FYROM name talks having impact on domestic politics


As United Nations-mediated negotiations aimed at resolving a dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia gain momentum, international diplomacy is not the only concern of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who is keen to secure the broadest possible domestic political support for a possible agreement. 

The UN’s special mediator for the FYROM name issue, Matthew Nimetz, is due in Athens on Tuesday for talks with government officials and is to travel on to Skopje on Wednesday to sound out authorities there on the state of play. 

Tsipras’s meeting in Davos with his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev last week appeared to lay the groundwork for a settlement, as each leader offered gestures of good will and set down red lines. 

According to sources, Tsipras is confident that Parliament will ratify any agreement reached with Skopje as only a simple majority is required.

But the Greek premier is keen to secure backing from other political parties, chiefly because many in the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL), leftist SYRIZA’s coalition partner, are opposed to the use of the name Macedonia in a solution, a prospect both Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias have endorsed.

SYRIZA cadres are even discussing the possibility of ANEL leader Panos Kammenos, Greece’s defense minister, quitting the government over the name issue.

In private, senior government sources acknowledge that supporting a likely deal involving the term Macedonia could spell political suicide for ANEL, which is already badly trailing in the opinion polls.

Some in SYRIZA believe that, even if ANEL were to quit, the leftists could continue governing as, in addition to their 145 MPs they could draw the support of additional lawmakers from both ANEL and Union of Centrists.

There is concern, however, about significant public opposition to a solution including the name Macedonia. Turnout at a rally on the issue this Sunday will be closely watched by the government. 

Tsipras held individual meetings with opposition party leaders on Saturday to discuss the state of negotiations with Skopje. The discussions did not yield any significant signs of consensus between the politicians. 

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused Tsipras of failing to consult properly before launching talks and to create a “strong national front,” thereby undermining an opportunity to reach a settlement with FYROM.

“Mr Tsipras chose to walk this road alone so he should not look for accomplices and alibis,” said the conservative leader, who suggested that Greeks have no confidence in Tsipras’s ability to negotiate on this, or any other, issue.

The prime minister’s office responded to Mitsotakis’s comments by accusing him of “irresponsibility and opportunism.”

PASOK leader Fofi Gennimata also criticized Tsipras for not reaching out to the other parties before launching talks. “Mr Tsipras entered into negotiations without even securing consensus within his own government,” she said in reference to the stance taken by Kammenos and ANEL. 

Gennimata stressed that any solution must address any irredentist designs in FYROM and not just the country’s name. She repeated her call for a meeting of party leaders to be called for further discussions. 

Greek Communist Party (KKE) leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas stressed the need for changes to be made to FYROM’s constitution to address concerns about irredentism. He said that a solution to the dispute with Skopje does not seem likely. 

To Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis said it was “ridiculous” that the defense minister should have a different position to the prime minister on this issue.

He added that his party would support a solution that involves a composite name in Slavic for Greece’s neighbor. “There are many options that are better than ‘Upper Macedonia’,” he said.