The FINANCIAL — Greek Foreign Minister Nokos Kotzias is visiting Skopje on August 31 for talks expected to focus on building trust, as relations between Greece and Macedonia remain strained by a decades-long dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name.
Athens has long insisted that the name Macedonia should only be used for its own northern province, and it has vetoed Skopje’s attempts to join NATO and to start accession talks with the European Union over the dispute, according to RFE/RL.
As a result, Athens, Brussels, and the United Nations all refer to the Balkan country as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Ahead of Kotzias’s one-day visit, a source from Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying that the talks will focus on improving cooperation in the spheres of economy, transport, infrastructure, and energy.
The source told BIRN that any discussion on the name dispute will wait until after the local elections in Macedonia in October.
In Greece, local media cited unnamed sources in Greece’s Foreign Ministry as saying that Athens would use the visit to “feel the pulse” of the Macedonian government, which came to power at the end of May.
Macedonia’s new government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has pledged to speed up the country’s bid to join NATO and the EU.
“I’m here to ask for your support,” Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov told Kotzias during a visit to Athens in June. “I’m convinced that you have the leverage in your hands and this leverage can help toward closing the way for the one open issue.”
Kotzias said that Athens would support Macedonia’s integration “in every way, once the name issue has been resolved.”
“That is a prerequisite and I believe we must — and can — work toward a good compromise benefiting both sides,” he added.
The name issue came to the fore after Macedonia gained independence in the 1990s following the collapse of Yugoslavia.
Greece claims a historical right to the name because the heart of Alexander the Great’s ancient kingdom lies in its northern province of Macedonia.
Greece also says that Macedonia’s use of the name could imply territorial claims on parts of its territory.
With reporting by BIRN and Reuters