Let’s not kid ourselves: Greece lost exclusive right to the name “Macedonia” decades ago. Nearly 100 countries around the world, including powerhouses Russia and China, have recognized our Balkan neighbor under the name “Republic of Macedonia” and even those who still keep up the diplomatic pretense unofficially refer to the country as “Macedonia.”
It is most certainly annoying – not to mention historically ignorant – that the people of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) like to present themselves as descendants of Alexander the Great and have irredentist aspirations enshrined in their constitution. That said, no one can really seriously fear any irredentist and territorial claims that may be harbored by the tiny country, whose gross domestic product is the same as that of the Peloponnese and which even today – despite tension between Athens and Skopje and the Greek economic crisis – remains an economic protectorate of Greece.
What we should be more interested in is that this relatively powerless state of 2 million ethnic Albanians, Serbs and Slav-Macedonians remains a stable buffer at our northern border that is not at risk of collapsing. Should that happen, it could easily develop an expansionist appetite and become part of potential plans for a Greater Albania (made up of Albania, Kosovo and FYROM) or even a pawn in Russia’s ambitious games in the region.
In that respect, FYROM’s accession to NATO and later to the European Union would bolster it politically and advance Greece’s interests.
An international agreement for a composite name to be used by everyone, with a written renunciation of the constitution’s irredentist clauses, would signal a new chapter in relations between the two countries.
Talks would have already progressed much further and on a consensual basis from the Greek side had Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras not used the issue to foment discord within the ranks of the opposition New Democracy party.
Rallies such as that planned in Athens on Sunday after one in Thessaloniki last month are fine as a means of emotional release and as a platform to protest against a leftist-led administration that was elected on promises to help the underprivileged but only ended up making them poorer.
Ensuring regional stability, though, is what’s at stake – and you can’t exercise foreign policy properly when you allow it to be dictated by domestic concerns.