As Greek politicians spent most of Tuesday going at it hammer and tongs over the Novartis affair, the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Zoran Zaev, announced that his government is open to accepting a composite name with a geographical qualifier in order to settle the country’s dispute with Greece – coincidentally, this columnist will hasten to add.
Some will obviously argue – and probably not without good reason – that Zaev’s announcement was merely a move of tactical evasion. Be that as it may, this was the first time in the 25-year-long battle between Greece and its northern neighbor that such a position has been clearly expressed by Skopje. In this respect alone, it should mean something.
On that same day, the European Commission presented its new strategy for the countries of the Western Balkans, and the body’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, stated in the most emphatic manner possible that those countries will not be able to join the European Union “without border disputes having first been resolved.”
Juncker’s statement must have been greatly welcomed by Athens, as it effectively quashed any territorial aspirations FYROM may have on Greece. This does not mean that a Swiss sense of calm has descended over the Balkans and all is well here in Greece, however, because FYROM’s irredentist ambitions will be taken over by the grass roots instead of the government.
We got a small foretaste of the new shape of the issues causing tension in the Balkans from the position adopted by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in an interview published on Tuesday. After clarifying that there is no question of “territorial claims,” Rama added that no one can deny that members of the Cham minority “should have the ability to claim property rights through the court of law, as every citizen of Europe normally does.”
This will obviously also be the policy pursued by the communists who fled Greece in the wake of World War II and settled in the area that is now FYROM.
In short, Greece’s accession to the European Union did not put to rest the disputes of the past. Neither did the induction of both Greece and Turkey into NATO. When you become part of such groups – and the EU in particular – you need to use other means and techniques to support the traditional national positions. Participation is no excuse for complacency and moving outside the framework of the European and Euro-Atlantic structures is simply preposterous.