Boris Grdanoski/AP
Gjorge Ivanov

Macedonian Presidential Election Winner Seeks to Quell Naming Dispute

April 07, 2009 02:00 PM
by Anne Szustek
Gjorge Ivanov, the candidate from Macedonia's ruling party, won the country's presidential election by a landslide. Now on his agenda: ironing out the country's naming dispute with Greece.

Ivanov Wins Macedonia Election; Vows to Tackle Macedonia-Greece Name Issue

Gjorge Ivanov, the candidate of Macedonia's majority party, the center-right VMRO-DPMNE, won Sunday's presidential election with more than 60 percent of the vote. The election, which was heavily monitored by international authorities, was largely peaceful. Macedonians had hoped that holding fair elections would encourage the European Union to grant the nation membership. However, the Voice of America quoted Erwan Fouere, the EU ambassador to Macedonia, as saying that there were “reports of a lot of irregularities in the Struga area.”

Another potential barrier to EU, as well as NATO, membership, is the country's naming dispute with its neighbor Greece.

In Macedonia, the role of president is largely ceremonial, although foreign policy does come under the office's purview. And the Greece-Macedonia name issue is at the top of Ivanov's diplomatic to-do list.

Background: Greece and Macedonia's name debate

Since its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the country known colloquially as Macedonia has been at odds with its neighbor Greece over its name. The newer Macedonia sits at the United Nations as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” or “FYROM” for short.

But Macedonia is already the name of a Greek province, known as the homeland of Alexander the Great. Greece says the use of the name is an affront to its territorial sovereignty and has effectively vetoed Macedonia's entrance into NATO into the alliance because of the name dispute. “As long as the neighboring country persists in a position of intransigence, the answer is ‘no solution means no invitation,’” Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in March 2008.

In November, the country known as Macedonia filed proceedings against Greece in the International Court of Justice, alleging that the latter country’s move violated the Interim Accord of September 13, 1995.

The Greek Foreign Ministry clearly outlines its positions on the naming issue in a statement on its Web site: “The choice of the name Macedonia by FYROM directly raises the issue of usurpation of the cultural heritage of a neighboring country. To call only the Slavo-Macedonians ‘Macedonians’ monopolizes the name for the Slavo-Macedonians.”

Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki pointed out in a March 2008 Newsweek article, however, that Greece did not name its province Macedonia until 1988, years after the Yugoslav republic had been using the name.

“They still have a concept of a pure nation—one state, one nation, one religion, one culture, everything Greek. And they do not want to recognize that in Greece there is a big Turkish minority, a big Albanian minority and one small Macedonian minority. So the name issue started in 1991 because they were afraid independent Macedonia would somehow influence this minority rights issue,” Milososki continued.

In a 2007 clip from Greek network Skai TV, Greek and Macedonian students debated the name issue at a panel at Anatolian College in Thessaloniki, Greece. A Macedonian student says, “Alexander of Macedonia has been dead for 3,000 years … so many people have come through here … You just need to live in Macedonia to call yourself Macedonian.”

An ethnic Greek retorted that no Greek politician will allow Macedonia entry into the European Union or NATO, saying, “I am a real Macedonian, and I’m not like you.”

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Key Player: Gjorge Ivanov (1960-)

Gjorge Ivanov, born 1960, is a political scientist at Skopje University, located in the city for which it is named. Ivanov also considers Skopje, Macedonia's capital and largest city, his permanent residence.

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