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Home » Home, UN NEWS » UN’s Nimetz Not Over Yet

UN’s Nimetz Not Over Yet

By Erol Avdovic (WEBPUBLICA) United Nations/New YorkAfter

UN Envoy Ambassador Matthew Nimetz (WPP Photo archive)

UN Envoy Ambassador Matthew Nimetz (WPP Photo archive)

27 years of dispute and almost the same period of time spent in negotiations under the United Nations auspices Hellenic Republic of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) finally reached an agreement as a mutually acceptable solution over the state name of Macedonia.

The new name is Republic of North Macedonia (Republika Severna Makedonija).

Asked for the newest reaction by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, after the affirmative vote in Skopje, but also having in mind that the Greeks have still to vote in their parliament and to adopt the deal, chief UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric referred to what Mr. [Matthew] Nimetz said on that.

“And the Secretary General fully backs what he said, which is the latest development in the vote taken in Skopje is a very positive move, and we look forward to the full completion of the agreement,” Dujarric told Webpublicapress on his daily briefing for UN reporters.

The special envoy of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who dealt with the dispute since 1999 in continuity – for almost 20 years Matthew Nimetz rushed to prize the agreement, which, as he said – paves the way for “a firmer basis for peace and security” in the entire Balkans.

UN’s Nimetz congratulated the Macedonian parliament but also “the country’s citizens for this accomplishment and for the democratic manner, in which this important process was undertaken,” as he put it in a written statement sent to Webpublicapress from UN Spokesperson Office.

Nemetz indeed had a reason to celebrate for himself after so many meetings and travel to the region in past two decades as a consistent and persuasive work of the United Nations’, as UN people so many times repeated in New York, without losing hope when others were shaken – that assisting the sides in finding a mutually acceptable solution will bear the fruits.

And it was always of utmost importance that Mr. Nimetz never lost hope the expected result will come one day. But, his work, at least formally is not done.

Stephane Dujarric answering the question to the reporter (UN photo file WPP)

Stephane Dujarric answering the question to the reporter (UN photo file WPP)

Answering to our question are Mr. Nimetz offices now-closed, Stephane Dujarric told Webpublicapress: “No.  They are not closed,” adding “he (Nimetz) continues.

When asked – until when Dujarric firs answered: “Well until he no longer continues.” Asked to clarify that he said, “the process is not completely done.  So, Mr. Nimetz’s good offices, his mandate continues.”

Pressed to say when is going to be done, UN spokesperson said he can only speak for the present.



UN was a durable partner


The name issue arose in the very beginning when Macedonia, one of six Yugoslav republics declared its independence under the same name. Greece immediately alarmed UN on possible implications of regional and international dimensions.

The mutual diplomatic hostilities only stopped last year after so-called “Prespa agreement” was signed at Lake Prespa in Macedonia on June 17 – 2018 between Greek and Macedonian governments.

For almost 45 years Macedonia was part of former Tito’s Socialist Yugoslavia (Josip Broz Tito, was a leader of six republics socialist federation of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1980). In 1991,  the Republic of Macedonia gained its independence from Yugoslavia after a Referendum for Independence took place with majority yes vote recorded.

In Skopje, the new name was approved in early January 2019, with 81 votes in a 120 members Macedonian parliament. Opposition party VMRO-DPMNE boycotted the voting in “Sobranje” (parliament) in Skopje on January 11. The vote in Greece capital Athens is also expected to be positive with some opposition turbulence as well but in place before March

Macedonia’s prime-minister Zoran Zaev told reporters in Skopje he expects Greece to be the “first country” to sign the accession protocol for Macedonia to become NATO’s 30th member. Because of the name dispute Greece already twice vetoed and blocked Macedonian accession to NATO.

Zoran Zaev, Prime-Minister of Macedonia (Courtesy photo IBN - for education only)

Zoran Zaev, Prime-Minister of Macedonia (Courtesy photo IBN – for education only)

Zaev said that Greece has “got a new friend now North Macedonia.” He added two neighboring countries will “build up trust” and “open many new windows” for cooperation, various news agencies reported from Skopje.

