The Macedonia muddle

Ahead of the May 2012 Nato summit in Chicago, Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski sent from Skopje a plea for the alliance to include on its agenda an invitation for his country to join.

No seasoned observer was surprised that the item was not included on the agenda. That a previous summit, in 2008, had not produced such an invitation was the cause célèbre that led to an International Court of Justice case lodged by Skopje against Athens, complaining that Greece was in violation of a 1990s treaty.

In sum, the court found Greece had strayed from the treaty, but awarded no damages to Macedonia and issued no direction to Athens, finding that the direction that was meant to be taken in bilateral relations was spelt out in the treaty and no further word on the subject was required.

The continuing absence of an invitation to Skopje to join Nato is linked directly to the long-standing dispute between it and its southern neighbour on the use of the name “Macedonia” which, Athens insists, has been misappropriated by the former Yugoslav republic.

Skopje blames Athens for the holdout against an invitation being issued to Macedonia to join Nato, as it does in blaming Greece for allegedly obstructing its European Union membership hopes.

It is a matter of extensive record that any number of Euro-Atlantic senior leaders have appealed for an end to the dispute. After Chicago, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton – according to a report by the Voice of America – again indicated Washington’s line, that it favours a Nato that includes Macedonia, but only after the name dispute is resolved.

Playing to an audience that he continues to perceive as preoccupied above all else about what their country is called, Gruevski hit out at Nato for the latest in a series of omissions of that much-valued invitation.

“Such a policy of double standards, unprincipledness and moving away from the values they themselves publicly proclaim, I have not seen in a long time as is the case with Macedonia. They are ignoring the International Court of Justice ruling,” Gruevski said, quoted by local media in Skopje.

Media in the former Yugoslav republic’s capital variously reported that lawyers were considering lodging an identical international court action against Greece, or coming up with a new one. Around the same time, Skopje’s defence minister, Fatmir Besimi, was reported as saying that his country would be “knocking on Greece’s door first” to revitalise name dispute resolution talks.

Matters worsened for Gruevski when it emerged, according to local polls, that his compatriots wanted the name dispute resolved (there have been no recent reports of any opinion polls in on the matter in Greece, which may be said to have more profound matters on its mind), a hint that the public in the former Yugoslav republic may be as thoroughly weary of the issue as most Western and EU leaders appear to be. Through successive elections, Gruevski has played the name dispute to his domestic political advantage, with the former boxer portraying himself as uncompromising in protecting what he presents as the national interest and identity.

Greece’s interim foreign minister Petros Molyviatis said at the Chicago summit that the question of Skopje’s admission to Nato would become possible only after the name dispute was resolved. Media reports quoted Molyviatis as having said that “backstage manouevring” on the issue at the summit had failed.

A new domestic political melodrama emerged from Gruevski when opposition leader and former president Branko Crvenkovski went on television, brandishing allegedly classified documents purporting to show that in 2005, Gruevski had fluffed the chance to achieve a workable compromise while preserving the “Macedonian identity” stance in the bilateral dispute.

Crvenkovski alleged that Gruevski, then in opposition, had frustrated chances of a compromise in the talks brokered by long-standing UN mediator in the dispute, Matthew Nimetz.

Gruevski responded that Crvenkovski was deliberately not speaking the truth. His initial reaction to the former president’s challenge to a television debate on the matter was one of contempt.

As June 2012 began, current president Gjorge Ivanov – a Gruevski ally – gave an interview to Macedonian-language Dnevnik, saying that his country would accept no compromise of what he called the Macedonian identity and language.

His country, Ivanov said, would not change its strategic goals, saying that the only way for these to be achieved was for Greece to “respect the international obligations that it has undertaken” and not to “impose new conditions”.

The cabinet in Skopje, meanwhile, reportedly had started an investigation into how what purportedly were classified state documents had come to be in Crvenkovski’s possession.



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.