The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has shown courage in his persistence to push through the name deal signed with Greece. This is something the more moderate voices on the Greek side appreciate, as is the fact that when the embattled premier is addressing a domestic audience he needs to highlight the benefits he secured with the agreement rather than the concessions he was forced to make. The latter he will either downplay or not bring up at all.
Nevertheless, at this important juncture for the success of the deal, FYROM’s prime minister, as well as the Balkan country’s politicians and citizens, need to remember two very important things. First, that the agreement still needs to be ratified by the Greek Parliament, where the balance is also quite shaky and majority support is not a given.
The second is that even when the deal passes in Greece and FYROM joins NATO, it will still face a slew of issues on which it will need Athens’s support and cooperation. Maintaining the existing level of tension will only prove harmful to FYROM’s long-term interests.
In the meantime, international players who are investing in a successful outcome need to understand that implementation of the agreement in the long term is more important than allowing certain over-the-top statements which will only contribute to the detriment of the deal’s long-term success.
I am referring here to Zaev’s recent comment in response to an opposition politician’s question regarding the right of the “Macedonians of the Aegean” to be taught the “Macedonian” language. This needs to be the West’s strategic priority if what it is seeking is stability in the Balkans.
The frustration on the Greek side – expressed more discreetly by governing SYRIZA and much more vocally by opposition New Democracy – is absolutely justified.
One of the key principles of the Prespes name deal is that the two countries will not meddle in each other’s domestic affairs, and this is being enshrined in the changes being introduced to FYROM’s constitution.
The issue at hand is not to hide the problems so that the deal goes through. Such an approach may lead to an even bigger crisis in the future – between two NATO members. At the same time, although it may not halt FYROM’s process of accession to the European Union, it will certainly complicate it.
The goal should be to normalize relations between Athens and Skopje once and for all to the benefit of both countries. And that cannot be achieved with statements aimed solely at domestic audiences which end up alienating and angering the people in the other country.