FYROM talks test government cohesion


As they edge forward, negotiations aimed at resolving a longstanding dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over the latter’s name appear to be creating shock waves within the ruling coalition.  

The initial progress achieved by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev in Davos earlier this week, when both leaders pledged gestures of good will while setting down their red lines, appear to have highlighted the split within the Greek government over the issue. 

Cadres and MPs of leftist SYRIZA have been adopting increasingly aggressive rhetoric against representatives of the right-wing junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) who oppose the prospect of the word “Macedonia” being used in a solution, in contravention of the line being pursued by Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias. 

Some observers believe that, notwithstanding some initial expressions of protest, ANEL MPs will not turn their opposition into a problem for the government.

Others think that ANEL might pursue a hard line on the name issue in the hope that it will revive the fortunes of the party, which is trailing badly in the polls, below the 3 percent threshold for entering Parliament. 

On Thursday prominent ANEL MP Dimitris Kammenos, who is also a vice president of Parliament, played down the outcome of Tsipras’s talks with Zaev in Davos.

“By taking down a sign or changing the name of a road doesn’t mean anything. What needs to change is the constitution with all the irredentism,” Kammenos said, referring to Zaev’s pledge to change the name of Skopje’s airport and main thoroughfare, both named after Alexander the Great.

He added that an “honorable compromise” would never be reached as FYROM authorities will “never change the constitution.”

Another ANEL MP, Thanassis Papachristopoulos, for his part, said there was no way the junior partner would bring down the government.

SYRIZA MP and former minister Nikos Filis said Kammenos’s stance did not represent the coalition. “The official position of the government is for a composite name, the established position of the past 25 years,” he said.

“The government has one line, not two,” he said, adding that Kammenos’s opinion was his own and can be discussed in Parliament in due course.

The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece is to convene on Friday to clarify its stance following the participation of several clerics in last Sunday’s protest in Thessaloniki against the use of the term “Macedonia” in a solution.

On Thursday the Association of Greek Clerics called on its members to join a rally in Athens on February 4 despite calls by Archbishop Ieronymos opposing such events.