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Athens holds its ground in name dispute March 31, 2008

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Greece and FYROM still at odds as US ups pressure before NATO summit

The Greek government yesterday insisted that it would not be pushed into accepting a compromise on the Macedonia name dispute before Wednesday’s NATO summit, as Western pressure for an immediate solution intensified.

«No solution means no invitation for Skopje to join NATO» Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis told Parliament on Saturday, stressing «only a mutually acceptable solution… can form the basis for constructive relations within the alliance.»

Meanwhile US officials cranked up the pressure on Athens to agree to a settlement so that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) can join NATO. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Greece’s Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Friday night to stress Washington’s resolve. And, sources said, US President George W. Bush is considering inviting Karamanlis and FYROM’s Premier Nikola Gruevski for talks on the matter before the NATO summit gets under way.

Bakoyannis has stuck to her guns, dismissing Rice’s description of the name spat as «something that has to do with antiquity» and stressing, in an interview published in yesterday’s Ethnos, that «we are not a country that takes orders from anyone.» Bakoyannis added that «the pressure of time will not lead us to accept proposals in the form of an ultimatum.»

The Greek FM said she believed United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz might make a fresh proposal before Wednesday but said, «It will be difficult to reach a solution before the summit.»

But her FYROM counterpart Antonio Milososki said he thought a deal could be struck by then. «We are running out of time but I think the possibility (of an agreement) still exists,» he told reporters on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Slovenia on Saturday. He said FYROM’s parliament will today discuss Nimetz’s latest proposal for a solution to the name dispute – Republic of Macedonia (Skopje) – which is said to have appealed to FYROM.

Milososki and Bakoyannis had been due to hold talks in Slovenia at the weekend but the Greek side canceled the meeting after US pressure intensified.

Most European Foreign Ministers at the Slovenia summit avoided taking a stance on the FYROM accession issue. But Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned of the regional repercussions of blocking Skopje’s bid to join NATO. «This summit does not have the right to fail and must not replace more stability for less stability,» he said.

31-03-08_poster1.jpg  In the meantime Greece has strongly condemned the appearance of offensive billboards featuring the Greek Flag in Skopje. Greece handed over a protest note to FYROM, requesting an immediate removal of a billboard in Skopje showing a Nazi swastika attached to Greek flag.

Greece’s Ambassador to Skopje, Alexandra Papadopoulou, has been instructed, within the day, to make a strong demarche to the Foreign Ministry of FYROM, requesting the immediate removal of the offensive billboard.

31-03-08_poster2.jpg  “This unacceptable poster, which was circulated via a private initiative and raised on Skopje’s streets, directly insults our country’s National Symbol and our struggle against fascism and Nazism,” Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Koumoutsakos said.

“This incident demonstrates the huge mistake made by those who invest in nationalism and bigotry. It also confirms, once again, the correctness of Greece’s position that a necessary condition for the establishment of relations of solidarity and allied relations is, in practice, respect of good-neighborly relations between countries and peoples,” he added.

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Skopje ups the tension over name dispute March 26, 2008

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FYROM Premier accuses Greece of ‘blackmail’ before UN talks

Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) were last night involved in yet another effort to solve their name dispute but only after the neighboring country’s Prime Minister had accused Athens of trying to “blackmail” Skopje over the issue.

The comment by Nikola Gruevski came only hours before representatives from both sides were due to meet with the United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz in New York for further discussions aimed at finding some compromise. Nimetz was not due to make any public comments about the meetings until about midnight, Greek time, last night.

However, the statement by Gruevski earlier in the day appeared to heighten tension between the two sides ahead of yesterday’s talks.

The FYROM Prime Minister accused Greece of trying to get the result it wants from the negotiations by threatening to block Skopje’s bid to join NATO at a summit that begins in Bucharest on April 2. “The situation now is that Greece intends to use its veto if we do not accept its blackmail,” said Gruevski. “We cannot accept blackmail.”

He added that FYROM could break off talks with Greece if Athens decides to use its veto. “From what I can see now, I cannot be much of an optimist. In case of a veto from Greece, the negotiations will enter such deep crisis that perhaps they will be stopped.”

The response from Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was immediate. “Mr Gruevski’s comments, just a few hours before today’s crucial meeting within the UN framework, do not help the whole effort as they predict a negative outcome. We believe in this process and will not follow this line of thinking.”

