SKOPJE – Macedonia and Greece committed Thursday to improving relations strained for more than two decades by a dispute over Macedonia’s name.
Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias told reporters that their governments were committed to working on good relations and regional cooperation.
The change comes after Prime Minister Zoran Zaev formed what he has billed as a reformist coalition government this spring. He has vowed to improve relations with neighbors of the Balkan country officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, abbreviated to FYROM, the name with which it was recognized by the United Nations after Yugoslavia’s breakup in 1991.
“I told Kotzias that I hope that Greece will recognize the new reality in Macedonia and our expressed desire for friendship,” Dimitrov said.
Pleased to welcome FM @NikosKotzias! We had an honest discussion – the only way to build long-lasting trust and friendship. pic.twitter.com/64W6vBbO3r
— Nikola Dimitrov (@Dimitrov_Nikola) 31 de agosto de 2017
Referring to Macedonia as “our dear neighbor in the north,” Kotzias said that Greece was ready to assist Macedonia on its path toward full membership in the European Union and NATO once the name dispute is resolved.
Kotzias also met Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
According to a statement issued by Ivanov’s office, the president urged Kotzias to speed up confidence building measures. It said he added that “the biggest measure that will affect mutual trust … is if Greece unblocks Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic processes,” referring to the country’s bids to join the EU and NATO.
Republic of #Macedonia towards fully-fledged #NATO membership – the topic but also the spirit of today’s conference. pic.twitter.com/MJS85SHc2W
— MFA Macedonia 🇲🇰 (@MFA_Macedonia) 30 de agosto de 2017
During the meeting between Dimitrov and Kotzias, a group of about 50 people held a peaceful protest near the foreign ministry building, holding banners reading “No discussion on Macedonia’s name” and “No to FYROM, Yes to Macedonia.”
Macedonia and Greece have been at odds for 25 years over the name Macedonia, which Greece claims harbors territorial pretensions on Greece’s northern province of the same name. Greece blocked Macedonia from joining NATO in 2008 under its provisional name.