What's in a name? In Macedonia, this is no easy question.
In an interview, Macedonia's new president, Gjorge Ivanov, says he hopes to resolve a long-simmering name dispute with Greece.
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"When will this region tire of the sickening excessive nationalism that generates such carnage?" Mr. Biden asked, during a speech Thursday in neighboring Kosovo.
A changing of the guard
The chronic antagonism between President Ivanov's predecessor, Branko Crvenkovski, and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski stymied cooperation on reaching a unified negotiating position for tackling the name dispute; unhelpfully, both leaders publicly attacked each other's proposals.
Longtime chief of the rival Social Democratic Party of Macedonia (SDSM), Mr. Crvenkovski was politically opposed to the ruling party and its government. (Since stepping down upon President Ivanov's inauguration, Crvenkovski has returned to the SDSM, and intends to restore the once-powerful party's sagging fortunes).
After the VMRO-DPMNE won parliamentary elections in 2006 and again in 2008, the animosity between Gruevski and Crvenkovski became a comfortable excuse for not solving the name dispute.
However, with his nominating party controlling both government and parliament, Ivanov acknowledges that "now, there is no excuse for any of us to not solve the major problems facing the country" – including the name dispute.
Indeed, Mr. Gruevski, Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Milososki, and the president recently met to create a common strategy for future name-dispute negotiations.
Nevertheless, foreign diplomats often sigh in despair at the apparently insurmountable gulf between the Greek and Macedonian positions.
Various proposed "compromise names" have been rejected by either Athens or Skopje. Other issues have also started to creep in, such as arguments over Macedonian identity and language, Greece's contested Macedonian minority, and arcane spats over ancient history and Alexander the Great.
Keeping it simple
According to Ivanov, such extraneous issues should be avoided; here, he echoes the American position expressed by US Ambassador Philip Reeker, who recently told Macedonian media that "the issue is [simply] about the name; that's why we call it a 'name' issue."
Ivanov is grateful for America's support, and plans to visit Macedonian troops supporting US peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan.
In his spacious office, Ivanov prominently displays the first flag flown over the recently opened American Embassy in Skopje – a personal gift from Ambassador Reeker. A colossal structure overlooking the River Vardar, the embassy seems to reaffirm America's strong commitment here.