SKOPJE, Macedonia – Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Saturday he is ready to go ahead with a new name for his country in order to solve a decades-long name dispute with Greece and pave the way for full integration of the small Balkan country into the European Union and NATO.
But Greek political leaders briefed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rejected the Macedonian proposal outright and the Greek government itself, in a response to Zaev’s remarks, was evasive about the particular name proposal.
Zaev said that “Republic of Ilindenska Macedonia” is the compromise name acceptable to both sides. The adjective “Ilindenska,” meaning, literally, “the day of the prophet Elijah” refers to a 1903 uprising against Turkish occupiers.
“With this possible solution, we preserve the dignity, we confirm and strengthen our Macedonian identity,” Zaev said, but added that final say on the new name will be put to a referendum.
Zaev reiterated that Macedonia has no territorial claims to its southern neighbor and confirmed the inviolability of the borders. “Macedonia is ready to confirm this in all necessary ways,” Zaev said.
Macedonia was a part of the former Yugoslavia and declared independence in 1991. Greece claims the country’s name implies territorial designs on its northern province of Macedonia.
He also said that with the new name proposal “we make a complete distinction with the Macedonia region in Greece”.
In Athens, premier Tsipras briefed Greece’s president and opposition leaders. All the opposition leaders said the name “Ilinden Macedonia” was unacceptable because, as Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas said, it is “neither a geographical nor a temporal” designation, as agreed in nearly two decades of talks mediated by the United Nations. Some opposition leaders called the proposal a provocation on Macedonia’s part.
A statement released by the Greek government reflected its ambivalence about the name.
“We welcome the acceptance by (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) that a solution to the nomenclature cannot exist without the adoption of … a name for all uses,” the statement said, meaning that Macedonians could not simply call their country “Macedonia” domestically, while having another name for international use.
“However, we encourage our neighbors to continue working together to find a commonly accepted name with a geographical or temporal designation, just as the package of proposals tabled by the UN Special Envoy, Matthew Nimetz, also provides,” the Greek statement added.
Zaev did not have an easy time with his country’s opposition leaders, either.
The leader of the main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party Hristijan Mickoski said after meeting with Zaev that his party is against the name change. He reiterated that his party will not support a change of the constitution and of Macedonia’s constitutional name “Republic of Macedonia”.
Zaev has urged Macedonians to support the proposed name.
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