Negotiators of Greece and Skopje meet with Matthew Nimetz in New York – Kotzias agree to form working groups and discuss CBMs
Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA, Reuters)
Negotiators of Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Adamantios Vassilakis and Vasko Naumovski are scheduled to resume talks at the UN headquarters, on January 17, in the presence of United Nations special envoy for the name issue Matthew Nimetz. The last round of UN-mediated talks with the countries’ representatives was held in mid-December 2017 in Brussels, after a three-year stalemate.
Both sides expect Matthew Nimetz to present an initial framework that will be used to move the process essentially forward. It’s not certain if Nimetz will present any names. Following the agreement between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece Nikos Kotzias and his FYROM counterpart Nikola Dimitrov, in Thessaloniki last Thursday, it is expected to be an announcement on the working groups that the countries agreed to form, led the by foreign ministers.
According to a Greek Foreign Ministry announcement, the two ministers discussed ways to move forward with the name dispute, focusing on the methodology, the approach of the two parties and the framework related to the name issue.
“The meeting was held within the framework of the established dialogue and consultations between the two countries, directed towards strengthening the transparency and mutual trust,” the ministry said, adding that the ministers agreed to take a more direct role in the talks to overcome the difference over the name.
Kotzias and Dimitrov focused on the advancement of bilateral relations and cooperation in a wider context related to the ongoing Confidence Building Measures (CBMs).
They also exchanged views with regard to confidence building measures and other arrangements for the next meetings at high political level between the two countries.
In statements made upon his return to Skopje, Dimitrov said that both parties agreed to form working groups led by foreign ministers to directly negotiate possible solutions to the name dispute.
“I expect the first meeting could come as early as February,” Dimitrov said.
“We parted convinced that there is a will on both sides to move forward,” Dimitrov told Reuters in an interview.
The new government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev which took over last May pledged to work closer with Greece to bring his country closer to EU and Nato membership.
Under a 1995 accord, Greece agreed to allow the country to be referred to internationally only as “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” until the dispute is resolved.
“We have a huge responsibility,” Dimitrov said adding that his country is aware of concerns its neighbours may have.
“It is clear that the identity is very important for us. We have to find a way to convince our Greek colleagues that there is a clear distinction between our country and a region which includes northern Greece,” he said
Dimitrov said that fYROM, which was granted European Union candidacy status in 2005, hopes to set a date to start membership talks in June. It is also seeking an invitation to join Nato, which already includes most of its neighbours.
“I am a cautious optimist,” Dimitrov said referring to the resolution of the name dispute.
GREEK POLITICAL SPECTRUM
The launching of the negotiations has gave the signal for a new round of political arguments in Greece.
Greek government officials have suggested Greece would try to focus on brokering an agreement which calls for a compound name with a geographical qualifier, as it was the position kept by the government of Kostas Karamanlis in the NATO Summit of 2008 in Bucharest, that ended with a Greek veto blocking fYROM’s entrance to the Atlantic Alliance.
Panos Kammenos, the leader of junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL), insists of name that doesn’t include the term “Macedonia” and he has proposed holding a referendum on the name dispute.
“The Greek people will have to decide on the unprecedented, in the history of man, [decision to] cede their history and civilization to another people,” Kammenos said in an op-ed in Kyriakatiki Dimokratia newspaper to be published Sunday.
“Including the term ‘Macedonia’ in the [new] name would signal the retrenchment of Greek civilization in the centuries to come,” said Kammenos, who is also defense minister.
“There is only one Macedonia and it is Greek, like Constantine Karamanlis said. We don’t confer the Greek term ‘Macedonia’. There are Slavic terms, such as Vardarska, which can be used and which do not contain the term Macedonia, which we do not accept,” Kammenos said on Thursday.
FYROM’s name must not be ‘vehicle for irredentism,’ Alternate Foreign Minister George Katrougalos said on Saturday, appearing on an ERT public television programme.
In his interview, Katrougalos said that Athens wanted “a restoration of history; for the name that they have to be separate from the historicity of our Macedonia.”
