The agreement between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should be endorsed by the two countries’ respective societies for several reasons.
The agreement marks the dawn of a new era in which our extensive economic and social relations as neighbors will be instilled with a new spirit of political friendship. This newly created positive climate will further boost relations.
One in three FYROM citizens has visited Greece, for various reasons, in the last three years. Greece is one of our country’s top foreign investors and trade partners. The mutual benefits will become more apparent in the years to come.
The agreement comes after a period of isolationist policy pursued by FYROM’s former authoritarian government led by Nikola Gruevski. Our former prime minister was not a convinced nationalist, but rather a selfish politician who was interested in stealing public money for himself and his clique.
He used nationalism to divert attention from the real problems faced by our society, such as the lack of social services, lack of state support for those who need it, low quality of education, etc.
He tried to conceal these problems by offering people a new identity based on antiquity. Over the period of a decade, the government tried to redefine our identity, history and origins. A handful of people accepted this offer, while the majority – like ourselves – were ready to take to the streets to reject his policy.
Gruevski angered our Greek neighbors because they thought that their national history was being stolen. With the new government and the agreement between our countries, nationalism and nation-building based on antiquity are no longer an option.
Our country being called Northern Macedonia will clearly offer a distinction between the region of Macedonia in Greece and our country. Furthermore, Article 7 of the agreement is the best guarantee that our Greek neighbors can rest assured that there will be no more claims over symbols from the ancient Hellenic legacy.
The agreement clearly delineates the Hellenic and the Slavic understanding of the adjective “Macedonian,” emphasizing the clearly Hellenic nature of antiquity and the clearly Slavic nature of contemporary Macedonian national identity.
This will make it easier for progressive people like us to tackle any nationalist excesses within our nation. Long-lasting and stable friendship can only be based on keeping promises. The agreement is a pledge we make to each other for mutual respect and friendship in future.
Our country is living in the aftermath of over 10 years of authoritarian rule. Many people spent years challenging Gruevski and his policies through street protests. The people eventually won and some of the bad politicians had to leave.
There is a new spirit of democracy and willingness to build bridges with neighbors. We want to solve all our major problems and join the European Union, which we see as the best guarantee that our small country will be protected amid the geopolitical games played in the region by powers such as Russia and Turkey.
In our closest neighbors, the Greeks, we see an older brother, a friend and a guide in the process of joining the EU. Having solved the majority of our misunderstandings, we can now focus on building a stable friendship.
Ljupcho Petkovski is executive director of the Eurothink Center for European Strategies. Andreja Stojkovski is Eurothink’s senior researcher-analyst and president.