Vucic: We will resolve problem of Serbs and Albanians (Tanjug)
“We want to resolve the problem of Serbs and Albanians and this will be the essence of the policy that we will conduct, because we want to have lasting peace and stability,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. He says he is concerned over the political situation in Pristina in regard to the special court for KLA crimes, and stressed that Belgrade will do everything to overcome all problems peacefully. “We are ready to talk in Brussels and in any other place, under the UN auspices, we wish to discuss all problems,” said Vucic. However, he thinks there is no sense in discussing individual problems of people in the Kosovo authorities. “Because if we talk with international community representatives, let it not always be justification – hey, you Serbia, you have an easy situation, so come and talk, but you need to understand all those who have a difficult situation. Why do we care what is their internal situation,” said Vucic.
Concerning threats of certain Pristina politicians in regard to the beginning of the work of the special court for KLA crimes, Vucic reiterated that the most important thing is to preserve peace for our people in Kosovo and Metohija. “Even though we do not have factual authority, we are doing everything we can. I am grateful to KFOR from which we had received important information,” he said. Vucic says there will be no early parliamentary elections. He says he doesn’t have a problem with the fact that the SNS votes internally on early parliamentary elections, but he thinks he will not be outvoted. He says he understands Nebojsa Stefanovic and other party officials and their arguments in favor or early parliamentary elections, and referred to research that states that the SNS would win 44.5 percent of the votes in Belgrade and parliamentary elections.
Dacic: Difficult talks on Kosovo await us (Blic)
Difficult talks on a lasting solution for Kosovo await Serbia this year, having in mind that we need to preserve state and national interests in conditions when there are big pressures, conditioning and blackmailing that we will slow down the EU path this way, said Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic. He told Blic in an interview that the entire story is conditioned with Kosovo and it is always a struggle when chapters are being opened. “If somebody thinks that we will accept the unilateral act that has already been passed, I think that these are completely unrealistic expectations,” said Dacic. He thinks that there must be a compromise between the Serbs and Albanians. He adds that we are ready for this, but we are not ready for somebody to expect us to accept everything that somebody has passed unilaterally, such as self-declaration of independence of Kosovo and Metohija. Dacic says it is not realistic to expect a resolution of the Kosovo issue for the end of this year. “Who has ever mentioned 2018 as the crucial year? These are fairy talks,” he said. He conveyed to Pristina: “You need to realize that there is no solution without agreement with Belgrade, on which nobody can exert pressure, to agree with a solution that is not in line with Serbian interests. If they think otherwise, they don’t know the Serb people,” said Dacic. Asked what our proposal is, Dacic says the internal dialogue on Kosovo is led by President Vucic, and that his personal opinion is that one needs to find a practical solution that will eliminate the conflict of the two nations. “I don’t know, we need to reach this. If we agree with this, it doesn’t matter who of the state organs will do this in the formal sense,” concluded Dacic.
Selakovic: Goal of declaration is preserving of insignia and identity (RTS)
The draft of the joint declaration of the RS and Serbia on the survival of the Serbian people has been completed, General Secretary of the Serbian President Nikola Selakovic told RTS, adding that it should ensure activities on preserving the Serbian language and script. The dialogue on Kosovo and Metohija will continue, and it is important for people to have the right to an opinion that is not only political, said Selakovic.
Vucic to respond to accusations on 14 January (Tanjug)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will not be commenting on a statement by Metropolitan Amfilohije until 14 January, when he will make an appearance on the RTS and speak about this and other accusations against him and his team. Tanjug made several attempts on Monday to obtain Vucic’s comment on the statement, but the office of the president said Vucic would not be speaking about this until 14 January.
Djuric: Amfilohije’s statements – ordered attack (TV Pink/Tanjug)
The statements of Amfilohije against the Serbian President are an ordered attacked and disqualify everyone who represents this way the church authorities, the Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has told TV Pink. “I personally think that at issue is an ordered attack and an act that, I repeat, disqualifies anyone who represents this way the church authorities, makes her/him a person that deals with opposition political acting in a vulgar and inappropriate manner,” said Djuric. Historically viewing, Amfilohije has always supported, politically, the option the result of which is that there have always been less Serbs in Montenegro and other parts.
