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Macedonia tiff all Greek to NATO, EU

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2011

Macedonia is 20 years old, if you're talking about the former Yugoslav republic. Or it's thousands of years old, if you're talking ancient history.

The country clearly has an identity crisis.

Now the leader of a new political party in Macedonia believes she has a way to solve the problem and end a diplomatic dispute with neighboring Greece - which objects to its name, its symbols and its claims to the past.

Gabriela Arsova-Miloshevska, founder and chairwoman of the new Republican Alliance, wants to change the country's name, flag, seal, national anthem and, she hopes, its future.

"I believe that people are ready for something different," she said in a recent interview.

Ms. Arsova-Miloshevska, a former member of the ruling conservative party's executive committee, said she supports the current government's quest for membership in the European Union and NATO but added that Macedonia first must solve domestic disputes and settle its disagreements with Greece.

"To achieve integration in Europe, we must first achieve integration at home," she said,.

Macedonia, with a ethnically diverse population of 2 million, is one of seven states to emerge from the rubble of Yugoslavia in 1991. However, it ran into an immediate conflict with Greece, which has a northern province also named Macedonia.

Both countries have ancient claims to Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great, arguably the most famous military leader of the ancient world.

Greece objected to Macedonia's membership in the United Nations until it agreed to enter under the temporary, if cumbersome, name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Greece also demands that Macedonia change its name to something acceptable to Athens before Macedonia is admitted to the European Union.

Greece, a NATO member, also has sway over Macedonia's desire to join the Western military alliance.

"People want to get into the EU, but they don't want to resolve the problem of the name," Ms. Arsova-Miloshevska said.

"So we have to explain to them why this is important because without resolving this problem, there is not going to be economic growth."

She also said Macedonia needs a new flag. The current one was redesigned in 1995 because of a dispute with Greece about a historical symbol related to Philip and Alexander, but the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about a quarter of the population, has largely rejected the new flag.

"We would like to ask everybody [for their ideas on a new flag] and see the different options," she said.

The national anthem also needs to go.

"The national anthem we have now is from when the Macedonians were fighting against the Turks," she said, referring to the conflict with the Ottoman Turkish Empire before World War I.

"It's fixed in one period in time."

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