Bakoyannis indicated that time was running out for finding a solution to the dispute before the NATO summit but that a “consensual, practical and enforceable” compromise could be reached.

Name dispute talks to continue tomorrow March 24, 2008

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There was a climate of cautious optimism in Athens and Skopje over the weekend ahead of fresh negotiations on the Macedonia name dispute in New York tomorrow.

In Athens, diplomats said that a compromise could be reached ahead of NATO’s summit on April 2-4, where the possible accession of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is to be discussed. Officially Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was more reserved, saying, after a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, that she “felt neither optimistic nor pessimistic.”

Bakoyannis is to meet her FYROM counterpart Antonio Milososki on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Slovenia on Friday to discuss any headway made in New York by the two country’s representatives in United Nations-mediated talks.

On Saturday, FYROM’s President, Branko Crvenkovski, stressed the need for a “logical compromise” to the name dispute. FYROM’s envoy Nikola Dimitrov told reporters he had been given “precise instructions” but did not elaborate.

FYROM talks in the final stretch March 9, 2008

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As United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz prepares to invite diplomats from Athens and Skopje to the next phase of talks in a flagging effort to resolve the Macedonia name dispute, Greek government officials are preparing for a flurry of diplomacy.

Nimetz is to invite Adamantios Vassilakos and Nikola Dimitrov, the representatives of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) respectively, for talks in Geneva this week. The envoy, whose latest proposals were rejected by Skopje, is not expected to make any new suggestions but to press FYROM to shift its stance, sources said yesterday. The same sources said talks will continue until the very last moment.

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who on Thursday threatened Athens will use its veto against FYROM’s NATO bid, is preparing for a series of talks with European counterparts on the sidelines of an EU summit on Monday. She will then fly to Paris for talks with her French counterpart Bernard Kouchner. Premier Costas Karamanlis will join the summit on Thursday.

Meanwhile FYROM has been promoting its NATO bid with a full-page ad that appeared in several international newspapers yesterday. It argues FYROM’s case for joining NATO and criticizes Greek pressure.

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried arrived in Skopje last night for talks on the name dispute. Before his trip he called for “outstanding issues” to be resolved by the first week of April when the NATO summit will begin.

No movement on FYROM March 6, 2008

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EU, NATO push for Skopje compromise; UN envoy’s latest talks inconclusive

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday dug in his heels over the Macedonia name dispute, stressing that Athens will not hesitate to block Skopje from joining NATO unless the disagreement is resolved.

“Greece’s stance is very clear as regards Skopje and we have clarified it absolutely to allies ad partners,” Karamanlis said. “I do not feel that I am under pressure from anyone,” he added, apparently dismissing speculation regarding US attempts to influence Greek policy in this area.

But there was pressure on Karamanlis at home. Thousands of Greeks rallied in the northern city of Thessaloniki yesterday evening, urging the government not to accept a name for the Former Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that could lead to territorial claims on Greece’s northern region of Macedonia.

The main rally in Thessaloniki, a street protest organized by the far-right LAOS, was not attended by politicians from other parties. Thessaloniki’s Bishop Anthimos led a separate rally in a local sports stadium.

The United Nations envoy entrusted with solving the name dispute, Matthew Nimetz, arrived in the northern city last night to brief Greek negotiator Adamantios Vassilakis following his talks with political leaders in Skopje. Nimetz said the talks had failed to make any headway but delivered an upbeat assessment nonetheless. “I got a lot of encouragement to keep at this task,” Nimetz said. “There is a great interest here to solve this problem,” he added.

Meanwhile, European Union and NATO officials both appeared to nudge Skopje over the name issue. “If we can’t settle this issue, I’m afraid it will have negative ramifications (for EU accession),” the EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said. And NATO representative James Appathurai remarked: “Greece has made it clear that it wants to find a solution and that it will participate in talks with an open mind – we hope Skopje’s government does the same.”

Sources said yesterday that US President George W. Bush may drop Skopje from the itinerary of his scheduled tour of Balkan states next month. According to the original plan, Bush was to visit Zagreb, Tirana and Skopje following a NATO summit in Bucharest on April 2-4.

Recent finds at Greece’s Macedonian site of Pella March 4, 2008

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Recent finds at Greece’s Macedonian site of Pella reveal a city beneath the citycommunity > Prehistoric cemetery yields evidence of an Early Bronze Age

04-03-08_pella_site.jpg  The archaeological site of Pella. To the right of the asphalt road is the agora of the ancient city. Also visible are the old museum at the crossroads, the workshops and storerooms of the site.

