The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has ruled that Greece was wrong to prohibit its neighboring country Macedonia from seeking membership in NATO in 2008 in an ongoing dispute over the latter nation’s name.
Greece, by objecting to the admission of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to NATO, has breached its obligation, the ICJ said.
The Court determined that the Greek government failed to abide by an agreement hammered out in 1995 which would have allowed Macedonia to apply for NATO membership.
The decision will likely make it difficult for Greece to block further bids by Macedonia to apply to both NATO and the European Union (EU).
However, the dispute over name ‘Macedonia” was not addressed by the ICJ.
The squabble dates back to 1991 when the current state of Macedonia secured independence from Yugoslavia under the name “Republic of Macedonia”. It just so happens, that “Macedonia” is also the name of Greece’s northern province – Athens is, thus, worried that the former Yugoslav republic may have territorial designs on its northern region.
At that time Greece imposed a trade embargo on its tiny neighbor – the embargo was lifted four years later, but the dispute still festers.
Confusingly, Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations, but only under the name he former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)
Nikola Poposki, the Macedonian foreign minister, praised the ICJ ruling, adding that his country is strongly committed to finding a lasting, mutually acceptable solution to the difference with Greece over the name.
The foreign ministry in Athens said in a statement: Greece will continue to pursue negotiations in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, within the spirit and letter of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations.”
BBC reported that most Greeks believe that Macedonia is a Hellenic (Greek) name, while Macedonians feel it is Slavic in origin and must remain the name of their nation.
Macedonia is symbolically important to Greece since it is the home of legendary heroes like Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great.