Much has been written about the North Macedonia national soccer team’s use of the name “Macedonia” in the European soccer championship taking place at the moment. It was obviously a bad move. A few nationalists may have rejoiced, but the country did not gain anything – quite the opposite.
The organizers of the Euro tournament, for their part, did what was proper, upholding the international practice of using the country’s official name as spelt out in the Prespes agreement.
And North Macedonia’s prime minister apologized for a tweet he sent out using the name “Macedonia,” saying it was a mistake.
There is, however, the bigger picture. Zoran Zaev is walking a tightrope and must be supported, not undermined, as he faces strong opposition from nationalist forces inside his country. Some will say that his problems have nothing to do with us, but this is wrong, especially now, as the 2018 Prespes agreement is still in the early stages.
It needs to be made clear to the people here in Greece that implementation of the name deal is in the national interest. Objections to certain aspects of the agreement are perfectly understandable and respected, although no one gets everything they want in a compromise.
But these objections do not matter as much as the success of achieving a delicate formula where the positives for both sides outweigh the negatives.
Internationally, meanwhile, the Greek government needs to clearly communicate that Athens is upholding the deal and is vehemently opposed to any nationalist grandstanding and scenarios about redrawing borders.
It does not matter to the situation in the Western Balkans, to the stability of North Macedonia, to the curbing of the influence of other forces, that some in Greece’s ruling party are opposed to the Prespes accord. New Democracy is a big party and inevitably includes many different trends and voices, but what it actually does as a government is the only thing that ultimately matters.
The former government negotiated and ratified the agreement and today’s has repeatedly stressed that Greece will be consistent as a country and will uphold its international agreements and commitments.
Do some Greeks want to see a Greater Albania come to life? Do they want tensions in the area? Or more ambitious claims, territorial and otherwise? Do they want to see the influence of certain third parties increase?
Stability in the Balkans, of which Greece is a key factor, is in our interest, bolstering our geopolitical value and strengthening our voice. It is in the proper national interest, therefore, that the Prespes agreement be implemented, and that any violations of the accord are done by others, not us, and they are brought to the attention of the European Union, the United States and the international community more generally.