Djuric says that Serbia has not been consulted when the special court for KLA crimes was established, and that now, when the problem has been created, this needs to be resolved between Pristina and the international community. Asked to comment the attempt of suspending this court in the Kosovo Assembly, Djuric says that Serbia supports the punishment of all criminals, but that the international community has entrusted Pristina the establishment of the special court. “Has the international community cooperated more with us and had it extradited those demanded by us, I am sure that today there would be less political and other problems and less terrorism,” said Djuric. He recalled that the international community entrusted the establishment of the court to those whom this court needs to process and that it is now surprised that these same people now wish to abolish it. “They didn’t calls us then, do not call us now when they are quarrelling with those with whom they had agreed on this. Of course we will always support the prosecution of war crimes and insist on those responsible to be punished,” said Djuric. He says Hashim Thaqi pardoned three former KLA members indicted of murdering the Hajra family, and that this is the atmosphere that reflects the state of mind presently. “They sent a strong message that crimes against the Serbs is not punished. It hurts me and it is not humane that nobody from the international community has been reacting to something like that,” concluded Djuric.
Mihajlovic: Kosovo is not a topic where Amfilohije will divide people on patriots and traitors (Tanjug)
“The issue of Kosovo should not be an issue around which anyone, including Metropolitan Amfilohije, will divide us on traitors and patriots, but an issue around which we all need to gather in order to find the best solution for our citizens and Serbia’s future,” said Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlovic. She adds that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is the last person in Serbia who can be told that he doesn’t care about Kosovo and our citizens who live there. “Compared to some others who used Kosovo for gaining political points, but also for acquiring big money, while more and more Serbs have been leaving Kosovo, Vucic is concretely helping survival and safety of our citizens. The best results are that most children are being born in Kosovo and that there hasn’t been one single ethnically motivated murder of our citizens,” says Mihajlovic. She expects that, as the internal dialogue comes to an end, so will attacks of nationalists against Vucic increase. “President Vucic has great support of citizens for the European policy and policy of peace and regional cooperation that it conducts and he will not give up on it. As he has already stated several times, the President will not interfere in church matters, just as Metropolitan Amfilohije will not conduct the state policy of Serbia,” said Mihajlovic.
Appeal for Defense of Kosovo and Metohija presented (FoNet)
The Appeal for the Defense of Kosovo and Metohija, which was signed by178 representatives of the scientific, public and cultural life in Serbia, and which was launched by the political council of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), was presented in Belgrade on Friday. The President of the DSS political council Milos Kovic has stated that the Appeal, whose signatories are mostly not linked to any party, has been created as a response of part of the public to the ambiguous and disturbing messages that have been arriving over the past months from the highest circles of authorities when it comes to Kosovo. Kovic says that the authorities in Serbia has publicly stated that Serbia has the obligation to sign the legally-binding agreement on normalization of relations with Kosovo and that it is preparing to give Kosovo UN membership under certain conditions, but they are unknown. He says that our authorities have publicly sent a message that they accepted Kosovo’s UN membership, said Kovic. He says that this is why the ley message of the Appeal is to prevent this and that the solution of the Kosovo issue needs to be a result of talks of Serbs and Albanians that will satisfy or not completely dissatisfy both sides.
SNS: Political show of DSS (Tanjug)
The DSS has demonstrated that it has not up to the struggle for Serbian state and national interests in Kosovo and Metohija in crucial moments and the Appeal that it presented is proof that this party has not learned anything from its past failures, the SNS assessed. Today’s political show of the DSS was a parade of populism and it lacks seriousness and feeling for the reality, the SNS assessed. “One of the goals of the internal dialogue is for the topic of Kosovo and Metohija raise from the sphere of daily politics and populism to the level of serious comprehensive strategic thinking, however, the DSS document and the manner in which it was presented, the purpose has not been fulfilled,” states the SNS.
