Alexander the Great airport of Skopje, in an image of January 19, 2018
The prospect of joining the European Union does not change the minds of the Macedonians, who are rather reluctant to change the name of their country to resolve their dispute with Greece.
On Sunday a demonstration by Greek nationalists opposed to an agreement is planned in Thessaloniki, but the Macedonians are equally reluctant.
And that „there is no plan B“, repeated this week in Skopje the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg.
The conflict, which arose with the independence in 1991 of this former Yugoslav Republic of 2 million inhabitants, must be resolved in order to integrate NATO and the EU.
Greece, member of both organizations, puts it as a condition. For the Greeks, Macedonia is the name of its northern province and its usurpation – they say – conceals Skopje’s territorial ambitions.
Another point of friction is the historical legacy of Alexander the Great that both claim.
The fall of the nationalist right and the coming to power in the spring of a coalition led by the Social Democrats relaunched the dialogue.
This week, the UN declared itself „very optimistic“, while the Macedonian prime minister, Zoran Zaev, is betting on a solution „before the end of the first half of 2018“.
In Macedonia, the Albanian minority (between 20 and 25% of the population) applauds it. The Macedonians (Slavs) are more divided.
„I’m Macedonian!“ Exclaims Done Stojanoski, a 67-year-old retired merchant. „And why not change the name of the Americans?“ He adds.
Circulate the hypothesis of a new name: „Upper Macedonia“, „Northern Macedonia“, „Macedonia-Skopje“, „New Macedonia“. „No and no!“ Replies indignant Vlatko Andreevski, a 32-year-old farmer from Prilep (center). „How can I let them call me Normachonius!“ He exclaims.
– Pragmatism and prosperity –
But in a country with a mass exodus, an unemployment rate of more than 20% and an average salary that does not exceed 350 euros, many are tempted by the pragmatism and promises of prosperity in the EU.
Accepting a name change „would put us at the top of the list to integrate both NATO and the EU, politicians must solve it,“ says Gani Rahmani, a 49-year-old waiter.
There are few surveys, but one of June 2016 reflects this ambivalence: seven out of ten Macedonians are favorable to EU membership (66.7%) or NATO (70.7%), but a large majority (64, 8% against 28.3%) rejects a name change.
The most willing to compromise put conditions: Liljana Stoilova, horticultora of 43 years, would accept to be a citizen of „Macedonia of the north as long as we are still Macedonian and our language is Macedonian“.
„We are and will continue to be Macedonians,“ Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov promised this week.
– The devil hides in the details –
Location of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the Greek Province of Macedonia
Many lament the government’s lack of transparency about the negotiations, but political scientist Nano Ruzin defends it: „Going into the details could cause another failure“.
For example: if a new name were adopted, would it be of international use or also in the territory, in the official documents?
This subject is much more delicate than the Alexander the Great airport in Skopje. Nano Ruzin is convinced that he will „change his name“.
And „some changes are necessary from an aesthetic point of view,“ says the political scientist, who is careful not to mention the giant statue of Alexander the Great in the central square of Skopje.
Ali Ahmeti, leader of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI in Albanian, UDI in Macedonian), estimates that it will be necessary to „remove some monuments“. He is in favor of the change of name, but with limits: „For the Albanians, the names of Slavic Republic or National Republic of Macedonia will be unacceptable.“