‘Some distance’ left to solve Macedonia name row: Greece

‘Some distance’ left to solve Macedonia name row: Greece

ATHENS
‘Some distance’ left to solve Macedonia name row: Greece

Greece said on May 15 that there was still “some distance” left to resolve a quarter-century name row with neighboring Macedonia, as the two countries’ leaders prepare to meet this week.

Expectations of a deal rose this week as a meeting in Sofia was announced between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonia counterpart Zoran Zaev on May 11.

But Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos insisted on May 14 that “another round may be needed to cover the distance separating the two sides.”

“There is still some distance to cover,” Tzanakopoulos told reporters.

Officials had previously said that the two leaders would only meet if there was a chance of an accord.

The long-running name dispute between Macedonia and Greece dates back to 1991, when Skopje declared independence following the collapse of communist Yugoslavia.

Athens objects to Macedonia’s name because it has its own northern province called Macedonia, and fears it may imply territorial ambitions.

The spat has hampered Macedonia’s ambitions to join the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

“Thursday’s meeting between the prime minister and his counterpart Mr Zaev will be particularly useful and important, but we cannot anticipate an accord,” Tzanakopoulos said.

A Macedonia government source confirmed on May 15 that the main remaining difficulty is over the official name of the landlocked Balkan country’s language.

Greece wants any changes to be enshrined in a revised Macedonian constitution, which Zaev’s government currently lacks the parliamentary majority to enforce.

Tzanakopoulos left open the possibility of an international treaty setting out a binding roadmap for future constitutional revision.

When the two leaders last met in Davos, Switzerland in January, Zaev made a gesture of conciliation in renaming Alexander the Great airport in Skopje, a name that had long riled the Greeks.

The motorway linking Macedonia with Greece was also renamed the Friendship Highway.

Because of the dispute, Macedonia was forced to join the United Nations under the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Greek veto threats have also hampered Skopje’s bid to become a member of the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

Among possible new names, Gorna Makedonija or Upper Macedonia is the most frequently mentioned.

Greece, Macedonia, name row