OPINION

Greece protecting North Macedonia, and the Balkans of the 21st century

greece-protecting-north-macedonia-and-the-balkans-of-the-21st-century

Newspaper titles try to convey the essence of an article. This is absolutely true in the case of Kathimerini’s recent interview with North Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

The interview was published under the title “Together for the Balkans of the 21st century.” The Greek edition in its front-page summary used the title “Greece’s protection of the highest importance.” Together, the two titles say a lot. The prime minister of the neighboring country looks to Greece and to the future. A Euro-Atlantic future for a country, which, he concedes, is small but has a role to play in building the new Balkans, by gradually disengaging from a painful past – a difficult endeavor for anybody – to a future beneficial to all.

An essential part of this endeavor is the normalization of bilateral relations between Athens and Skopje. Zaev refers to the great benefits for his country, and also for the wider region, from the Prespes agreement.

It is obvious that the deepening of our relationship creates a pole of stability in the Balkans, with diplomatic, defense, economic and energy dimensions.

For many reasons, the two countries are natural partners. And if the name dispute had been solved with an honorable compromise in 1993 – I was a witness to the painstaking and persistent efforts made at the United Nations at the time – the Athens-Skopje axis would by now be the main pillar of the Balkans, and the damage caused by the negative emotional tension, to the point of hatred, in both countries would have been avoided. Now we can hope that time will heal this tension completely.

It is notable that Zaev assigns great importance to Greece’s choice to protect his country’s airspace and “further strengthen our security.” Let’s think what this means, given the difficult setting of our region.

People and governments will come and go, but the relationship is now secure. Zaev notes that, on the road to Prespes, “both [then prime minister] Alexis Tsipras and I entered a process in which we risked our political careers without calculations for our personal future,” while, at the same time, talking of the “friendly relationship” he is developing with his current counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, “relieved of all previous issues that burdened the relations between our two countries” and expressing his satisfaction for the Greek premier’s assurance that Greece remains a strong lobbyist and supporter of North Macedonia in the upcoming negotiation process with the European Union.

Finally, it is important that Zaev appears to be firmly committed to the full and unimpeded implementation of the bilateral commitments stemming from the Prespes agreement, which will be confirmed in his meetings today with the Greek prime minister.

This commitment is something that Athens, correctly, focuses on and which will be the launchpad for a deepening of our bilateral relations.