Serbia, Macedonia Leaders to Tackle Church Row

The dispute between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox churches will be on the agenda during Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic’s two-day visit to Macedonia.President Nikolic and his Macedonian counterpart, Gjorge Ivanov, at their meeting on Friday will among other issues “tackle the row between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox churches”, a source in the Macedonian presidential cabinet said.

Nikolic rekindled hopes of a breakthrough in the complex dispute, saying he was ready to engage personally in finding a solution, and claiming a way out of the church problem was possible if both countries held open talks.

“Macedonia so far did not know how to solve this problem, or maybe lacked an interlocutor on the Serbian side. Today, it has an interlocutor in Serbia and that’s me,” Nikolic said recently.

“I respect the Serbian Church sufficiently and the people there sufficiently respect me back so that we can solve this problem,” Nikolic added.

The Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox Churches are locked in a long-standing dispute over the Serbian Church’s refusal to acknowledge the Macedonian Church’s autocephaly, or ecclesiastical independence.

The Serbs say the Macedonian Church should remain under their jurisdiction, as it did before 1967. The Serbian Church says the most that it will concede is autonomy.

As a consequence of the dispute, the Macedonian Church has not been officially recognised by most of the rest of the Orthodox world.

Nikolic’s other recent statement, expressing “understanding” for Macedonia in its problems with Greece over its name, caused stir in another area, angering Athens, a traditional Serbian ally.

Nikolic’s words were not “compatible with the high level of relations between our two countries and the longstanding support Greece has provided for Serbia in difficult times”, Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Dalavekouras said in Athens on Thursday.

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.

During his visit, Serbia’s Nikolic will also meet the Macedonian Parliament Speaker Trajko Veljanovski and visit ethnic Serbian villages and families in Macedonia.

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