“What we are negotiating is a name that will distinctly differentiate historic Greek Macedonia from the state of Skopje and will not serve as a vehicle for territorial ambitions against our own country, a vehicle of irredentism,” he said.
Focusing on the current debate over the issue, Katrougalos noted that there was optimism “for the first time in a long time” but “on no account a guaranteed solution.”
The minister acknowledged that such a negotiation would not be easy, given that FYROM had been building an identity around the disputed name for two or more generations, while noting that the Greek side bore a significant share of responsibility for this outcome.
Katrougalos said that a solution to the issue was needed in order to not perpetuate the current status quo, where more than 130 countries in the United Nations had adopted the name chosen by FYROM. “If we do not do anything now, the name will remain perpetually,” he said. It was in Greece’s interests to restore historical truth so that there were no areas of friction but stability in the region, he added.
The next step in the resolution of the problem will be a meeting between the negotiators of Greece and FYROM with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz next Wednesday, Katrougalos said. He noted that the two sides had decided on a parallel process, during which political consultation on the level of foreign ministers and the corresponding foreign ministry teams will be accelerated while contacts under UN auspices continue.
When the government believes that it has arrived at a solution that is in Greece’s interests, the minister added, it will present this to parliament. He also expressed his conviction that such a solution will satisfy the government’s junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL).
Katrougalos criticised main opposition New Democracy for adopting “double standards” on this issue and, with respect to positions expressed by the Church of Greece, called for respect of the separate roles of Church and State. “We count on the Church of Greece as a force in society, making it absolutely clear that foreign policy is the responsibility of governments and the state, not the Church,” he said.
Main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday he will not participate in a political leaders meeting on the name dispute, if one is called, unless the government presents a clear, unified position on the issue.
He made his remarks against the backdrop of comments by Panos Kammenos, the leader of junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL), who has repeatedly stated that he will never back a solution that includes the term “Macedonia.”
The stance of Kammenos and other ANEL officials on the matter has prompted criticism that the coalition does not have a unified stance on the issue.
Mitsotakis said that it was nonsensical for the government to ask for consensus on the matter from other parties when at the same time it engages in behind-the-scenes talks on the matter without briefing other parties and employs divisive rhetoric.
Speaking to journalists, he said the line presented by Greece in a NATO meeting in Bucharest in 2008 is the minimum requirements that the government should maintain, and reiterated New Democracy’s (ND) position: A composite name with geographic qualifiers for all uses.
Commenting on the reactions over the restart of talks on the name dispute, Mitsotakis said it is unacceptable to accuse people of being Golden Dawn voters simply because they have a “national sensitivity”. He said people are free to participate in protest rallies but added that ND founder Konstantinos Karamanlis once said, “you cannot conduct foreign policy with protest rallies”.
“Secret diplomacy and divisive language do not go together with a national consensus,” he said, as he denounced Foreign Ministry officials who have likened the stance of the Church of Greece on the name dispute to that of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.
With regard to the participation of ND officials in protest rallies over the use of the term “Macedonia” in Thessaloniki later this month, Mitsotakis said “everyone has the right to express an opinion” but clarified that foreign policy cannot be conducted via demonstrations.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos II, that the government will pursue Greece’s national interests in its name dispute with fYROM.
He was responding to the Standing Holy Synod on Wednesday which said in a press release on Wednesday that the Church “will not accept” the use of the name “Macedonia” as part of a solution to the name issue.
“On the issue of our relations with FYROM, allow me to assure you that my government is determined to handle it with a sense of national responsibility, firm defense of national interests, and by pursuing relations of peace, cooperation and friendship with all peoples of the region,” he said in a letter to the Archbishop.
Tsipras said the government will take into account the concerns of the Church and called for national unity.
“I believe you will agree with the view that, on national issues, we need wide national unity. And national unity is based on prudence, dialogue, respect for different views, but also distinct roles. It is undermined by cries, manifestations of intolerance and extreme reactions which, in the name of the nation, have led to national defeats in the past,” he added.