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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In a fractious region where minority rights and ethnic grievances still simmer, there's clearly more at stake than nomenclature. Greeks call their northern neighbors "Slavo-Macedonians," evoking modern Macedonians' Slavic roots. Macedonians consider this demeaning because, among other things, the name excludes non-Slavic minorities like Albanians and Turks – groups comprising more than 30 percent of Macedonia's population.
The new president is keenly aware of such dangers. "If we follow the logic of addressing questions that were not originally part of the talks, like identity and language, we are addressing subjects that divide, not unite," he notes, referring to Macedonia's multiethnic character, and the celebrated old French concept of a salade Macédoine.
"There are different ingredients in the salad," quips the president. "Nevertheless, each one keeps its unique flavor."
Time for action?
According to Ivanov, the government's team will intensify activities following Greece's June European Parliament elections. Although Greek media has reported that UN mediator Matthew Nimitz will visit both countries next month, with summer holidays about to begin, it's likely that real talks won't start until autumn.
While avoiding specifics, the president notes two key conditions for a resolution.
Macedonia seeks a "reasonable compromise," he says, not one reached "under pressure or coercion – but a compromise made according to the Macedonian constitution, by which the sovereign right of the citizens to agree is respected, by referendum."
The idea of a final referendum was originally broached by Prime Minister Gruevski, and is as much about smart politicking as public rights.
Any solution the government might agree to with the Greeks, leaders fear, will inevitably be criticized by the opposition as "anti-Macedonian."
The same holds true for Greek internal politics. Any solution agreed by the Greek government is bound to be assailed as national betrayal by the domestic opposition, meaning a public referendum could be called there also.
And, if Greece's rumored 2009 parliamentary elections do occur, name negotiations will again be postponed.
Currently, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis's Nea Dimokratia party, battered by corruption scandals and social unrest, holds a slim parliamentary majority.
Behind the scenes, international diplomats are already courting the rival PASOK center-left party – conceivably, reempowered with the next elections.
Meanwhile, Macedonia's new president has been undertaking his own diplomatic endeavors.