What's in a Name?

What's in a Name?

The international community needs to deal with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s “name issue” before the problem gets out of hand.


When UN General Assembly president H.E. Dr. Srgjan Kerim, a native of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), introduced on September 25 the president of his home country, Mr. Branko Crvenkovski, he implied that the national interest of FYROM prevails over his duties to the UN body. He therefore addressed Mr. Crvenkovksi as the "President of the Republic of Macedonia."

Some people may think that what happened in the UN constitutes a minor or isolated incident. Nevertheless, this is not the case-this has deeper roots both on a regional and international level. Challenging UN resolutions and decisions and ignoring commitments undertaken through international agreements, as FYROM has systematically done by violating the US-brokered Interim Accord with Greece, is a bad precedent. This is a violation of the principle of good-neighborly relations and puts sustained regional stability in jeopardy.


To make it clear, Dr. Kerim's action is in full contravention of Security Council resolutions 817 (1993) and 845 (1993), as well as the recommendations contained therein regarding the provisional name under which this state was unanimously admitted to the United Nations ("the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia").

Dr. Kerim, obviously acting under instructions from his government, has irreparably damaged his standing and credibility as president of the General Assembly. He did not respect the resolutions of the body over which he is presiding nor of the Security Council of the United Nations, the organization he has been called upon to serve.

Such a development also militates against the efforts made by the UN to facilitate the bilateral negotiations entered into by Greece and FYROM through the Secretary-General's Special Envoy, Mr. Matthew Nimetz, to seek a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue. Following this action by Mr. Kerim, Mr. Nimetz said on September 26 that what happened in the General Assembly demonstrates why a permanent solution is needed. He is continuing his work with the parties on this issue. Furthermore, UN spokeswoman Ms. Marie Okabe stressed that within the United Nations, the Secretary-General and the Secretariat continue to use the name "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."

The actions of Dr. Kerim and FYROM are a clear indication of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's lack of respect for international law and international institutions. They are also a blunt violation of the US-brokered Interim Accord.

This development clearly shows that the President of the UN General Assembly has put his national interest over that of the United Nations.

Assurances by the authorities in Skopje concerning the use of the name "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" in international organizations are thus unreliable and untrustworthy. FYROM officials ignore their commitments. The responsibility for the consequences of this uncompromising position belongs exclusively and completely to the government in Skopje.

It should be noted that Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Mr. Nicholas Burns, following a meeting in New York with Greece's Foreign Minister Ms. Dora Bakoyannis on September 24, 2007, stressed that "the time has come for progress on the FYROM name issue…this is our message to Skopje, and the spirit of our meeting today with the foreign minister…We wish to exercise our influence and urge Skopje, as we do with Athens, that the time has come for progress." We fully concur with this statement.

Many Americans may think this is a minor issue. But the history of the region, not to mention of Europe as a whole, demonstrates that whenever irredentist claims are left unaddressed, the seeds of future conflicts are sown. Europe today is governed by the rule of law; the completion of the European project in the Balkans-and the extension of a zone of peace and prosperity-rest upon the willingness of governments to live up to their international commitments. Obligations are like a tapestry; even pulling on what might appear to outsiders to be a small and insignificant thread can end up unraveling the entire work. We have too much invested in the stability of the region to allow this to happen.


Alexandros P. Mallias is the ambassador of Greece to the United States. He was the first ambassador of Greece to FYROM immediately after the signing of the US-brokered Interim Accord in 1995. He has also served as Director of the Southeastern Europe (Balkan Affairs) Department at the Foreign Ministry in Athens, as Ambassador to Albania and Head of the European Community Monitor Mission Regional Office in Sofia.