The Church, the municipalities and ‘Macedonia’


Greece’s foreign policy is exercised by the country’s democratically elected government. Before making a decision, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, have to take into account the positions, recommendations and objections put forward by citizens, organizations and institutions; they must also weigh up the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the potential gains and damage.

The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece and the Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDE) reserve the right to voice their opinion on the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). They have both said they object to the use of the term “Macedonia,” as a result distancing themselves from Greece’s official line regarding a “composite name with a geographic qualifier for all uses” – a position that was successfully put forward at NATO’s 2008 summit in Bucharest.

The country’s political leaders must take these views into account, but no more than that. Actions bordering on populism are no good.

Foreign policy cannot be dictated by the Church or by the local administration. The mayor of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris, had every reason to host FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on New Year’s Eve; and there’s always room for some city diplomacy. Similarly, the president of KEDE can favor a different approach, but foreign policy is ultimately designed and pursued by the government of the time.

“The issue touches us, we follow it with anxiety and emotion. It is not only national and political, it is also ecclesiastical,” Archbishop Ieronymos said of the name issue following the convention of the Holy Synod. Emmanuel, the metropolitan of Polianis and Kilkis, said that “we, as Christians and as Greeks, will stick to our decisions.”

At the same time, one would have to welcome the placidity of the incumbent archbishop who, distancing himself from the position of his predecessor, said that the “Church treads with love, not with popular rallies or wars.”

Meanwhile, during a board meeting last week, KEDE said that “there should be no backing down from the established national position which forbids the use of the name ‘Macedonia’ by Skopje.”

For their part, the United Nations mediator as well as Greece’s peers and allies who are interested in reaching a viable and workable solution should not disregard the overriding mood of Greek society.

Certain quarters have already made their opinions public and issued statements. More interventions will come in the weeks and months ahead. Some of them will be vociferous. But the responsibility for the negotiations lies with diplomats and their political seniors; responsibility for decision-making lies with the prime minister and his government, while the political parties will play their institutional role. They will be judged by people and history.