Egypt could withdraw decision to recognize Kosovo (Novosti)
Egypt could withdraw its decision to recognize Kosovo, Novosti writes on Monday. The report cites an article published several days earlier by one of the best-known and respected Egyptian and Arab journalists Abdel Latif El Menawy. The article in the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm was published under the headline, “Is it time to reexamine the Brotherhood’s decision?”. Cairo recognized Kosovo on 26June 2013, while the Muslim Brotherhood was still in power – only days before the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohamed Morsi. Novosti now writes that the blind alley Egypt has been led to by the Muslim Brotherhood by the recognition of Kosovo has been “somewhat improved” by the current authorities, as they have not yet, even five years after the recognition, established either diplomatic nor economic relations with Pristina, nor opened embassies. The author of the Al-Masry Al-Youm article therefore suggests that Egypt could try to fix the damage and reexamine the decision made by the Muslim Brotherhood, made in order to please the United States. Novosti also writes today that it learned the Serbian authorities will in the coming months go through the list of all the countries that have recognized Kosovo in detail, to determine their own list of those who could potentially reexamine that decision, and that a large-scale diplomatic campaign will soon follow. The Serbian Foreign Ministry also said that officials from Oman, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Uganda, Sao Tome and Principe repeatedly denied Pristina’s claim that these countries ever recognized Kosovo.
Dodik calls on Ivanic to secure participation of B&H AF in marking of RS Day (ATV)
RS President Milorad Dodik sent a letter to Serb member of B&H Presidency Mladen Ivanic on Friday, asking him to secure participation of Serb members of B&H Armed Forces (AF) in marking of January 9 as the RS Day. “I expect your answer to be in the shortest possible time, in order to comply with all the necessary procedures and to put the unit of the Serb soldiers from the B&H Armed Forces at the head of the parade in honor of the RS,” said Dodik.
Ivanic: Request should have been submitted at least 30 days before event (TV1/N1)
Ivanic responded to Dodik’s letter, stating that he has to deny his request, due to the fact that the request was not submitted within the prescribed deadline, which states that the request must be submitted thirty days before the celebration. Ivanic stated that the Third Infantry Regiment of the B&H AF could be invited in the same way as last year, where they were personal escort of Ivanic, but Ivanic emphasized that he is aware of the fact that Dodik would not agree to such a thing. “At the time when you had the chance to submit this request, you publicly stated that you did not want the presence of the Third Infantry Regiment at the celebration of 9 January. Today’s move of submitting the request to me personally, and not to the relevant institutions, only a couple of days before the celebration, shows that you (Dodik) are trying to transfer the blame from yourself to me, so I inform you that I am more than ready to take the responsibility for my actions, but I will not do the same for your actions,” said Ivanic in a letter response to Dodik.
Ivanic: RS created as will of Serb people (Nezavisne)
Commenting the upcoming RS Day, Mladen Ivanic stated that the RS represents a guarantee for survival and independence of the Serb people. “We are protected by our institutions, and not individuals. That is the reason why it is necessary to pay utmost attention to the RS Day and to reach unity of all political structures,” said Ivanic.
NATO HQ: Participation of B&H AF members in solemn activities must be in line with law regulations (Dnevni avaz)
NATO HQ Sarajevo reiterated their stance in a statement for the daily, noting that they expect every participation of B&H AF units in solemn activities to be in accordance with law regulations. “Participation of individual members of B&H AF in all solemn activities, including the RS Day, must be exclusively under the approval of chain of command and must be in line with corresponding regulations,” the NATO HQ stated.
Covic: To complete changes to Election Law’ (EuroBlic)
The leader of HDZ B&H Dragan Covic said that changes to the Election Law of B&H are key task that needs to be completed. He noted that European path of B&H has suffered because of politicians’ inability to agree on changes to Election Law, and that it is also the reason why B&H has not provided all the answers to questions from the European Commission’s Questionnaire. “We can present much more defined infrastructural plans for the next four years, because I am sure that at the end of this cycle, B&H will be on the EU’s doorstep,” Covic said.
