Rift deepening in coalition government over FYROM name talks


The Greek government is prepared to do what it can to resolve a lingering dispute with neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name, spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said on Thursday.

Tzanakopoulos was speaking a day after talks got off to a rocky start in New York with Skopje’s chief negotiator calling the proposals put forward by United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz “far from dignified.”

The Greek government spokesman said the UN mediator had provided a “framework for negotiations” and expressed his optimism for a solution that would “not harm Greek national interests.”

“The government will do what it can to achieve a solution to a problem that has affected the country for more than 25 years and constantly creates complications on the international stage,” Tzanakopoulos said.

“Precisely because the Balkans is an unstable region that has been through a lot, it is incredibly important that loose ends are gradually tied up and stability established, so that the entirety of the region can enter a historical phase of growth, cooperation and solidarity,” he told 24/7 radio.

Tzanakopoulos was expressing the position adopted by left-wing SYRIZA, which, however, appears to be at odds with its government partner, the small right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, causing tension in the uncomfortable coalition.

On Wednesday, ANEL lawmaker and parliament’s deputy spokesman, Dimitris Kammenos, said his party will not vote in favor of any proposal that contains the name “Macedonia.”

“Given that they want to join NATO, they should be the ones of back down, not us,” Dimitris Kammenos said in a radio interview, alluding to Greece’s blocking of FYROM’s accession to the alliance pending a resolution on the name dispute.

This position had been expressed last month by ANEL chief and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who has been sending mixed signals in recent weeks regarding his exact stance on the particular point.

Ahead of the start of the talks in New York, Kammenos on Wednesday said that he had “complete confidence” in Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, whose negotiating line looks to be headed in a similar direction as that of Nimetz, namely towards a composite solution that will likely contain the term “Macedonia” and a geographical qualifier.

Less than a week ago, however, the ANEL chief had proposed that the issue be put to a referendum. “The Greek people will have to decide on the unprecedented, in the history of man, [decision to] cede their history and civilization to another people,” he said in an op-ed in Sunday's Kyriakatiki Dimokratia newspaper.

“Including the term ‘Macedonia’ in the [new] name would signal the retrenchment of Greek civilization in the centuries to come,” he wrote.

His shifting position has drawn criticism from government ranks, with SYRIZA’s deputy parliamentary spokesman, Giorgos Varemenos, saying on Wednesday that he does not understand the call for a referendum “or all the speculation regarding the name, which is equal to political gambling.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Ioannis Amanatidis, meanwhile, on Wednesday said that “more than 140 countries already refer to FYROM as ‘Republic of Macedonia,’” in what is seen by some political analysts as a message to Independent Greeks to soften its stance.

Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with SYRIZA’s political secretariat to stress the need for a public information campaign regarding progress in the name talks, with the aim of “defeating nationalism.”