From the moment when the latest chapter opened in efforts to resolve the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the proponents of serious results-oriented diplomacy have stressed the need to limit the damage that was wreaked in the early 1990s. It was a negative development which got worse over the next 25 years as almost every country in the world recognized Greece’s neighboring Balkan state as the “Republic of Macedonia.” It was in this respect that they considered it hard but less damaging for Greece to accept the agreement. But that decision should have been the result of a broader domestic consensus.
Unfortunately, the Greek government chose to use the deal to maneuver the main opposition into an impasse, with the goal of reaping political benefits. Instead of opening lines of communication between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and New Democracy chief Kyriakos Mitsotakis (without necessarily making them public), and trying to get as much support for the agreement as possible, the government’s approach made it clear that the prime minister’s goal was to make his rival’s position as difficult as possible.
Given Mitsotakis’s liberal instincts, one can assume that the opposition chief would not have adopted such an abjectly negative stance toward the agreement if the approach was different. As things happened, though, he was forced to reject it in order to safeguard his party’s unity. The truth is its fragmentation would have inevitably led to the formation of more extreme groupings to the right of New Democracy, which, with funding from dubious sources, would have promoted an anti-West agenda.
Due to its geographical position, but also these days to its economic situation, Greece has an even greater need of its European partners and Western allies. As its foreign policy is based on the respect of international agreements, Greece is at risk of a serious loss of credibility because of the prime minister’s handling of the issue on the basis of petty party interests. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg noted recently that the international community expects Greece to honor its end of the deal.
If the agreement is ratified by FYROM, which looks all the more probable, Greece will find itself in a precarious position, debating, under the “watchful eye” of the international community, whether coalition chief Panos Kammenos will cause the government’s demise, what date for elections would benefit whom, and how much damage Mitsotakis’s image will sustain in the eyes of foreigners. This is no way to serve the country’s interests. Instead, we should have come together to shape a more broadly supported national approach whose only objective would have been to bolster Greece’s role in the Balkans and protect it from other peripheral threats.