Greek Prime-Minister Alexis Tsipras almost promised – he will provide the needed 151 votes, hardly a simple majority in a Greece’s 300-member Parliament to pass the deal on the Republic of North Macedonia. The only opposition in Greek parliament is expected by Panos Kammenos, current defense minister and the leader of right-wing populist Independent Greeks.


UN is still not done with the issue 


Ambassador Nimetz has been the UN Secretary-General’s personal envoy on this issue since 1999; Nimetz was also US President Bill Clinton’s special envoy as a mediator on this name dispute from March 1994 to September 1995.

For almost three decades Greece has complained some time severely that the name Macedonia should be considered as a direct claim on Greece’s own territory and cultural heritage. From the other side, Skopje also contributed to the issue with political passion and even direct provocations on the historical ground claiming Greek historical figures like Alexander the Great are part of this mostly Slavic Macedonian republic; around 30 percent of the 2 million Macedonian population are native Albanian with old Illyrian descent.

Yet, in 2014, the 30 meters high statue of Alexandar the Great was raised in

The statue of Alexander the Great - official named "Warier" in Skopje, summer 2018 (photo by Erol Avdovic, Webpublica)

The statue of Alexander the Great – officially named “Warrior” in Skopje, summer 2018 (photo by Erol Avdovic, Webpublica)

the Macedonian capital Skopje, and city’s international airport was named after this glorious warrior. Greeks complained and the airport was renamed to Skopje-International, but the big statue of Alexander and some other disproportionately large monuments of also Greek heroes remained in an inner city.

“The issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not just a dispute over historical facts or symbols,” Greek Foreign Ministry stated on its website – adding it was for a long time issue for the United Nations.

“It concerns the conduct of a UN member state, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which contravenes the fundamental principles of international law and order; specifically, respect for good neighbourly relations, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”


West is happy – Russia doesn’t love it


After a long period of status-quo and mostly Greek complains at the very beginning of 2019 the United Nations, US, and European leaders, did not hide their satisfaction to see the name dispute between Greece and FYROM resolved. Bruxelles and Washington were happy – government in Skopje being able to overcome the obstacles and the road blocs of the opposition, which was even helped with the open propaganda from Russia.

It is not a secret that Moscow is not happy with the FYROM change of name to

NATO Summit Chicago 2012 (Photo illustration)

NATO Summit Chicago 2012 (Photo illustration)

the Republic of North Macedonia, since it opens the way to Macedonia’s accession to NATO. Only Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina currently are out of NATO membership; Croatia, Albania, and recently Montenegro are already the part of this “strongest military alliance in the world,” as they like to say in Balkans.

According to Greek Foreign Ministry the term “Macedonia” geographically refers to a wider region into the territory of various Balkan countries, Greece Bulgaria and Albania – all members of NATO and now Republic of North Macedonia which is about to become the newest member of the Alliance.


UN was pushing forward


An American Matthew Nimetz has to be recognized for brokering this bilateral interim deal with multilateral – regional consequences. the government in Skopje is able to overcome the obstacles and the roadblock the opposition, which was propagated by propaganda from Russia. Moscow is not happy with the change of name in Snevreno Macedonia because it opens the way to Macedonia’s accession to NATO.

Only Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are out of NATO membership after Croatia, Albania, and recently Montenegro received the strongest military alliance in the world.

Greece blocked Macedonia at the Bucharest NATO Summit in April 2008. Macedonia also missed an opportunity at NATO summits in Strasbourg (2009), Lisbon (2010), and Chicago (2012). The Wales Summit Meeting (2014) also passed without enlargement.

Even Macedonian president Georgi Ivanov didn't like the change of country's name to the Republic of North Macedonia  (Photo Balkan Insight News - BIRN) -- for education only)

Even Macedonian president Georgi Ivanov didn’t like the change of country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia (Photo Balkan Insight News – BIRN) — for education only)

But in his capacity of UN envoy, Nimetz was instrumental in convincing Athens to drop Greek embargo on Macedonia after Skopje modified first Macedonian flag, which included the Sun symbol found in the grave of Philip II, ancient Greek kingdom’s ruler and father of Alexander the Great.


