What’s In a Name

Macedonia’s unresolved title has been an
obstacle to Balkan stability.

By Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

On May 8, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) for the first time in its history marked Europe Day. A few weeks earlier, foreign minister Ilinka Mitreva met with ambassadors of NATO countries to emphasize her country’s serious aspirations to become a member of the transatlantic security network.

A candidate country for European Union membership since December 2005, and lobbying for a positive signal from the NATO summit in Riga this fall, FYROM is actively preparing to become a full member of the international community. But one crucial precondition of this process is still missing — the country is still referred to by its transitional name, FYROM.

As a senior member of the House International Relations Committee and dear friend of the Greek people, I am troubled by the unresolved dispute over the name used to identify this West Balkan nation. Finding an internationally acknowledged name could bring substantial stability to the region and pave the way for further integration of FYROM into the international community.

Since FYROM declared its independence in 1991, it has asserted its right to be recognized as the Republic of Macedonia. Greece has objected to this name, saying it causes confusion with regard to the Greek region of Macedonia. Even though Greece and the FYROM have been consistently consolidating their relationship, and Greece, being FYROM’s leading trade and investment partner, just recently confirmed its support for FYROM’s EU membership, the name issue continues to be an irritant.

This dispute has slowed Greece’s efforts to help FYROM through far more consequential problems in the region. Greece, recently referred to by Condoleezza Rice as America’s “best friend in the Balkans,” is the region’s giant in terms of democracy, economic investment, security, and stability. Over 3,500 Greek firms are already operating in the Balkans; Greek investment exceeds $10 billion and trade exceeds $4 billion; and Greece’s GDP is twice as large as the combined GDP of the six other Balkan countries. Greece’s full engagement will be necessary for success in the Balkans.

It is now time to solve the only serious obstacle remaining: the name issue.

I welcome the Bush administration’s efforts to deepen their diplomatic engagement in the Balkans, as illustrated by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, when he testified on Capitol Hill earlier this year. As former U.S. ambassador to Greece and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Burns knows the Greek and Balkan sensitivities involved in the name issue very well.

I view the undersecretary’s engagement as a positive signal that the U.S. will return to a more balanced approach to the name dispute. In November 2004, the Colin Powell-led State Department decided to suddenly change its policy and recognize FYROM as “The Republic of Macedonia,” a step which caused great dismay to Greece. NATO, the EU, and the U.N. continued using the name “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”

In a letter I recently sent to Secretary of State Rice, I noted that “it is important that our government return its focus to solving this difficult name issue and to helping officials in FYROM understand now that their domestic vote issue has passed, they must move back to sincerely trying to find a name that is acceptable to both sides.”

An American engagement makes sense for a number of reasons. The Administration’s switch in title recognition for FYROM was not a change of principle. All along the U.S. has maintained that FYROM’s final name should be acceptable to Greece, and we have encouraged the U.N. and others to maintain that position.

In March, the Greek government also accepted as a basis for negotiations a title presented by the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General, Matthew Nimetz. He recommended “Republika Makedonija” for domestic use and “Republika Makedonija-Skopje” for international use.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has played a small but symbolic role with regard to the Global War on Terror and our mission in Iraq. FYROM employs troops in Iraq and also supports the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has encouraged FYROM’s preparations for NATO membership by signing the Adriatic Charter initiative, which underlines Albania’s, Croatia’s, and FYROM’s dedication to strengthening their individual and cooperative efforts to intensify and hasten domestic reforms which enhance the security, prosperity, and stability of the region.

As a member of the Hellenic Caucus, I have co-sponsored various pieces of legislation encouraging the involved parties to find a mutually acceptable name for the FYROM. One such bill received more cosponsors than 97 percent of 809 House resolutions introduced in the 109th Congress. For the benefit of FYROM and the benefit of the region, the U.N.’s proposal should be accepted as a basis for serious negotiation. I am confident that Greece and FYROM can negotiate a mutually acceptable win-win title for both countries.

Peace and stability in the Balkans are crucially important to the United States and resolving the FYROM name dispute will be an essential step toward this goal.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee as well as the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia.

(Posting date 27 July 2006)

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