• Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019
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Macedonian PM open to dialogue on name

  • Published at 03:05 am December 17th, 2015

The Macedonian prime minister says he would be open to changing his country’s name, raising hopes of an end to one of the world’s most unusual diplomatic spats – a 24-year linguistic dispute with Greece.

At its founding in 1991, when it declared independence from Yugoslavia, the country formally referred to itself as the Republic of Macedonia – to the fury of many Greeks, who feel that their northern neighbours stole the name from the eponymous Greek province that lies directly to the south of the Macedonian-Greek border.

Now the Macedonian prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, says he is willing to reopen dialogue on the issue with Greece – providing that any potential name-change is put to a plebiscite in Macedonia. “We are ready to discuss, to open dialogue with them, and to find some solution,” Gruevski said in an interview with the Guardian.

Greece has long accused Macedonia of appropriating significant aspects of Hellenic culture in order to build the national identity of a predominantly Slavic state, not least the sun symbol that inspired the Macedonian flag, and the ancient hero, Alexander the Great, after whom the main Macedonian airport is named.

The dispute prompted Greece to block its neighbour from joining both Nato and EU, and led the UN to refer to Macedonia as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia until the disagreement is resolved. Mooted name-changes have included adding qualifying words such as “upper” or “new” to Macedonia’s formal description – but no alteration has ever been agreed.

After years of intransigence on both sides, Macedonia’s leader has now implied he may be prepared to cede further ground to Greece, nearly two-and-a-half decades after the dispute first began in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Greece has long accused Macedonia of appropriating significant aspects of Hellenic culture in order to build the national identity of a predominantly Slavic state, not least the sun symbol that inspired the Macedonian flag, and the ancient hero, Alexander the Great, after whom the main Macedonian airport is named.

The dispute prompted Greece to block its neighbour from joining both Nato and EU, and led the UN to refer to Macedonia as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia until the disagreement is resolved. Mooted name-changes have included adding qualifying words such as “upper” or “new” to Macedonia’s formal description – but no alteration has ever been agreed.

After years of intransigence on both sides, Macedonia’s leader has now implied he may be prepared to cede further ground to Greece, nearly two-and-a-half decades after the dispute first began in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia.