Ban Ki-moon’s visit this month is stirring speculation about new initiatives in the dispute over Macedonia’s name – though few expect the fact-finding trip to result in a breakthrough.Ban Ki-moon arrives in Skopje on 25 July as part of a tour of Western Balkan countries from July 19 to 26.
He has said that he will be accompanied in Skopje by his mediator in the “name” dispute, US diplomat Matthew Nimetz.
“This name issue continues for too long”, Ki-moon said recently, urging Greece and Macedonia to show more “flexibility” in reaching a solution.The UN Secretary General will also visit Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo.
In Macedonia he will meet President Gjorge Ivanov and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. He will also address parliament after having met the Speaker, Trajko Veljanoski.
The Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, downplayed talk of new initiatives concerning the name dispute with Greece.
“I don’t think there will be any new negotiations, Ban Ki-moon is visiting Macedonia in order to make his own analysis, examine details and problems and so on,” Gruevski said.
However, he added that “anything can happen” and that “there may be a pleasant surprise”, not specifying what that surprise might be.
Relations between Macedonia and Greece have been strained for two decades by the row over Macedonia’s name.
Greece insists that use of the term “Macedonia” implies a territorial claim to its own northern province of the same name. Citing the unresolved issue, Greece has repeatedly blocked Macedonia’s progress towards both EU and NATO membership.
UN-brokered talks to overcome the dispute have failed to result in a solution and there have been no fresh talks for over a year, partly owing to the complicated situation in Greece.
Ban Ki-moon’s visit comes at a time of fresh friction between Skopje and Athens.
In June, Greek border guards angered Macedonians by placing stickers on Macedonian cars entering Greece, covering the initials “MK” and reading: “Recognized by Greece as FYROM” [Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia].
Macedonians resent use of the acronym “FYROM”, finding it demeaning.
Later that month, Gruevski angered Athens by accusing Greece of having waged “political genocide” against Macedonia for 20 years, referring to the Greek diplomatic blockade of Macedonia and its denial of Macedonia’s name and identity.