Feverish diplomatic activity is scheduled for this month on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) naming issue, with both very public, high-level bilateral meetings and secret talks.
Firstly, there have in recent days been rumours from Skopje of a planned meeting between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, on the sidelines of the 23-26 January World Economic Summit at Davos, Switzerland, though Mr. Tsipras’ participation has not been publicly confirmed as yet.
FYROM’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Bujan Osmani, is due in Athens tomorrow for a working lunch with Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, where some of the groundwork will be laid for upcoming talks.
The veteran UN representative on the FYROM naming issue, Matthew Nimetz, has invited the negotiators for both sides to meet in New York on 19 January, and it is considered possible that he will table a proposed settlement.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of Nato, is scheduled to visit Skopje on 17-18 January, in order to underline the Alliance’s longstanding eagerness to induct FYROM into its ranks.
The Greek foreign ministry website says that Athens’ official position is in favour of “a compound name with a geographical qualifier before the word “Macedonia”, which will be used in relation to everyone (erga omnes), for all uses domestic and international.”
But Mr. Kotzias recently has avoided reference to a geographic marker or to the demand that the new name be used in all circumstances.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos underlined that the government’s red line is the one adopted by the Karamanlis government at the April, 2007, Nato summit in Bucharest, essentially the use of a geographic marker along with the name Macedonia.
At the same time, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, Independent Greeks leader and Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, appears to be softening his categorical opposition to any use of the name Macedonia by FYROM, and is veering in recent statements towards the line presented at Bucharest.
Name first, then ethnicity, language
Sources tell To Vima that talks being conducted secretly could lead to a name without a geographic marker but which will be written with the Cyrillic spelling of Macedonia, such as Nova Makedonija, which some say is on the table.
It is believed that Athens is not pressing for a revision of the country’s constitutional name, which means there would be no name change domestically.
It appears that the two sides are planning to resolve the name issue and the breadth of its use first, allowing FYROM to be invited to join Nato at the 11-12 July summit.
The thorny issues of national identity and language, whether there is indeed a Macedonian language and culture, will be left for later.
Secret brainstorming at Oxford
A secret meeting of Greek academics and diplomats at Oxford University’s South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX) research centre on 18 November. Details were not publicised at the time.
However, a paper published on 12 December by the European Council on Foreign Relations, entitled “Resolving the Macedonian Name Dispute: Prospect for a Transformative Mutual Recognition” reflects the consensus at the Oxford meeting.
The paper argues for a permanent, new name for international use but not domestic, and states that “identity monopoly” (ethnicity and language) should be avoided.
The authors appear to prefer the name New Macedonia, or the more Slavic rendition, Nova Macedonia.