When he took over the mediation between Macedonia and Greece about two decades ago, Matthew Nimetz probably did not expect that he would end his efforts to overcome the name dispute in almost the end of the eighth decade of his life, and that only then he could finally retire, in the true sense of the word.
Nimetz had just entered the seventh decade of life, when in December 1999 he became the UN special envoy in the negotiations on the name dispute. Previously, as Deputy of the then mediator Cyrus Vance, Nimetz witnessed the signing of the Interim Accord between Macedonia and Greece – in New York in 1995.
The world organization’s mediator turned 79 on Sunday. But, instead of a birthday celebration, he celebrated the signing of the agreement reached by the Prime ministers Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras in Prespa.
– I told my family this year I don’t need any gifts because two prime ministers are going to give me a big gift”, said Nimetz at the ceremony of the signing of the agreement.
Earlier, while Greek government officials were waiting for the Macedonian delegation to arrive in Psarades on the other side of Lake Prespa, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias sang the Birthday song to Nimetz, and other attendees joined him, including senior European Commission officials – Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn.
“To find solution requires wise leadership, strategic vision and these leaders demonstrated those important qualities. We don’t often find political courage, strategic vision and diplomatic skill and to find all three of these qualities in four outstanding leaders is really very rare and unique,”-said Nimetz.
He added that he believed the agreement was in the strategic interest of the two countries.
“It has been my pleasure and honor to have worked as mediator and now to have witnessed this agreement. And to have worked closely with ministers Dimitrov and Kotzias, as well as with their distinguished predecessors. The process has been long, difficult but I think that it has resulted in an agreement that really is fair, honorable and workable. It is an example to the region, to Europe and in fact to the world that two neighbors can solve a problem if they really work on it”, Nimetz said.
In the past twenty years, during the period when the name negotiations intensified, Nimetz was constantly traveling between New York – Skopje – Athens. In the past months, however, after negotiations on the name were raised at the level of heads of diplomacy, Nimetz was a regular participant in talks held across European metropolises, such as Vienna and Brussels.
Although his career as a lawyer and diplomat is rich and diverse, starting in the mid-sixties of the last century, mediation in the name dispute actually marked Nimetz’s professional path. Thanks to the often irreconcilable differences between Macedonia and Greece, as well as the frequent crises in their relations and languishing in the negotiations, Nimetz will remain remembered in the UN chronicles as the longest-serving special representative of the Secretary General so far to resolve any dispute or problem under patronage of the world organization. And, the UN has at least fifteen special envoys for various issues and disputes around the world.
During Nimetz’s term as special envoy, three UN Secretaries General have changed, starting with Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon to the incumbent Antonio Guterres, whose biography will include that the long-standing Skopje-Athens dispute has been resolved in his time. Nimetz’s mediation has “survived” all governments in Greece since 1999, as well as all previous prime ministers in Macedonia (seven), with the exception of the first – Nikola Kljusev. A dozen proposals for Macedonia’s new name and several formulas (such as the double formula and erga omnes) to resolve the dispute were discussed in the presence of Nimetz over the past two decades. None of these draft solutions proved successful until the last “Republic of Northern Macedonia” for overall use, but with the preservation of the adjective “Macedonian” in terms of language and identity. That decision was reached by the two prime ministers from left-wing political parties, Zaev and Tsipras, which Nimetz called them leaders with a vision for the future.
Aleksandra M. Mitevska