The aggressive rhetoric being exchanged by Greece and Turkey is full of perils, but the crisis between Athens and Ankara over the Aegean and Cyprus may in some odd way come to act as a catalyst for real progress on a series of ongoing issues in the Balkan neighborhood, foremost of which is the current effort to find a solution to the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Even in the early years after the fall of the Iron Curtain – outside which Greece enjoyed decades of unprecedented security – various analysts had warned of the risk of Turkey increasing its influence in the so-called Muslim arc, stretching from the coast of the Black Sea to the Adriatic. The issue has returned to the fore today because of the potential for Turkish meddling in FYROM, Kosovo and Albania.
However, concerns expressed by some of the Great Powers regarding the possibility of Moscow penetrating deeper into the western Balkans, in combination with the change of government in Skopje, have created a new dynamic for a solution to the name dispute with Greece.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – notwithstanding the well-publicized opposition of his governing partner, Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos – has accepted the idea of FYROM being inducted into (or trapped in) the system of the West so that Greece will be in a position to expand its influence toward the north.
Talks, however, have hit a snag in the irredentist ambitions of Greece’s northern neighbor.
With the exception of Eleftherios Venizelos’s serious error in regard to the Greek-Vlach minority in the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest, Greece has never recognized an ethnic minority, and the present government will be no exception. Otherwise, the negotiations will simply fail. However, no Greek government has directly disputed the existence of a “Macedonian people” inside the border of FYROM, not even over the many years that it was a part of Yugoslavia.
Whatever the mood in Skopje, though, we shouldn’t kid ourselves: Even if these irredentist ambitions are not expressed formally by the state, they will be expressed. But if Greece – with its ethnic homogeneity, its numerous universities and catalytic archaeological discoveries, its unimpeachable historical sources and its sizable population of Greeks in foreign lands – fails to deal with a country invented by Josip Broz Tito, then I’m afraid it has little future.