In an ideal world where the country’s politicians were true patriots – at least in the sense of this writer’s understanding of the notion – Greece’s name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) would be handled very differently.
The prime minister would invite the leader of the main opposition party (who actually happens to be a Europeanist and the son of a pragmatic ex-premier – who also had the foresight to back a composite name with a historical or geographical qualifier from the start) not just to brief him on the progress of talks but to listen to his ideas as well. The aim would be to agree on the subtle tactics required in handling such a sensitive issue. They would act according to the national interest and for the good of the country rather than for their own benefit.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and New Democracy president Kyriakos Mitsotakis would discuss the exact set of circumstances prevailing right now – not some other time – and be aware of the fact that serious upheaval in FYROM (or even the country’s fragmentation) is in nobody’s interest. They would discuss the fortuitous presence of moderate Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in Skopje, in contrast to his nationalist predecessor Nikola Gruevski. And they would agree that they should do whatever it takes to curtail Turkish influence in the Balkans.
Mindful of the huge responsibility dictated by their position, the Greek premier and the opposition chief would sit down with the minister and shadow minister of foreign affairs – whatever one might think of SYRIZA’s Nikos Kotzias and New Democracy’s Giorgos Koumoutsakos, no one can doubt their diplomatic knowledge – to forge a national line on the issue.
Having learned from a succession of mistakes between 1991 and the present regarding the name issue, they would agree that in order to seize the opportunity, they need to keep quiet about their negotiating tactics and the details of their agreement. They would also formulate a plan to deal with reactions – which are expected and valid – that would come from within the government, New Democracy and society in general.
The two leaders would also agree – each through his own channels – to rally the support of the mild-mannered archbishop of the Church of Greece and consult him on the best way to handle this sensitive issue.
At the heart of their agreement would be a pact not to exploit any problems – within the parties or the government – to their advantage until an agreement is reached that guarantees success: in this case defined by a deal that is in Greece’s best possible interest. Regarding the matter of the name, this would be something better that “Republic of Macedonia,” which is used almost everywhere right now because of Greece’s divisions and mistakes.
Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. Instead of all this taking place, the prime minister has kept the opposition in the dark with the intention of causing a crisis within the ranks of New Democracy, while simultaneously planning a shake-up of the political scene that would lead to a future coalition with the center-left.
From the opposition’s side, meanwhile, we see the leader on the defensive as he tries to prevent his party from falling apart.
Alas none of this comes as a surprise.
In a similar manner, this writer had hopes in 2010 that the two former college roommates – PASOK’s George Papandreou and ND’s Antonis Samaras – would come together to agree on the handling of the first memorandum. No such luck. There too we saw division and political manipulation. The same negative attitude prevailed between Papandreou and Costas Karamanlis in 2009, as well as between Tsipras and Samaras in 2014 – albeit expressed in much more colorful terms.
Lost opportunities that have come at a great cost for Greece. Party interests being put above the national interest. A story that unfortunately keeps repeating itself.