- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The “battle for Macedonia” has been revived with a vengeance, threatening to poison Greek-American relations as well as peace and harmony in a neglected corner of the Balkans.

The center of the dispute is a trapezoid-shaped region of 2 million inhabitants that emerged from the turmoil of the former Yugoslavia as an independent nation with its ancient name of Macedonia.

The Greeks insist that it should be called “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” — FYROM for short — because “Macedonia” is an area of Greece. But the new nation was unwilling to live with the unwieldy acronym and defied Greece by calling itself Macedonia.

Last week, Greece threatened economic and political sanctions against the impoverished republic.

Matthew Nimetz, a special U.N. mediator on the issue, is expected to submit a final compromise formula. There are doubts of its acceptability by the protagonists, Athens and Skopje, the capital of the fledgling state. According to U.S. sources in Athens, Mr. Nimetz is planning to resign in November without making a dent in the dispute.

Diplomats believe that by now the stakes have been extended beyond what to outsiders was a jocular problem of semantics. It has become a tangle involving wounded Greek pride, American impatience and Macedonia’s future.

According to the Greeks, the name “Macedonia” should apply only to their northern province, where Alexander the Great was born. Using the term “Macedonia” for another country, they argue, was arrogant and even created the impression of territorial claims.

With the Greek clamor building up to block Macedonia’s (or FYROM’s) plans to join the European Union and NATO, last week for the second time the United States entered the fray when R. Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs and former ambassador to Athens, described such pressures as “shaming for Greece.”

Angry Greek politicians across the spectrum retorted with a vow to use all diplomatic weapons to defend their opposition to anything but FYROM.

Editorials in Athens questioned whether Greece should remain America’s favored and most reliable partner in the Balkans.

Last fall, Greek tempers flared when President Bush referred to “the Republic of Macedonia.” Athens interpreted it as formal recognition of the country under that name and a signal to other governments. At least 10 nations followed suit, brushing aside Greek sensitivities.

Mr. Nimetz was thinking of proposing the name “Republika Makedonija-Skopje,” but the suggestion has been rejected by the government of President Branko Crvenkovski in Skopje.

Greeks feel they should stick to their guns, if necessary blocking Macedonia’s economic lifelines to Europe and its aspiration to join NATO.

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