After an intervention from the Macedonian Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Financial Times changed the title and the lede in its article on Macedonia. The original version quoted newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Nikola Dimitrov who announced that Macedonia “considers name change in effort to join Nato” and went on to say that “Macedonia will consider changing its name in an effort to unlock Greek opposition to its Nato membership, the country’s foreign minister has said”.
In the new version, changed on request from the Macedonia Foreign Ministry, Dimitrov is quoted as saying that Macedonia considers using the interim reference name to join NATO.
The difference is significant, as Macedonia successfully sued Greece for violating the 1995 Interim Accord, in which Greece renounced its veto right over Macedonia’s membership in NATO, the European Union and other international institutions, provided that Macedonia uses the temporary reference name “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. In 2011 the ICJ found that Greece violated this article of the Interim Accord when it vetoed Macedonia’s membership in NATO at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, and Dimitrov was involved in the litigation at the ICJ. Since then, Macedonian Governments have maintained that Greece must respect the ICJ verdict and should immediately allow Macedonia to join NATO as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. Greece, on the other hand, dismisses the ICJ verdict and insists that it still has the right to veto Macedonia’s NATO and EU integration, until Macedonia accepts a new name that would be used in all instances, including domestically. A statement of a Macedonian Foreign Minister that the country considers changing the name to join NATO would be a serious step down from this position.
Further in the interview, Dimitrov said that membership of the alliance would help calm the wider Balkan region after months of political tension that occasionally spilled into bloodshed. “Mr Dimitrov said he would meet Greek ministers on Wednesday to restore trust between the two neighbours after Athens vetoed the Balkan republic’s Nato application in 2008. ‘I will ask Greece to reconsider what kind of neighbour they want — do they want a stable, friendly country that offers hope for democracy and justice?’ he said in an interview. ‘If we are a good ‘neighbour, then hopefully political forces in Greece will realise this is a historic opportunity.”, the Financial Times writes.
According to the paper, Greece sees the new, SDSM led Government in Macedonia, as more cooperative than the VMRO-DPMNE led Government, but still sees no need for a hasty solution to the name issue. “There are grounds now for more optimism and we’re hoping for progress when our foreign ministers meet in Athens next week. This is an issue that has been on the table for more than two decades and it would be rash to make any prediction”, a Greek official told the Financial Times. The paper says that any move would meet opposition from the nationalist ANEL party, which is party of the ruling Greek coalition, but also from a lesser known nationalist wing within the main ruling SYRIZA party. While in opposition, the far left SYRIZA said it would allow Macedonia to call itself what it wants, but once it assumed power in 2015, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras changed his position.
Dimitrov told the Financial Times that any agreement on a new name would be put to a referendum in Macedonia, and would be introduced in inter-party consultations. Unnamed commentators told the Financial Times that the process could last for up to a year, and was sparked by the renewed Russian push in the Balkans, including the attempted coup in Montenegro.
“The Balkans is not a very happy place; in many places, people feel there is a chance to change the status of the post-Yugoslav war settlements. By welcoming Macedonia, Nato could have a calming effect on the region”, Dimitrov told the Financial Times.