Slovenia wants European Commission to pressure Croatia on border arbitration (Index)
Slovenian President Borut Pahor said on Thursday that the Croatian government should, by formal or informal channels, send a message to Ljubljana and Brussels stating that it is ready to comply with the arbitral judgment, which could calm the current tensions and bring about the final agreement on the arbitration implementation, reports Index.hr. “The issue of the implementation of the arbitral judgment is possible to resolve with a patient dialogue, and if Croatia sends a message that it accepts the border as defined by the arbitration as soon as possible,” Pahor said in his speech to Slovenian diplomats, who are convened on two days of regular consultations at Brdo near Kranj. Pahor explained that, in to his opinion, the Croatian government should send such a message via official or unofficial channels and from a credible source to Ljubljana and Brussels, which would then allow the agreement of the two governments on the final delimitation. A more active role in this process by the European Commission would also be desirable, the Slovenian President said. He added that this would be his central message to the EU and NATO leaders with whom he was scheduled to meet in Brussels at the beginning of next week, during his first international visit after his recent re-election as Slovenian President. “I think it would be useful to involve the European Commission more actively in the effort to implement the border decision, since it, in a certain way, took part in the initial arbitration agreement,” said the Slovenian President, who signed the arbitration agreement on behalf of Slovenia back in 2009. He was the Slovenian Prime Minister at the time, and he signed the agreement together with his Croatian counterpart Jadranka Kosor. At that time, the border arbitration was Slovenia’s condition for its assent for the continuation of Croatia’s accession negotiations with the European Union. “In order to improve the political atmosphere with Croatia and to implement the judgment in a peaceful manner, it would be useful for the neighboring state to send, on or off the record, officially or unofficially, a message as soon as possible that the arbitration decision is binding for it as well,” he added. Pahor said that such a move by Croatia would relieve the current pressure created after the six-month deadline for the arbitration implementation passed. “Such a message from a credible source in Zagreb should be sent simultaneously to Ljubljana and Brussels,” Pahor concluded.
Solving border disputes precondition for EU membership of Croatia’s neighbours (Jutarnji list)
After the experience with Slovenia and Croatia, the EU does not want to deal with another border dispute. Macedonia is the only country in the former Yugoslavia which has no open border issues with its neighbours. That does not mean that Macedonia has no problems in relations with its neighbours, but they are not related to the determination of the state borders, reports Jutarnji List on January 6, 2018. If we exclude Macedonia, all other former Yugoslavia republics have open border issues with their neighbours, but only with those who were once also an integral part of the former state. Starting from Slovenia, which has border issues with Croatia, to Croatia and B&H, Montenegro and Serbia, and all the way to Kosovo, there are numerous disputes, and they are not easy to solve. On the other hand, no state from the territory of the former Yugoslavia has any border issues with the countries which were neighbours of the former Yugoslavia. The reason is that former Yugoslavia had solved all its border disputes, so now only formerly internal issues remain. No republic of the former Yugoslavia should be criticised for creating border problems. These issues have remained as the legacy of the former state, and it is not easy for anyone to agree to the position of their neighbours. Populists and nationalists often resort to these issues in order to accuse the governments of selling or giving away territory, and these problems are always difficult to solve. Why would then the European Union demand that border issues have to be resolved as a precondition for joining the Union? The answer is obvious if we look at the EU experience with Slovenia, which has blocked accession negotiations of Croatia for years. Although the EU did not agree with the Slovenian blockade and said the EU membership should not be abused as a means of resolving bilateral disputes, the EU did not have a real answer to the Slovenian blockade, which was lifted only after Croatia and Slovenia had reached an agreement to settle the dispute via international arbitration. And just when the EU began to sell this agreement to the Western Balkan countries as a good example of solving the most difficult disputes, it was discovered that Slovenian diplomats had illegally attempted to influence arbitrators, and Croatia then used that fact as an excuse to leave the arbitration proceedings. The result is a new problem – Slovenia and Croatia are now in dispute whether to accept and implement the arbitration judgment. Under the EU pressure, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo and Montenegro came to a demarcation agreement. But, this created an additional problem for the citizens of Kosovo, who have become hostages in Europe, since they are the only ones who still need visas to enter the EU. The ratification of the border agreement in the Kosovo parliament is a condition without which the EU will not abolish the visas. And, many experts and the opposition parties warn that, according to their interpretation, Kosovo would lose more than 8,000 hectares of land, which is why the parliament never had sufficient majority to ratify the treaty. Since the solution of border disputes has not been a precondition for other countries to have visas lifted, Kosovo rightly considers itself to be discriminated against. But the EU says that they have “learned the lesson” and now know that it is necessary to resolve all border disputes as soon as possible. If Slovenia and Croatia, former allies in Austro-Hungary and communist Yugoslavia, are in such strong dispute over the border, what will happen between Croatia and Serbia, or Serbia and Kosovo, if these issues are not resolved in time? The Croatian-Slovenian example is a warning that disputes need to be solved in time. That is why the European Union now insists that, before the end of the negotiations, aspirants for EU membership must solve such problems because “the EU does not want and will not import such bilateral disputes.” “There are still important bilateral disputes between the countries of the region which need to be resolved. The European Union will not import such disputes. A permanent solution needs to be found before a country enters the EU. All states have to unambiguously commit themselves to overcoming the legacies of the past in order to achieve reconciliation and solve open issues much before EU accession,” says a draft of the European Commission’s strategy on a credible prospect of enlargement to the Western Balkans.
