Name dispute tests Greek gov’t cohesion

Name dispute tests Greek gov’t cohesion

As efforts intensify to resolve the decades-long name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Panos Kammenos, the leader of Independent Greeks, the right-wing populist junior partner in the leftist-led coalition, dampened expectations and revealed cracks in the government after reiterating that he would never back a solution including the word “Macedonia.”

Speaking during a press conference on Wednesday, Kammenos, who is also Greece’s defense minister, said that Greek party leaders had agreed in a 1992 meeting convened by then President Constantine Karamanlis that the use of the word was a nonstarter for Greece. Deciding otherwise, he said, would require a fresh meeting under the current president.

“My position and that of Independent Greeks is that the Council of Political Party Leaders must be convened,” he said, adding that if this were to take place, “our position will again be against the use of the term ‘Macedonia,’” he said.

Athens says the use of the name “Macedonia” by Skopje is a distortion of history and irredentist, and could lead to future claims on the province of the same name in northern Greece.

Kammenos’s remarks, which came as both Athens and Skopje have expressed the will to resolve the dispute within what has been described as the window of opportunity in the first half of 2018, highlighted differences within the ruling coalition and the limitations of the leftist-led government if a deal on the name is put to a vote in Parliament.

Former New Democracy foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis accused the government of lacking a uniform stance on the issue, adding that for this reason it is “condemned to failure.”

Kammenos also reckoned that a deal on the name will not need an absolute majority in Parliament, in sharp contrast to what the government and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias have said, namely that a House majority will be needed to approve any deal on the name.

Meanwhile, government sources have denied speculation that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras may meet his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev in the first days of 2018. Zaev will be in Thessaloniki for the New Year celebrations at the invitation of city Mayor Yiannis Boutaris.

Zaev has already hinted in recent public statements that Skopje is ready to forgo any irredentist sentiments, saying recently that it is giving up the claim that it is the sole heir to Alexander the Great.

“The history belongs not only to us, but also to Greece and many other countries,” he said last week.

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