FYROM at a crossroad

The issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is important. And not only because the United Nations Security Council has asked for it to be resolved, through negotiations, in order to ensure peace and good neighborly relations in the region. It is also important because as long as it remains unresolved, it will affect every aspect of bilateral relations with Greece, as well as regional cooperation and stability. It is important because a mutually acceptable solution will free up resources for development and cooperation, with immediate tangible benefits, not just for Athens and Skopje but for the entire region and its peoples. For years now, Greece has made its choices regarding the region of Southeast Europe and has backed these choices up with hard work. We want to see the region of Southeast Europe leave behind its irredentist past of conflict and build a common future of security, stability and peace for every country and every citizen in our neighborhood. We fought for the European perspective of the Balkans. The European vision of the western Balkans took on real substance with the European Union’s adoption of the Thessaloniki Agenda in 2003. We supported the efforts of Bulgaria and Romania and, with great satisfaction, we welcomed them to the European family. Our support is not just political. In every country in the region, Greek entrepreneurs are investing, transferring know-how, creating jobs, contributing to growth and improving the local standard of living. Rising to the challenge, the Greek state created HPERB (Hellenic Plan for the Economic Reconstruction of the Balkans), providing 550 million euros for important infrastructure projects in the countries of the region. For Greece, the future of the Balkans lies in the European Union. Radical and broad reforms, the spread of democratic institutions and the development of substantial, good neighborly relations are all vital to the success of this endeavor. There is no room for fudging on the standards that have to be met. This would only create a smokescreen, a time bomb waiting to blow both efforts and benefits into pieces. Unfortunately, in our region we have often swept our differences under the carpet. And we have paid a high price for this, as these differences have always re-emerged, stronger and more intractable than before. Greece will do everything in its power to prevent a repetition of the mistakes of the past. The name issue has to do with more than just our history and our culture. It is first and foremost a political issue. An issue of today and tomorrow. An issue that will define the future of the region and the relations of our countries. And these relations must not be poisoned by irredentist propaganda and provocative actions. They cannot be built on yesterday’s thinking, on an intransigent mind-set. The time has come for a mutually acceptable solution within the framework of UN negotiations. Greece wants to see this neighboring country become an ally in NATO and a partner in the European Union. Greece can contribute decisively to the realization of Skopje’s aspirations. After 15 years of negotiations, Greece has demonstrated its constructive stance. It has also provided tangible evidence of its desire for stability and development in FYROM and the region as a whole. It now falls to the leadership in Skopje to choose between a Euro-Atlantic future of cooperation and good neighborly relations, or an arrogant, intransigent stance that will inevitably lead out of the European and Euro-Atlantic framework. The time for decisions has arrived. A European future cannot be built on the crumbling foundations of pending issues. Greece wants to add another link to the alliance’s chain, but first we must be certain this link is strong. (1) G. S. Koumoutsakos is spokesman for the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.