Late conservative prime minister Constantinos Mitsotakis said in February 1993 that the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was not that important, adding that “no one will remember [the incident] 10 years from now.”
We have come all the way to the end of 2017 and the name dispute is once again at the center of domestic politics. Yet no agreement has been reached ahead of the NATO summit in July, which will yet again examine the Balkan state’s bid to join the transatlantic alliance.
We won’t trouble ourselves here with the history of the “Macedonian issue” in its latest reincarnation (because that is what it’s really all about) and its poor handling. The latter mainly concerns the early years, when the conditions were created for a permanent deadlock as Greek political leaders meeting under then President Constantine Karamanlis ruled out the recognition of the new state if its name were to include the term “Macedonia” or a derivative of that word.
In a tragicomic twist, the proposals submitted to both sides by UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz in the negotiations that followed suggested a compound name, thus contradicting the common decision of Greece’s political leaders.
It should be noted that, at the same time, the word “patriotism” was also distorted. Aside from territorial expansion, the term is traditionally associated with the expansion of a country’s economic, political and cultural influence in its immediate neighborhood. However, the Greek version of patriotism that emerged in the 1990s was defensive, driven by ethnic discrimination, and totally counterproductive given that the pressure shifted from Skopje on to Athens.
Furthermore, Greek patriotism poured oil on the flames of irredentism in FYROM, which was mainly channeled through the fugitives of the 1946-49 Greek Civil War who fled to Yugoslavia. In a sense, all this is a continuation of that war by other means.
We move ahead under pressure and exploring conciliatory initiatives. We are in for defeat regardless whether a solution is reached or not. It’s a complete deadlock, but no one seems to realize what is at stake. All sides feel that they are in the right – either they are pursuing a compromise solution or rejecting one.
Only one politician, former prime minister Georgios Rallis, resigned as a deputy on March 29, 1993 in protest at Mitsotakis’s handling of the matter and PASOK’s intransigence. The man was simply revolted.