked Gruevski’s attempts at provoking Greeks by building monuments dedicated to figures from ancient Greece, such as Alexander the Great. Zaev has also promised to create a “politics of joint European future” by getting Macedonia into the EU and NATO.

Greek demands

Over the past three decades, Greece has been accusing its northern neighbour of “cultural theft”. In the early 1990s, Greece blockaded Macedonia’s southern border, in part to protest Skopje’s use of the Vergina Sun, a symbol from the gravesite of the ancient kings of Macedon, on its flag. But in what it said was a major compromise, Athens consented, in 2007, to the use of the word “Macedonia” by Skopje, as long as it was used with a geographical qualifier such as “Upper”, “Northern” or “New”.

Closing in on a solution

The new Macedonian government has made significant progress in recent weeks towards speeding up its bid for EU membership. Ethnically divided Macedonia sees the settlement of the dispute as a means to enter into relationships with big western powers. For debt-stricken Greece, the end of the quarrel holds out the promise of relief as its crisis-wracked economy gets the chance to explore businesses in the Balkan peninsula.

During a visit to Brussels last week, Zaev said he wanted his country to join the NATO and EU “in the shortest possible time”. He suggested that Macedonia would be open to using the name it currently uses in the UN. “We will try all possible measures to move Macedonia to membership,” he said.

In Athens, Zaev’s Foreign Minister struck a conciliatory note: “I’m here to ask for your support,” Dimitrov, who was at one time Skopje’s negotiator with Greece over the name, said. “I’m convinced that you have the leverage in your hands and this leverage can help towards closing the way [for this issue].”

In return, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said Athens would support Macedonia’s bid for the EU “in every way, once the name issue has been resolved… That is a prerequisite and I believe we must, and can, work towards a good compromise benefiting both sides.”

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  1. E
    Elefterios mitsos
    Jul 19, 2017 at 5:29 pm
    We are getting tired of Bulgarian speaking Slavs of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia claiming antiquity and Greek history. We are getting tired of seeing grotesque Italian reproduction statues erected in this pit of a place. We are getting tired of these Slavs parading illegal flags with Greek symbols around their country. We are getting tired of reading Antiquization propaganda coming out of the deluded uneducated diaspora of Australia. We are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Bulgarian history. We are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Albanian history. we are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Serbian history. We are getting tired of seeing United Macedonian maps. We are getting tired of FYROM. The world is getting tired of FYROM. Mother Theresa. Samuel. Alexander. Phillip. Plato. Dalchev. Gruev. Thieves. False foundations have been set. Abandoned they felt by Bulgaria in 1913. Legitimacy they felt from o when he cut the umbilical cord from Bulgaria and gave th
    Reply
  2. E
    elefterios
    Jul 17, 2017 at 10:09 am
    We are getting tired of Bulgarian speaking Slavs of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia claiming antiquity and Greek history. We are getting tired of seeing grotesque Italian reproduction statues erected in this pit of a place. We are getting tired of these Slavs parading illegal flags with Greek symbols around their country. We are getting tired of reading Antiquization propaganda coming out of the deluded uneducated diaspora of Australia. We are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Bulgarian history. We are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Albanian history. we are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Serbian history. We are getting tired of seeing United Macedonian maps. We are getting tired of FYROM. The world is getting tired of FYROM. Mother Theresa. Samuel. Alexander. Phillip. Plato. Dalchev. Gruev. Thieves. False foundations have been set. Abandoned they felt by Bulgaria in 1913. Legitimacy they felt from o when he cut the umbilical cord from Bulgaria.
    Reply
  3. E
    elefterios
    Jul 8, 2017 at 1:35 pm
    Greece objects to the name which is Greek. Greece objects to the history which is Greek. Greek objects to Skopje 2014. Greeks objects to the renaming of their highways. Greece objects to their fake statues in Skopje. Greece objects to their renaming of the airport. Greece objects to their use of the Star of Verginia. Greece objects to the renaming of their football stadiums. Greece objects to their changing the school carriculum. Greece objects to Greater Macedonia maps in circulation. Why does Greece object? Because Macedonia lies in Greece. FYROM lies outside of Macedonia. Slavs have no link to Macedonian history for they cannot and will never be able to read the inscriptions.
    Reply
  4. E
    elefterios
    Jun 23, 2017 at 4:04 am
    There will be zero tolerance with FYROM. If Zaev wanted to mend relations with Greece he would have announced the demolition of the grotesque Italian made Hellenic reproduction statues that litter the FYROM landscape, the renaming of the airport in Skopje, the renaming of the highway, the renaming of the football stadium, the removal of the repulsive Baroque Hellenic style facades, the correcting of school carriculum, the removal of the Hellenic symbol on the national flag, the removal of all greater Macedonia maps from government ins utions and a heartfelt apolgy to the nation of Greece for his nation being vile for the last two and a half decades. Cultural theft cannot be forgiven easily. Actions speak louder than words. Greeks do not want to hear politicians trying new age diplomacy that they learnt in their political science classes. Dimitrov, Šekerinska, Zaevand all the Slavic Fyromians currently running FYROM are just as dogmatic about an exclusivity of the name as the Gruev
    Reply
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    Brian Ghilliotti
    Jun 21, 2017 at 3:19 pm
    The Serb OC groups will also get tired of having to sell their illegal assets in dollars and other EU based fiat currencies, and then launder their funds in western banks to help sustain their solvency, as the CIA gets control over Macedonian smuggling routes and uses them to control inflation (making money disappear in the black markets) and raise revenues (selling Afghan poppy direct to distributors). The politicians who make money accepting bribes to let this happen better cooperate with the CIA new rules (fiat currencies deposits into western banks) or things might happen to them. I wonder how deep Zaev's organized crime links go? Brian Ghilliotti
    Reply
  6. B
    Brian Ghilliotti
    Jun 21, 2017 at 2:50 pm
    My last sentence was meant to read "I would not be surprised to see Albanian nationalism spread to Greece amongst the Chams next." Brian Ghilliotti
    Reply
  7. B
    Brian Ghilliotti
    Jun 21, 2017 at 2:47 pm
    Indebted Greece will let Macedonia join the EU/NATO under any name it wants, for the neoliberals behind the EU will use soft power to beat Greece into cooperating with its plans of isolating Russian influence in the region. This is about as far as the EU/NATO's will go, as it will be unable to stop Albanian separatisst demands in Macedonia or the nationalist backlash that will inevitably follow. I would be surprised to see Albanian nationalism sprea
    Reply
  8. E
    elefterios
    Jun 21, 2017 at 4:39 am
    We are getting tired of Bulgarian speaking Slavs of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia claiming antiquity and Greek history. We are getting tired of seeing grotesque Italian reproduction statues erected in this pit of a place. We are getting tired of these Slavs parading illegal flags with Greek symbols around their country. We are getting tired of reading Antiquization propaganda coming out of the deluded uneducated diaspora of Australia. We are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Bulgarian history. We are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Albanian history. we are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Serbian history. We are getting tired of seeing United Macedonian maps. We are getting tired of FYROM. The world is getting tired of FYROM. Mother Theresa. Samuel. Alexander. Phillip. Plato. Dalchev. Gruev. Thieves. False foundations have been set. Abandoned they felt by Bulgaria in 1913. Legitimacy they felt from o when he cut the umbilical cord from Bulgaria.
    Reply
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