The schedule, which foresees the membership of Montenegro and Serbia in the Union by 2025, states that all border disputes have to be resolved before the conclusion of the accession negotiations. There is also an alternative that the decision can be made by international bodies, such as the International Court of Justice or arbitration, but only with a clear commitment that the final decision will be accepted. Croatia has adopted a political declaration in the parliament that it will help its neighbours on their way to the European Union and not use its membership to put up barriers due to bilateral disputes. The Union wants each country in the region to be firmly committed to assisting neighbours and not to set obstacles. And states have enough time to resolve all the problems, at least five years for Montenegro and Serbia, and much more for other countries. Also, in order to join the European Union, these countries have to meet even more difficult conditions, so border disputes might ultimately prove to be the easiest part of the job.
Montenegro influenced neighboring countries on their EU path (Dnevne novine)
Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic says Montenegro has been irretrievably aspiring to the European integrations and Western system of values and that’s why it won’t allow anyone to exert influence. In an interview for the Christmas edition of Dnevne novine, he tells no one can compare Montenegro with countries that have just started with their EU negotiations. Asked about his expectations in 2018, in terms of Montenegro’s and Western Balkans’ European perspective, Markovic says this year Montenegro is to enter into process of closing negotiating chapters, as the final phase of the Euro-integrations, which will confirm the vision of the Montenegrin ruling party of 2006, i.e. joining the EU as the best answer to challenges. He said that the above-mentioned vision was clearly determined in the 2006 referendum and the Independence Declaration. When it comes to Montenegro’s NATO membership, Markovic said, being a NATO member state, our country has been recognized as steady investment environment in foreign countries. Also, NATO membership gives Montenegro a more capable fighting force to resist security threats. In his opinion, this directly reflects on the investment climate in Montenegro, and it’s of crucial importance to understand that neither the NATO nor the EU membership can provide better standard of living immediately. These memberships should be gathered as a new chance for business and youth, esp. in this initial phase of NATO membership. As for the energy policy, Markovic stated there won’t be any changes in Montenegro’s fundamental principles referring to the energy policy, i.e. it will continue with valorizing its great energy potentials. He mentioned that the country implemented some serious structural reforms and reflected on the project of connecting Montenegro with Italy by a submarine power cable, which is in its final phase. According to Markovic, our country is to become a significant energy hub of the whole region.
Metropolitan Amfilohije: Vucic’s policy may lead to betrayal of Serbia and Kosovo (Dan)
In his Christmas interview with TV Novi, Metropolitan Amfilohije stated the Appeal for Defense of Kosovo and Metohija was written and he himself signed it. The Appeal represents continuation of a document written in the 1980’s, when the Pec Patriarchate was devastated.
“This Appeal serves as a reminder to those who took over power in Serbia. They must not give up on themselves. Montenegro has already given up its origins. The same has been expected from Serbia and Vucic. Given the actions he has been performing so far, we had to write a Request,” Metropolitan Amfilohije explained. He said his relations with Montenegrin and Serbian governments are the same. “I’ve never had any conflict with Vucic. He told journalists I had described him as a traitor. Those were not my words. Now I’m afraid his policy may lead to betrayal of Serbia and Kosovo, and that he’s changed a lot,” stated Metropolitan Amfilohije.
