Greece-Macedonia Name Talks Begin Again

As promised last month, a new round of discussions between representatives from Greece and its contentiously-named neighbor to the north was undertaken this week. The bar was set low, with the modest goal, according to American UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, of creating “a more positive climate” in the often rancorous negotiations of how to reform the currently cumbersome name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). In that light, having a “good, solid discussion” with no new proposals was certainly preferable to hitting upon some debilitating snag.

The issue, for those who have not been following closely, is that Greece’s northernmost province is also called Macedonia. It’s not out of possible confusion that Athens objects to the name “Macedonia” for the country, though. Particularly given the province’s large Macedonian minority (as in, FYROMians) and its historic significance (the provenance of Alexander the Great, for instance), Greece worries that Skopje may have designs on annexing its territory.

I must observe, though, even setting aside the silliness of this overblown fear — if Greece blocked its objection to Macedonian entry into NATO, for example, would NATO really permit a member’s takeover of territory of another sovereign nation? — the irony of the situation. While Greece is supposedly making a big deal out of the name controversy to avoid geopolitical strife, plenty of such strife is occurring in the very process of choosing a different name. I mean, when one country has already taken the other to an international court over the issue, relations can’t get much worse.

Plus, this proposal, though probably unorthodox, strikes me as reasonable:

Skopje is expected to continue insisting on the so called double name formula including one name for international use and another for bilateral relations with Athens. Greece on the other hand wants Macedonia to change its name and use the new name everywhere…

If Athens is truly worried about the bilateral implications of using the name “Macedonia,” then shouldn’t its concerns be relieved by Skopje’s pledge to use a different name in interactions with Greece? And frankly, short of outright invasion, I don’t think the rest of the world is particularly suspicious of a country and a bordering region sharing a name.

Now if one of these countries were China, of course, and the other Taiwan Chinese Taipei, we’d likely have a much easier solution.

(image of Alexander the Great statue in Macedonia, from flickr user Dime01 under a Creative Commons license)