A missed opportunity that never was

During the period when Yugoslavia was breaking up and the problem with Skopje emerged in 1991-92, the view prevailed in Greece that we could not recognize a state having the name «Macedonia» right on our borders. That view was naturally supported by the overwhelming majority of the Greek public. However it was not imposed by the people on the streets, the rallies, the Macedonian «warriors» and certainly not by Antonis Samaras. It was formulated by the two leading politicians of that period, Constantine Karamanlis and Andreas Papandreou. The latter had said: «With regard to the name… for me there is no way I can accept the term ‘Macedonia’ in any form as part of the name of the (former Yugoslav republic).» As he explained, that was because he saw it as a «vehicle for irredentism.» Constantine Karamanlis not only agreed with this view but went a step further: «The argument that Greece is exaggerating because that small country is not a threat to Greece… is contradictory and dangerous, not to say illogical. If Skopje is not a threat, at this time, no one can predict or guarantee… what correlation of forces will emerge in the near or distant future in the Balkans and the broader region. States do not only live in the present. We must remember the past so as not to relive it in the future.» These views were unanimously adopted by the New Democracy party parliamentary group when ND was in power at the time. The views were also adopted by the overwhelming majority of Parliament and unanimously adopted by the Cabinet. It was those views that I, as foreign minister at the time, was supporting. Naturally I agreed with them. I still do. But it was not I who imposed them. I was simply giving voice to and implementing national policy, as I had a duty to do as foreign minister. However it appears that some people never forgave me for that… The major decisions of that time were approved by the Council of Political Party Leaders. The decision to reject the «Pinheiro» package was taken by the second party leaders’ council on April 13, 1992, after I had been removed. Some believed that was when we missed the opportunity to settle the issue with the name «New Macedonia.» Yet there never was such a missed opportunity. After all, the Pinheiro package had also been rejected by Skopje. In fact its president at the time, Kiro Gligorov, criticizes the «Pinheiro ideas» in his book and admits that his country could not accept them as they provided for a change to its constitution. Gligorov always said that he rejected it, yet many people in Athens still bewail the «missed opportunity.» They talk about a missed opportunity that never existed. Worst of all, I am seen as being responsible for a decision taken by others after I had been removed. Since then Skopje has won the battle for international recognition as «Macedonia.» However, as I have been claiming for years, they are losing the more important battle for their survival, for the preservation of their unity. The first move happened in 2001 when the Albanians of Tetovo in eastern FYROM, rebelled. There was the threat of civil war, averted at the last minute by a compromise, one that was painful for Skopje, in the Ohrid accord. FYROM essentially stopped being a «national cradle of Macedonians» and became a multi-ethnic state with two separate ethnic components. «Pseudo-Macedonian» irrendentism began to be questioned on the domestic front. What we question from abroad – the existence of an ethnic state of «Macedonians» – is something that the Albanians of Tetovo began to question from within. The second step is happening now with the secession of neighboring Kosovo from Serbia, making a new crisis with FYROM’s Albanians unavoidable; and it has already broken out. For Skopje today, the dilemma is whether it will break up or whether – as some are claiming – it will be transformed into a loose multi-ethnic federation (as a way of avoiding dissolution). In every case, the «Macedonian idea» will have been defeated once and for all. So we need time and must ensure that Greece does not pay the price of the critical developments to come. Today the prime minister has ruled out any prospect of a dual name, but agrees to discuss a «composite» name. I still disagree with that, but welcome his avoidance of a dual name. I believe it is impossible for Skopje to reach a compromise, since the most they can do is to accept a dual name, which we reject. Such an outcome could prove beneficial to Greece, since when the Karamanlis government leaves Skopje out of NATO it will be Skopje’s responsibility. And we will gain time. The «Macedonian idea» is now being undermined and questioned from all sides… In February 1992, Constantine Karamanlis said that «states do not only live in the present. We must remember the past so as not to relive it in the future.» All those who are in a hurry to settle major national issues without any concern for the problems they are creating for the future should remember that. The big problems have to be resolved, not simply settled. I supported Karamanlis’s view then and now. Some people never have. (1) Antonis Samaras was foreign minister in the New Democracy government in 1989-1992 and went on to form the Political Spring party, now defunct.

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