The use of Philip’s star (an ancient Greek symbol of the sun) on the flag of Macedonia in the 1990s has long been the irritating factor for Greeks who were blocking Macedonian path to NATO and advance to European Union membership of which both the Hellenic Republic is part.


Vienna UN talks were crucial 


In the meantime, European Council decided in 2012, unanimously decided to open EU accession negotiations with Macedonia requesting further reforms and respect for good neighborly relations, and UN resolution on the name issue. UN was called to step in again – this time with a more active, rather than passive plan.

Although it was seen as a new impetus for the settlement talks on name dispute it was not before last year, that UN succeeded in imposing itself more as a relevant partner in this silent diplomacy. Not so many details were released. But, work was obviously going on.

All the way down Mr. Nimetz was also mostly secretive during his shuttle-diplomacy between UN headquarters at the East River and Athens and Skopje, expressing the work only in few same words most of the time – as an effort to find “mutually acceptable solution” to the name issue, the UN envoy obviously was more than ready for few extra miles made in previous 2018.

Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece (Photo UN /Devra Berkowitz)

Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece (Photo UN /Devra Berkowitz)

He met several times Nikos Kotzias, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, and Nikola Dimitrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Macedonia. Thy are the latest two of many previous negotiators from Athens and Skopje that Mr. Nimetz cultivated very productive relations, a diplomat told Webpublicapress at the UN.

After discussion in the Austrian capital in February 2018, on April 25, Mr. Nimetz, again met Greek and Macedonian negotiators at the United Nations Office at Vienna. After the meeting Nimetz opened himself a bit more and confessed to media the more thickened discussion that has continued “for several months now”, intensifying the talks between Greeks and Macedonians under the auspices of the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Asked several times how often Mr. Guterres was briefed and familiar with all the details of the negotiations – chief spokespersons of the UN Secretary General Stephane Dujarric and Farhan Haq told Webpublicapress – UN chief was “briefed on the regular basis”.

And the journalists read it as decisive progress in the air; for the first time after so many years, Greek and Macedonian ministers showed more energy than before. Optimism grew.
“The two Ministers speak with authority,” Nimetz said in Vienna. “We discussed the open issues between the parties,” he added describing talks as a “intense discussion, very cordial in personal terms.”

UN envoy said both sides are very dedicated to reaching a solution. The process will continue in the next weeks.”

The rest is history.


Background:under UN umbrela


Unlike some other frozen conflicts and chronical global problems in the case of Macedonia UN showed it wascapable to be problem solver rather then being part of the problem.

Everybody agrees -the problem was not an easy one.

Greece refered an issue to UN Security Council as a “theft of its historical and cultural heritage and the treacherous territorial and irredentist intentions”. UN Security Councilin two resolutions [817(1993) and 845(1993)] recommended quick settlement. But, it became a notoriously longe one.

UN Headquarters in New York at East River (photo by Erol Avdovic - Webpublica UN)

UN Headquarters in New York at East River (photo by Erol Avdovic – Webpublica UN)

Still, following a recommendation from the Security Council, in 1993, Macedonia was accepted to UN under the temporary name of FYROM. The decision was voted at the UN General Assemblywithout name solution being reached.

Two years later Macedonia and Greece agreed accepting an Interim Accord, which introdused a binding “code of conduct”. For a long period of time, Athens claimed FYROM has “systematically violated the letter and spirit of the Accord” by promoting territorial apetites on Greek theritory. And that involved, as they said – systematic abuse and falcifying of their history.

But one can not control the history.

As it often happens history comes with a lot of unpredictable trades, and it could be those who do not understand each other for a long time can still become a good friends. Perhaps this regional Balkan saga with the main acters of Greece and (now) North Macedonia will become a new example of bilateral cooperation, with UN being proud of it. And calmer region, indeed.

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