The name deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is gaining increasing international interest, so any handling of the issue by Athens that is motivated by narrow partisan interests or last-minute power plays will only hurt the country. There is a lot at stake.
It has become more than apparent in the past few weeks that powerful allies and partners of Greece are investing heavily in the agreement going through, as the geopolitical equation includes the West’s relationship with Russia and Moscow’s role in the Balkans. The pressure to this end is significant, from US President Donald Trump to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, not to mention several influential foreign ministers. In what is a rare intervention, even former US president George W. Bush called on the people of FYROM to vote “yes” for the deal in the September 30 referendum.
The agreement in question is the product of compromise and, like any deal of its kind, comprises concessions – painful concessions. Our neighbors are certainly not thrilled about being called “North Macedonia” instead of “Macedonia,” even at home. What irks most Greeks – and rightly so – is the recognition of a “Macedonian” nationality and language, regardless of the footnotes and small print in the Prespes agreement. The prime minister of FYROM is not helping in this aspect either, with his constant references to a “Macedonian” identity.
Nevertheless, we need to look at the situation calmly and consider the fact that for the past 25 years, almost every country in the world has recognized our neighbor as the “Republic of Macedonia.”
On the other hand, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was wrong to be motivated to settle the name dispute by partisan interests and in the hope of splitting the main opposition party, ignoring the risks to the country. He thought a deal would increase Greece’s diplomatic capital while also making life hard for New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The risks are even greater because of coalition partner Panos Kammenos’s surreal efforts to capitalize on public discontent with the deal.
If the deal is turned down in FYROM, then the situation for Greece will be very different. If it passes, though, we are looking at a very sticky situation indeed. The fragile state of the country also limits its options, as every move will have consequences.
The least damaging scenario is for the deal to be ratified by the present Parliament and, in the event that New Democracy wins the next elections, implemented despite the conservative party’s stated opposition, given the party’s known respect for institutional continuity.