The government is striving to create a climate of optimism ahead of a new United Nations-mediated effort to solve a decades-old dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the Balkan state’s official name, even as the two coalition partners disagree on the approach that should be taken.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias both spoke by telephone with FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev, who visited the northern port city of Thessaloniki over the holidays and last month reiterated his will to reach a solution to the long-standing name dispute with Greece.
Government officials, meanwhile, have been seeking to kick the ball into the court of the conservative opposition New Democracy, referring to the 1992 spat between then conservative premier Constantinos Mitsotakis and then foreign minister Antonis Samaras over the FYROM name issue.
In an interview with Real FM on Tuesday, Tsipras sought to appear upbeat about a solution while taking a swipe at ND.
“I am optimistic that we can effectively and responsibly manage an issue that we inherited from previous governments and, as long as the other side genuinely desires progress, I believe there can be steps toward a solution,” Tsipras said.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos struck a similar tone, speaking of a “window of opportunity.” He sought to appear positive about the prospects of leftist SYRIZA and its junior coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL), seeing eye-to-eye on the issue, saying that the nationalist leader Panos Kammenos had shown a “responsible stance… considering his different political and ideological background.”
Last month Kammenos said he would not accept a name for FYROM that includes the word “Macedonia,” reflecting long-standing Greek objections to such a move as it could imply territorial aspirations to Greece’s northern region of Macedonia.
Referring to Kammenos’s reservations, Tzanakopoulos said the ANEL leader had made it clear that, notwithstanding his objections, “if there is a consensus among party leaders he himself would not stand in the way of a solution.”
ND accused the government of hypocrisy and “doublespeak” on the issue, prompting a terse response from Tzanakopoulos. He accused the conservative party of “forgetting its own history.” “It played a huge role in ensuring that the matter was not solved in 1992 and remained pending for 25 years,” Tzanakopoulos remarked.