Back in January, we published an online debate asking “Can the Macedonia name dispute be resolved?”. The post attracted hundreds of comments and plenty of interest from our readers, but we were forced to lock the debate after just one week because it became too rowdy and difficult to moderate. Today, we’re trying again – so please keep your comments civil and respectful!
Briefly: the “Macedonia Name Dispute” is a disagreement between Greece and its Northern neighbour about who can rightfully use the name “Macedonia”. The Greek government argues that the use the name “Republic of Macedonia” by its neighbour (which was formed after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia) is historically innacurate, and would leave Greece open to territorial disputes between Skopje and a region of Northern Greece also called Macedonia. In response, Athens has blocked Macedonian membership of both NATO and the EU until the dispute is resolved.
In our post back in January, the overwhelming majority of commenters (both from inside and outside the region) were negative about the prospects for a settlement in the near future. Many felt that the dispute could never be overcome because the two sides had grown too entrenched in their respective positions.
On the one hand, Jason argued that:
The issue cannot be solved as long as Greece continues to insist that they – and they alone – are entitled to tell another country and another people what they can call themselves.
Salvatore, on the other hand, felt that:
The stubborn and irrational attitude by the FYROM prohibits the whole process of negotiations from resolving the issue.
This is plainly a topic that many of you care deeply about, so we contacted the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia (or “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”) and asked them to respond. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikola Poposki, agreed to a video interview, and you can see his responses to your comments below (Minister Poposki belongs to the ruling VMRO–DPMNE party, which has observer status with the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament).
We began by asking him to respond in general to the negative attitude of our commenters. Are they right to be so pessimistic, or does he see a way through the dispute (as well as various other diplomatic spats with neighbouring countries – including with Bulgaria, who recently opposed the setting of a date for the start of EU accession talks).
Next, we had a comment from Slavko, arguing that:
To solve [the dispute], Macedonians will have to change their identity, and polls consistently show that the vast majority are against a name change. The Macedonian Government simply does not have a mandate to change the identity of its people.
Could the same be said of popular opinion in Greece? Is Slavko right to argue that, even with the best will in the world from the governments negotiating a resolution, public opinion is so divided that there is no popular mandate for the sort of concessions that might be necessary for a settlement?
Then, we took a question from Florian, who says countries in the Western Balkans should expect a long wait for EU membership:
I am sure political leaders in the Western Balkans understand the EU’s current predicament and that they have the patience and determination to stay the integration course, even if that might entail a ten-year delay regarding their aspirations.
But is Florian right about the patience of political leaders in Macedonia?
Finally, we had a question from Nikolai, who argues that the EU is currently in a “state of flux”, and it is unclear whether it may be heading towards a more federal model, a looser union, or something else entirely. Nikolai wonders if it wouldn’t be wiser for countries to know exactly what they were joining before they signed up to accession talks.
What do YOU think? Are you optimistic that the “Macedonia Name Dispute” will eventually be resolved? Or is there too much disagreement between the general population on both sides, regardless of whether the governments can find agreement. Will political leaders have the patience to stay the course, even if EU accession negotiations drag on for many more years? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their response.