Greece is threatening to block Macedonia from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization because of a dispute over its name. Greece claims that Macedonia—provisionally recognized by the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), but as the Republic of Macedonia by many countries—is improperly using the name to stake a claim on the Macedonia region of Greece. (MSNBC) Macedonia’s parliament suspended a vote to change its official name to “Republic of Macedonia (Skopje),” as recommended by a U.N. mediator, after Greece declined to approve the compromise. (Reuters)
What the commentators said
“What’s in a name, you may ask?” said Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in The Wall Street Journal. For Greece, “a great deal.” The name Macedonia “has always been used” for a large geographic region, 51 percent of which is in Greece and only 38 percent in Macedonia. "Given this sensitive region’s historical baggage,” one country’s ploy to monopolize the name, and implicitly claim the whole territory, is hardly “conducive to good neighborly relations.” And good neighborly relations are “a fundamental condition” for joining NATO.
How could Macedonia have “designs on Greek territory,” said Misha Glenny in the International Herald Tribune, when it “barely has the resources to get out of bed in the morning”? Everyone but Greece sees NATO membership as “vital” for the struggling country’s basic stability. But the dispute isn’t really about “Macedonia” being “exclusively Hellenic property.” Greek Prime Minister Kosta Karmanlis’s party has “drawn a line in the sand over Macedonia’s name” to help boost its “declining popularity.”
The Balkans certainly produce “the most esoteric crises,” said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration). “Viewed from the outside,” the dispute over a name “seems hardly serious.” But minor quibbles in that region “draw on centuries of carefully nurtured slights and myths,” and they can “quickly flare into conflicts.” Greece needs to take the high road here. Clearly, “tiny Macedonia poses no threat whatsoever,” and “bringing it into the NATO fold” is good for everyone involved, including Greece.