Greece mulls Macedonia gesture to solve name row

Greece mulls Macedonia gesture to solve name row

ATHENS – Agence France-Presse
Greece mulls Macedonia gesture to solve name row

Greece on Jan. 25 reacted cautiously to an offer by Macedonia to rename its airport and main highway in a bid to end a long-running name row, with commentators warning that “deep divisions” remained between the countries.

Athens argues that its neighbor’s use of the name Macedonia suggests Skopje has territorial claims to Greece’s historic northern region of the same name going back to when Alexander the Great ruled in the fourth century BC.

However, there have been recent signs of a renewed effort to finally settle the 27-year-old dispute.

After a first-ever meeting with Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras at Davos, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Jan. 24 that his country would rename Skopje’s Alexander the Great airport to show its “strong commitment” to ending the row.

Zaev added that the north-south Alexander the Great motorway ending at the Greek border will be renamed “Friendship Highway.”

Macedonian government spokesman Mile Bosnjakovski said the new airport name and date for the switch have “not yet been decided.”

A Greek government source hailed the “frank talks” but the opposition was more skeptical.

“Such moves can easily be rescinded by a future government in Skopje,” said shadow foreign minister Yiorgos Koumoutsakos of the main opposition conservative New Democracy Party.

Stavros Theodorakis, head of the pro-EU To Potami party, said the name changes were “welcome and necessary” but similar moves were required in the Macedonian constitution -- but Zaev’s parliamentary majority is too small to ensure that.

Pro-government Ethnos daily said the two leaders were “ready to cut the Gordian Knot” -- another reference to Alexander.

However, the critical Ta Nea newspaper said Tsipras had opened the “path to return for a sign and two roads.”

Liberal daily Kathimerini noted the “goodwill gesture” but said “deep differences” remained, with Zaev reportedly admitting that a constitution change is “very difficult.”

Greece’s objections to its neighbor becoming independent in 1991 as Macedonia -- the name the former Yugoslav province has used since the 1940s -- have hampered the tiny nation’s bid to join the European Union and NATO.

Macedonia gained entry to the United Nations in 1993 only under the provisional name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The United Nations said Jan. 24 that U.N. envoy Matthew Nimetz would travel to Greece and Macedonia next week to push for a solution.
Delegates from both nations first met in New York last week.

On Jan. 21, tens of thousands of people protested in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki against any deal allowing Macedonia to keep its constitutional name.