Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

This is the Balkans

COMMENT

Protesters shout out slogans about boycotting the referendum on changing the country's name that would open the way for it to join NATO and the European Union in Skopje, Sunday.

TAGS: FYROM Referendum, Politics, Diplomacy

The outcome of the referendum in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on the country’s name demonstrates that the broader region of which Greece is part is also caught up in an unusual and certainly anti-systemic mood.

The result was, first of all, a defeat for the West. The United States and the European Union repeated the fatal mistake made in the “yes” campaign during Greece’s bailout referendum in 2015. Foreign systemic officials from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Skopje. Faced with this big albeit conventional campaign, opponents of the deal quietly mobilized on social media. As has often been seen in recent years, the resistance movement managed to beat the regular army.

FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is not a particularly charismatic politician and support for him is rather hollow. He will now try to convince his compatriots that “no” means “yes” – pretty much what his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras did in 2015. It will be very difficult for this to pass through FYROM’s Parliament without a fresh election. The requirement for constitutional revision, which was imposed by the country’s President Gjorge Ivanov (an enemy of the agreement who urged voters to boycott the referendum) as part of the deal, proved to be the most crucial security valve. Tsipras and his foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, had invested too much in the Prespes deal, which was likely also a bargaining chip in negotiations with Greece’s international lenders.

On the surface, the possible collapse of the agreement would be in the interest of the SYRIZA-led government as the scenario of a rift between Tsipras and his nationalist junior coalition partner Panos Kammenos would then be averted. However, many observers believe that a rupture would be in the interest of both men.

Sure, there is an issue about how a politician who is slated as a possible nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize due to the Prespes deal can share power with a politician who believes it to be a criminal deal. But as we all know, this is the Balkans, it’s no laughing matter.

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