Turnbull responds to FYROM naming dispute

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Australia will continue to use the official UN interim reference

A report published on 15 April by the Macedonian Information Agency quoting Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who pledged to revisit the FYROM name issue, has caused turmoil among the Greek Australian community.

The aforementioned FYROM news agency reported that the statements were made during a meeting in Perth organised by Liberal MP Luke Simpkins, elected to the seat of Cowan in WA.

Answering a question posed by the Vardar Club’s (local FYROM Australian community) Goce Siljanovski, Mr Turnbull said that he will review the reasons for Australia’s “failure to recognise ‘Macedonia’ under its constitutional name”.

“I’ll take on board your concerns about it, but I don’t want to step on the toes of the foreign minister,” he explained, apologising for not having discussed the issue with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop prior to the meeting.

Meanwhile, in March 2015, Minister Bishop responded to a letter from the Macedonian association in Australia by saying that the government will continue, as a temporary measure, to use the interim reference, pending a resolution of the dispute between FYROM and Greece.

It is worth mentioning that Luke Simpkins is a staunch supporter of the Vardar Club, while a substantial number of citizens who hail from FYROM reside in Perth, and the event was part of his pre-election campaign.

Mr Siljanovski, emphasising the “sizeable” FYROM Australian community, asked the prime minister if he can promise his “fellow ‘Macedonians'” that the Coalition government will not continue to use the United Nation’s interim reference ‘the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ after the next election.

“As you know, it’s been a vexed issue but our relations with ‘Macedonia’ are excellent and the ‘Macedonian’ Australian community have played an enormously valuable part in Australia,” Mr Turnbull said, referring to FYROM as ‘Macedonia’.

“We do try as the Australian government to stay out of some of these issues and this is one of the reasons people come to Australia, to avoid these arguments,” he continued jokingly.

The online article, accompanied with video footage on YouTube featuring part of the meeting, caused a strong reaction among Greek communities in Australia.

In a letter sent to the prime minister by the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne, signed by the president of the association Mr Peter Jasonides, members of the Greek community expressed their “great concern” apropos Malcolm Turnbull’s statements.

“Prime Minister, your knowledge of Classical Studies, no doubt, assists you to understand who were and who the Macedonians are. Given that you are also well-versed on the ‘naming dispute’, we find it concerning that you would make such comments about FYROM.

The naming of ‘Macedonia’ is a matter of cultural and historical identity for Greeks, and cannot be negotiated. It is also an issue of heritage that cannot be disputed or spared. The FYROM desires to be called ‘Macedonia’ and by usurping the name, it appropriates the Greek history and many other elements that go with the name such as identity, ancestry, culture, ethnicity, heritage and cohesiveness. As such, any reference to it in the context of which, what seemed to have been coercion from Mr Simpkins and his associated company, is considered to be an encouragement of irredentist territorial claims. Even its use to such ethnic groups is considered to be ‘adding fuel to the fire’.

In addition, to clear any false or misrepresentative figures by certain members of the FYROM community in Australia, it is important to note that there are approximately 140,000 Greek Macedonians living in Australia, in addition to another 550,000 Greeks and Cypriots. The Greeks in Australia do not oppose the right of those from FYROM to exist or to join the international community via diplomacy and legitimate channels, respecting, however, the historical and cultural rights of other nations.

Prime Minister, we note that the FYROM community in Australia has made numerous vexatious and illegitimate claims about our Australian politicians aligning themselves with this group’s agenda, and therefore we question the context in which you stated that you will look into “Australia’s failure to recognise ‘Macedonia’ under its constitutional name”. As one of the largest ethnic communities in Australia, it is our duty to remind you and all our Australian politicians of the Australian Government’s recognition of FYROM in 1994. The Government formally recognised Skopje’s independence with the Australian ambassador to Belgrade being provided with non-residence accreditation to Skopje. It was agreed then and still is to this day that the United Nations and its member states must use the nomenclature former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; a name that remains an interim measure in order to assist with the United Nations negotiations. As such, this is the policy that is followed by the Australian Government until any further agreements are made between Athens and Skopje.

In light of the above, and given the wider knowledge (and fact) about the levels of falsified claims made by the FYROM media, we respectfully request that you clarify your statements as well as your stance on this very important issue.”

The Pan-Macedonian Association sent the letter of complaint on Monday and has yet to receive a reply from the government.

Neos Kosmos considered necessary a request for further clarification from the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the incident, including the government’s policies on the issue. As the prime minister’s spokesperson stated, the Australian government will continue to use the official UN interim reference.

“The Australian government has been consistent in its use of the name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ since 1994. Australia will continue to observe this practice pending a mutually agreed resolution to the naming dispute.”

Source:Neos Kosmos

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