04-03-08_pella_artifacts.jpg  Grave goods from among the artifacts found at the prehistoric burial ground.

Exciting new finds at the archaeological site of Pella have opened a new chapter in Macedonian history. Beneath the ruins of the ancient capital of the Macedonian Kingdom is a large prehistoric burial ground that has yielded the first evidence of organized life in Pella during the third millennium BC.

It was while they were engaged in conservation, repairs and other work to highlight the site that the excavation team from Aristotle University came across more than 100 Early Bronze Age burials in large jars, accompanied by marble works of art from the Cyclades, local ceramics and metalware.

The finds are so recent that experts at the Demokritos Center have not yet completed the analysis of bones that will yield precise dates. However, the initial evidence supplements what is already known about Pella in the Early Bronze Age (2100-2000 BC), when it was the most important city in Bottiaea, long before it was made capital of the Macedonian realm. What became known as “the greatest of Macedonian cities” was apparently built on top of the prehistoric graveyard when Archelaus moved his capital there from Aiges, excavation director Professor Ioannis Akamatis said.

It was on this site that one of the most important urban centers developed. It had what was at the time an innovative, Manhattan-style, rectangular town plan, with an extensive network of water and sewerage pipes, which helped make Macedonia’s largest city one of the most important political and cultural centers of the Hellenistic Era (4th to 1st centuries BC).

The precise boundaries of the prehistoric cemetery cannot be determined because a large part of it lies beneath the urban center of the ancient city, but the graves that have been located so far beneath the city roads provide enough information to form a picture of prehistoric Pella.

In accordance with burial customs in Pella’s prehistoric community, the dead were placed in jars, simple trenches or in stone structures. The bodies placed in jars were buried with their limbs folded and the head either close to the mouth or the bottom of the jar.

Many of the jars are between 150 and 160 centimeters tall. One of them will be exhibited in a new museum in Pella as it was found, with the remains of the body and the grave goods.

The position of the body depended on gender: Men were placed facing the right, women to the left. The arms were crossed over the chest and the hands drawn up to the face below the jaw. Some graves contained infants and children up to the age of 3, while several belong to individuals aged 14-16.

The bodies in the jars represent about 30 percent of the burials. “The Macedonian plain was fertile in antiquity too. They stored goods (agricultural products, wood and metal) in storage jars, and that practice also influenced burial customs,” said Akamatis.

The dead were accompanied by objects, many of which had long been in everyday use before they ended up in the grave. Most tombs contained at least one vessel. Some of the dead were buried with valuable jewelry such as silver rings, gold earrings, bracelets and necklaces, bronze clasps, needles and daggers. “The prosperity of Pella’s prehistoric community is apparent from the metal goods and jewelry,” commented Akamatis.

All the clay finds were vessels made by hand using techniques employed in the Early Bronze Age in Macedonia (3100-2200 BC). Expertly worked marble flasks bear traces of red paint (associated with perceptions of death and life after death), indicating that they were used in burial ceremonies.

Akamatis said that the marble vessel of Pella, which is very rare for Central Macedonia, is related to a Late Neolithic Age (4500-3100 BC) example from Alepotrypa Dirou in the Mani, Peloponnese, while a series of small Cycladic flasks date from the Early Cycladic I period.

“The flasks, made with marble probably from Paros, found their way to the coast of prehistoric Pella by sea from the Cyclades to the Gulf of Loudia. It is one of the earliest known examples of trade and economic ties between the Cyclades and Macedonia and the broader region.”

The settlement to which the burial ground belongs must have been fairly close by, Akamatis believes. The Bronze Age settlement may have been maintained into historical times, since a few distinctive Early Iron Age objects have been discovered at Pella.

FYROM tension November 9, 2007

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FM rules out chance of early elections over dispute

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis yesterday stressed that increasingly feverish debate over the “Macedonia” name issue would not lead to early elections, as has been suggested by some.

The Minister commented on the insistence of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on calling itself “Macedonia,” the name of a northern Greek region. “It is impossible to develop alliances when intransigency and irredentism reign,” Bakoyannis told Parliament’s cross-party foreign affairs committee. Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alekos Alavanos, who just visited FYROM, accused the government of abandoning “Macedonia – Greek Macedonia.”