Nimetz: The Prespa Agreement was probably the highlight of my career

US diplomat Matthew Nimetz that had served as mediator in the Skopje-Athens name dispute for the past 25 years, has admitted that leading up to the signing of the 2018 Prespa Agreement he wasn’t sure the whole process would be completed, having doubts even after it was signed.

Nimetz says he will remember the day of the signing, 17 June 2018, not only for falling on his 79th birthday, which was celebrated on the coast of the Prespa Lake, but also ‘because it was a very stressful and important day.’ “It was probably the highlight of my career.”

In a conversation with Deutsche Welle’s Macedonian Language Service, Nimetz says he had always find it hard to use the now disused reference ‘former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’, ‘which in fact was never a name.’

According to him, the temporary reference in the United Nations was never the name of the country. It, Nimetz says, was a temporary reference pending a name.

Your country, he says, had been stuck with this reference, which was humiliating for the country, had brought into question its legitimacy, had opened issues and it was also hard for me, as an envoy of the UN, to use it and keep repeating former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Looking back, the diplomat says the only time the dispute could have been solved was right after the Bucharest NATO Summit in 2008.

“Perhaps, in the midst of this tense atmosphere something could have been done. It turned out it wasn’t the case, because there was so much outrage and the government in Skopje had decided to file a lawsuit before the International Court (of Justice). The United States back then wasn’t much of a help ether to press ahead with solutions for a new name,” recalls Nimetz.

During the 2001 conflict, several ideas floated around in ‘informal discussions’, but Nimetz says back then he had high hopes from late president Boris Trajkovski. “If he hadn’t died in the plane crash, I believe he had the potentials of a leader to do something.”

According to Nimetz, the antiquisation process, launched by the Nikola Gruevski-led government after the Bucharest Summit, had had a negative effect hindering the name negotiations.

“I’ve had many discussions with Gruevski, we’ve spent many hours together… I considered him a very intelligent man, who has had extensive knowledge on things. I considered him an interesting person to discuss the topic with. But his views and the views of President Ivanov were stuck too deep in a historical approach, which to me, it was a dead-end, Nimetz tells DW.

According to him, Gruevski was never prepared to make the final step. He, Nimetz says, was flexible, but his flexibility had limits, he wasn’t prepared for a compromise, which would have been enough for an agreement.

The former name envoy says the Prespa Agreement is still being met with strong opposition in both North Macedonia and Greece, not only by the largest opposition parties but also by radicals. “I’m aware, but you can never be sure about the future,” he adds.

“History never stops, things are always changing. Deeply rooted disputes change by nature, but they never go away completely,” said Nimetz about the closing of the Prespa Agreement.