Zaev: Readiness exists both in Skopje and Athens to find solution by mid-2018 (MIA)
I have no intention either to sell or buy anything, no one have asked me to change the names of roads or airport. It is possible that the name dispute to be resolved through a compromise by the middle of 2018, for which there is a willingness on both sides to substantially consider the problem, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said in the interview with the MKD.MK portal. Asked to what extent is Macedonia ready to make compromise, Zaev said to where the benefits will be worth plus for Macedonia and to where Greece will go in the compromise. Both sides must make concessions and by this to create benefits and at the end to give hands and to be partners under European flag. I remind that for this issue we will seek national consensus, participation and consent by political factors and of course from the citizens. My optimism is based on what I feel as preparedness from the Greek side through meetings with Kotzias, but also from the talks I had with Prime Minister Tsipras and as a general assessment of the political manner in Greece. I am glad that the image of Macedonia in Greece has improved. I believe that by fully preserving our dignity we will be able to find a solution, Zaev said. According to him, it is early to discuss proposals, but it is expected that there will be frequent meetings aimed at finding a solution to the name issue. He underlined that aimed at finding a solution, both sides should make concessions, or both to be equally happy, or both to be equally unhappy. However, solution should be found. I am happy about positive messages coming from Greece and that they are much more prepared for a solution than before. Macedonia is also much more prepared and we are showing it, probably with learned lessons from the past, the cost that state pays by losing young people, migration and the slowdown in the overall processes. These are the only reasons for us and for Greece to make maximum efforts to find a solution. What is new is building friendship and not allowing from our side to be an excuse for not solving the problem. At the same time, I am glad that the Greek side is really cautious. All this gives hope and optimism that, if we are courageous enough and patriotic towards our countries and to look at the prospects and the future, to take responsibility and solve this, Zaev underlined. In regard to what will happen if name dispute will not be resolved by end of June, Zaev said that he does not think that it will not be resolved, but if it is not resolved then instead of us in Europe, we will have to bring Europe here. Zaev reaffirmed his determination this problem to be solved together with the opposition and the president, but in relation to finding a solution and holding of a referendum for confirmation from the citizens, not in relation to prolonging or blocking this process.
Boshnjakovski: We will not be bidding with the name until we will have something concrete (Meta)
Until there is a concrete and specific proposal we shall not be bidding with potential names, said today at the press conference the government’s spokesperson Mile Boshnjakovski regarding the talks between Macedonia and Greece regarding the name dispute. “At the moment, there aren’t any talks about a potential name but we are working intensively on building measures of trust. All that has been happening in the past period is directed towards this goal. The government expects all other decisions to be synchronized and in accordance with both sides and shall provide the blueprint for the planned dynamics of Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integrative processes. Now we are building the trust among both governments, between the institutions that would, as a result, reflect on the citizens and the general public,” said the government’s spokesperson. When asked whether the government is considering to change the name of the airport in Skopje, Boshnjakovski said that the government is clear about its stance about not having any prejudices to talk about all issues and solutions that will mean the promotion of the relations with Greece and are of benefit for the citizens. The government’s spokesperson also confirmed that Prime Minister Zaev will take part in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where Macedonia hasn’t participated since 2003.
Greece’s ruling SYRIZA advocates mutually acceptable, composite name for settling Skopje-Athens dispute (MIA)
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras chaired Friday a meeting of the political council of Greece’s ruling SYRIZA to discuss the latest developments related to the Skopje-Athens name dispute, MIA correspondent reports from Athens. In a press release issued afterwards, SYRIZA reiterates the Greek government’s stance on the name dispute – ‘a mutually acceptable solution for a composite name for all uses.’ ‘SYRIZA’s political council supports the government’s efforts to utilize the opportunity to find a solution to the long-standing national issue, inherited by former administrations. SYRIZA is firmly committed to a mutually acceptable solution for a composite name for all uses,’ the press release reads. The upgrading of Greece’s geopolitical position and the consolidation of stability, democracy and peace in the wider Balkan region are the overriding goals of the government and the party, in the context of an active and multidimensional foreign policy, the party said.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Commission expects ‘concrete’ results on Macedonian name dispute (EurActiv, by Sarantis Michalopoulos, 5 January 2018)
The European Commission welcomed the action taken by the government in Skopje to end a 25-year stalemate on a name dispute with Greece and now hopes to see “concrete results”, a spokesperson told EURACTIV.com on Thursday (4 January). Maintaining good relations between neighbours, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, remains essential, the Commission official underscored. “In this regard, we welcome the steps taken by the government to engage in discussions with their counterparts in Greece to strengthen good neighbourly relations and we hope this will translate into further concrete results,” the spokesperson added. The left-wing governments in Athens and in Skopje are optimistic about the resolution of an issue that has prevented the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) from entering the EU as well as NATO. “I am optimistic that we can effectively and responsibly handle an issue that the previous governments have bequeathed to us, and to the extent that there is a real desire from the other side to take steps […] but we still have to see them,” Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said. Along the same line, FYROM’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said in a press conference last week in Thessaloniki that a solution is feasible, and that a date could be set to begin accession negotiations with the EU.
