For a solution in the dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to be possible, the name of Greece’s northern neighbour must not be a “vehicle for irredentism,” Alternate Foreign Minister George Katrougalos said on Saturday, appearing on an ERT public television programme.
In his interview, Katrougalos said that Athens wanted “a restoration of history; for the name that they have to be separate from the historicity of our Macedonia.”
“What we are negotiating is a name that will distinctly differentiate historic Greek Macedonia from the state of Skopje and will not serve as a vehicle for territorial ambitions against our own country, a vehicle of irredentism,” he said.
Focusing on the current debate over the issue, Katrougalos noted that there was optimism “for the first time in a long time” but “on no account a guaranteed solution.”
The minister acknowledged that such a negotiation would not be easy, given that FYROM had been building an identity around the disputed name for two or more generations, while noting that the Greek side bore a significant share of responsibility for this outcome.
Katrougalos said that a solution to the issue was needed in order to not perpetuate the current status quo, where more than 130 countries in the United Nations had adopted the name chosen by FYROM. “If we do not do anything now, the name will remain perpetually,” he said. It was in Greece’s interests to restore historical truth so that there were no areas of friction but stability in the region, he added.
The next step in the resolution of the problem will be a meeting between the negotiators of Greece and FYROM with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz next Wednesday, Katrougalos said. He noted that the two sides had decided on a parallel process, during which political consultation on the level of foreign ministers and the corresponding foreign ministry teams will be accelerated while contacts under UN auspices continue.
When the government believes that it has arrived at a solution that is in Greece’s interests, the minister added, it will present this to parliament. He also expressed his conviction that such a solution will satisfy the government’s junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL).
Katrougalos criticised main opposition New Democracy for adopting “double standards” on this issue and, with respect to positions expressed by the Church of Greece, called for respect of the separate roles of Church and State. “We count on the Church of Greece as a force in society, making it absolutely clear that foreign policy is the responsibility of governments and the state, not the Church,” he said.