The minutes seen by Kathimerini of meetings between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s political party leaders about the negotiations with Greece before the name deal was signed in the Prespes lake district in June, indicate that they thought a deal would be easier to sign with a left-wing government in power in Greece.
The two councils of FYROM leaders on January 27 and May 19 in Skopje were both chaired by President Gjorge Ivanov. The first meeting took place less than two weeks before negotiations began in earnest under the aegis of United Nations special envoy Matthew Nimetz while the second was convened while the name Macedonia of Ilinden was being floated.
According to the minutes of the meetings – small excerpts of which were published on May 19 by German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – most of the elements of the Prespes agreement had already been agreed upon, with the exception of the name.
The minutes also reveal that, in January, FYROM was not discussing the Greek demand for a constitutional review while the use of the name – internally and internationally – was under discussion. There was agreement on both of these issues by May, just before the negotiations were concluded.
The minutes make plain that Greece had agreed to recognize a Macedonian identity early on and a Macedonian language shortly thereafter. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was also seen in January to be keen on rapidly wrapping up the deal with FYROM so that he could head for elections after the summer with a name agreement under his belt along with Greece’s bailout exit.
By May, however, this narrative had subsided. With regard to New Democracy, the minutes of the January council showed that its response to an agreement could be positive. However, this had changed by May, when FYROM’s leader said a deal would not be achievable with an ND government. Both councils showed a clear chasm between Zaev’s government and Ivanov. The meetings also showed that there was concern about the dangers of Russian interference aimed at no name deal being struck with Greece.