The country’s internationally recognised name is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), but Skopje would prefer to be called Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek province. In 2012, Bulgaria joined Greece in vetoing the opening of EU accession talks with FYROM, despite a positive recommendation by the European Commission. Several attempts have been made over the last years to find a solution to the issue, but both governments have failed to reach a compromise so far. But this time, analysts claim that there is positive political momentum since two left-wing governments are in power that have abandoned hard-line positions of the past. In an interview with EURACTIV in September 2013, Radmila Šekerinska, a FYROM socialist former deputy prime minister responsible for European affairs, and the current minister of defence, said that the then conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (Vmro-Dpmne-EPP) used the name issue stalemate as an excuse “for some of our domestic so-called reformers not to deliver on any of the necessary changes to society”.
Asked about the “perfect name” for her, Šekerinska replied, “When I was little I was complaining that I dislike my name, but then I realised that having a rare name actually helps. So time is an element. As a citizen of this country – and I was raised in it under the name of Macedonia – I really do not understand the Greek position. But international politics just like domestic politics must sometimes solve a problem which seems irrational.” Greece also considers Skopje to be misappropriating its ancient history. The airport in Skopje, for example, was named after Alexander the Great, who Greece sees as a hero of its ancient history. Athens was also disturbed by Gruevski’s Skopje 2014 project, when his government spent hundreds of millions of euros to build monuments depicting historical figures from the region of Macedonia.
But Social Democrat (SDSM) Zaev recently expressed his intention to break from that path.
“I give up (the claim) of Macedonia being the sole heir to Alexander. The history belongs not only to us but also to Greece and many other countries,” he said in December.
What analysts say
According to David L. Phillips, the director of the program on peace-building and rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, a solution on the name dispute would be beneficial for many actors. “Tsipras would garner prestige and respect as a strong leader,” he said in an op-ed published in Kathimerini newspaper. “Resolving issues with Macedonia would strengthen Greece’s sovereignty at a time when Turkey is demanding to upgrade the Lausanne Treaty, which created the boundaries of modern Greece and making designs on Greek territory in Western Thrace,” he added. Regarding FYROM, Philips noted that a solution would open the door to Euro-Atlantic institutions, which will consolidate their democracy, free-market reforms, and fight against corruption. According to Phillips, who worked as a senior adviser to the State Department during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, the US wants to deepen cooperation with both countries to stem the tide of radicalisation and extremism in the Western Balkans. “Washington wants to expand its military presence in Greece and set up new bases in the country. Improved cooperation can also help manage the possibility of another refugee and migrant crisis,” he said, adding that the EU, while dealing with Brexit, needs to show it is still viable as a proponent of peace in south-eastern Europe and beyond.
Bickering Greek politicians
In the meantime, the issue has sparked intense discussion in Athens between the government and the right-wing opposition party New Democracy. Greece pushes for a compound name before the word “Macedonia”, which will be used in relation to everyone (erga omnes). Following a meeting with top government officials on Wednesday (3 January), Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Kotzias emphasised this position, which was underlined at the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit. At that summit, the then right-wing Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis (New Democracy-EPP) blocked the country’s bid to join NATO under its provisional name of FYROM. “We are in favor of an understanding with all the parties and political forces of the country, with every personality and every citizen who is interested and who wants solutions to the issues that have dealt with the country, in order to open up a better future, without problems of the past oppressing the policies of our country,” he said. But New Democracy blames the government for not having a common position on the issue. Particularly, Panos Kammenos, the leader of the center-right junior coalition partner Independent Greeks and former New Democracy member, implied that he would not accept any solution containing the Greek term “Macedonia”. He added, though, that he fully trusted the foreign affairs minister to handle the matter. On the other hand, the conservative opposition threatened with a motion of no confidence in the event of a non-common position between the government partners. Dora Bakoyanni, a former minister of foreign affairs and the sister of New Democracy’s current leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, stressed that unless there was a common position of the government majority, her party would not support the Greek proposal, even if it agrees with it. However, the opposition later toned down its rhetoric and argued that the government should be more responsible. The Independent Greeks said that New Democracy was trying to destabilise the government in order to hide its internal divisions on the issue. Kammenos noted that Bakoyanni undermined Karamanlis at the 2008 NATO summit in Romania.
Secret talks over FYROM naming issue (To Vima, by Angelos Athanasopoulos, 8 January 2018)
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.