The ‘Macedonia issue,’ beyond diplomacy


It is becoming ever more evident that the effort to solve the “Macedonia issue” will demand skillful handling domestically as well as on the diplomatic front. With the red lines, the emotions and the harsh language that define our political debate, the signs are not good.

The position taken by the Church of Greece, and the Foreign Ministry’s response, in which an unnamed source asked whether “the Church’s leadership has decided to align itself with the neo-Nazi entity of Golden Dawn,” suggest that a difficult situation is likely to get dangerous.

If our institutions and citizens all knew each institution’s responsibilities and its limits, the Holy Synod’s intervention on Wednesday would have been no more and no less than the expression of the Church’s position on an issue of national interest.

The “Macedonia issue” concerns every Greek and the Church is no exception. Responsibility for solving the problem, however, lies solely with the government.

The problem is that the Church, the government and citizens all believe that – whether they agree with its positions or not – the Church exerts disproportionately great influence.

Hence the Foreign Ministry blunder: Instead of commenting, “We note the Church’s position but we continue with our efforts,” it resorted to rage and insult. 

(Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to repair the damage with a letter to Archbishop Ieronymos along these lines, but the ministry source’s initial comment cast a long shadow.)

The ministry’s mistake is not so much the angry words as the effort to present everyone who disagrees with the government’s efforts as camp followers of Golden Dawn.

This shows reckless indifference to the danger of bestowing on the group a significance and size that it does not merit.

In the past, SYRIZA had no problem with Golden Dawn’s presence, so long as this strengthened the “anti-bailout” front in demonstrations, in Parliament, in the 2015 referendum. Now, the government wants to tar its opponents with Golden Dawn’s brush.

After years of expecting national triumph on the issue, and after having grown used to the impasse, it is difficult to persuade everyone that an honorable compromise is better than the risk of a post-dated defeat.

After so many real defeats in recent years, many citizens and groups see the “Macedonia issue” as a battle of the greatest national import – symbolically and literally.

The danger of disappointment is great. But it is the duty of responsible politicians and others in positions of power to handle reality and not illusions; to seek consensus and not provoke extremism and foster division; to inspire confidence in citizens, not despair.

Because it is not only names that define us, but our actions, too. Our politicians, our clergy, and every citizen should remember this.