Macedonia has extended an olive branch toward Greece by agreeing to rename its main airport and a major highway in another step toward ending a decades-old dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said after meeting his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras on January 24 in the Swiss winter resort of Davos that Skopje’s Alexander the Great Airport would be renamed, while a highway leading from his country to Greece will drop a similar moniker and instead be called the Friendship Highway.
“To demonstrate, in practice, that we are committed to finding a solution, I am announcing that we will change the name of the airport and avenues,” Zaev told reporters after the meeting, adding that a new name for the airport has yet to be determined.
Macedonia kept its communist-era name after declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. But the move angered Greece, which says it implies territorial claims to a Greek province of the same name as well as to Greece’s history.
Greece has since insisted that the country be referred to internationally as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and blocked its path to European Union and NATO membership until a solution to the dispute is found.
“The solution must be in the direction of protecting the national identity and identity of our peoples in order to show that we are committed to the process of finding a solution. Our activities show our goodwill and this testifies to the fact that we do not have any territorial aspirations towards our neighbor,” Zaev said.
Authorities from both Greece and Macedonia have said that they want to settle the issue this year and the two sides have agreed to intensify consultations, Tsipras said.
“We don’t want to just solve the issue of the name, but to put the relations of our two countries on solid foundations,” he added.
UN-mediated talks between the two countries’ chief negotiators in New York on January 17 did not produce concrete results but some name suggestions were put forward for negotiation, according to media reports.
Greece wants Macedonia to change its name — adding a modifier like “New” or “North” — to clarify that it has no claim on the neighboring Greek province of Macedonia.
However, many Greeks disagree with such a solution.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki on January 21 to show they were against the use of the word “Macedonia” in any solution to the row.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is the name under which Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations in 1993.