Greek car stickers create furor in Macedonia

02/07/2012

Macedonian officials claim Greece's covering Macedonian car plates with stickers is both illegal and a provocation.

By Goran Trajkov for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 02/07/12

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Greece is covering the Macedonian license plates of cars that cross to the country with a sticker that reads "Recognised by Greece as FYROM." [Tomislav Georgiev/SETimes]

Greek border authorities' new practice of putting stickers on Macedonian vehicles that enter the country has stirred a debate about Greece's selective use of the two countries' 1995 interim agreement, as well as the memorandum for practical measures -- on which Greece justifies the practice.

Greece's stickers cover license plates that have a country designation "MK" on them. The stickers state in English and Greek, "Recognised by Greece as FYROM."

Foreign Minister Nikola Popovski called the Greek practice an "illegal and a pointless provocation," and the ministry issued a protest note on Monday (June 25th) claiming the practice is violating the memorandum for practical measures.

The note reminded Greek authorities of the interim agreement's article which refers to respecting international law concerning transit, telecommunications, signals and codes.

"Greek customs act according to the practical measures specified in the memorandum to the 1995 interim accord. This is the case with private vehicles [now], trucks and buses," the Greek liaison office in Skopje told SETimes.

Greek Ambassador to Macedonia Alexandra Papadopoulu said, however, that Greece is not acting unilaterally and the practice is not new; it has been used on trucks before, and now is only being expanded.

But the memorandum states that Greek authorities can only put self-adhesive stickers on the back windshield of Macedonian vehicles, without which they cannot travel on Greek territory.

Macedonian diplomats said the Greek measure has a deeper significance; it is a sign by the new Greek government of Antonis Samaras -- a leading architect of Greece's policy towards Macedonia -- that Athens will not accept a compromise in the name dispute.

"This is an international scandal for an EU member state to violate the European directives according to which the car plates were made. Macedonia is an EU member candidate and is obliged to follow the directives," Slobodan Chashule, former foreign affairs minister of Macedonia, said.

The Greek blog history-of-macedonia called Popovski's statement cynical and awkward.

"Sadly for the foreign minister of FYROM, he ought to have read more carefully the [interim] agreement that his country has accepted and realise his country's obligations, before he comes forward with such clumsy statements," it said.

Macedonian analysts argued Greece selectively use of the interim agreement -- which it has not ratified -- such as not adhering to it during Macedonia's bid for NATO membership.

"From the point of view of the interim agreement, only a sticker can be covered with another sticker because we still have a dispute about the name, not about license plates. In this case, Greece does not violate the interim agreement but it does violate the practical measures," Ivica Josifovic, international law professor in Skopje, said.

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Josifovic said it is not easy to make Greece live up to its responsibilities when it violates measures that are not in an agreement. "What needs to be done is for representatives of both countries to sit down and agree on how to implement the practical measures, without interlocutor."

Meanwhile, the Macedonians who travel to Greece to visit relatives, for business or vacation, continue to initiate formal complaints with the foreign affairs ministry about what they term discriminatory practices.

Some said they have been asked to purchase the Greek stickers for 20 euros, or to cover Macedonian national symbols in addition to the designation MK on the plates.

Dimitar Georgievski told SETimes that Greek border authorities told him the stickers provide for his personal safety from "enemy groups" i.e. Greek nationalists who vandalise Macedonian cars.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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