The ‘Macedonian’ issue, timing and leadership


The current circumstances with regard to the solution of the “Macedonian” issue are, historically speaking, the most positive.

I will mention a few reasons why.

1. There is pressure from the Western powers that have an immediate interest in fending off Russian influence in the Western Balkans where various factors coincide, namely tension between Kosovo and Serbia, unrest among the Albanian populations, the emergence of extreme Islamic elements and the rise of international crime.

2. After many years, a government has been elected in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that is ready and willing to move ahead for a solution in cooperation with international players and the Greek government.

3. After 25 years, the overwhelming majority of parties in Parliament have accepted a composite name as a basis and a policy whereby irredentist claims (on grounds of nationality, language etc) are prevented through state institutions.

An important issue is that the public opinion has not been prepared and there is little understanding of the notion of national interest.

At every historic turn the responsibility lies with the prime minister, the country’s leader. Given that a solution to the longstanding national issue carries the utmost significance, he has the responsibility to hammer out the policy that will serve this objective. He must draft a national narrative, make the most possible alliances and inform the people.

Let us therefore imagine how it would be today if the prime minister had managed the issue differently. Let’s think of the prime minister addressing the nation about the “Macedonian” issue at the start of the negotiations with the aim of rallying all the parties under the same banner. That would mean paying homage to Andreas Papandreou and PASOK regarding the interim agreement of 1995 which set the framework within which we are working today. It would also mean paying homage to Costas Karamanlis and New Democracy over the national understanding achieved before the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008.

In this spirit, he would call on party leaders to present the national case and the Foreign Ministry’s initial negotiating position. He would organize a team of experts representing all the political party leaders which would monitor and be updated on the developments. Obviously, he would also invest in the capabilities of the government’s communication team to present a video spelling out the national benefits a solution would entail and highlighting the need for popular unity.

Instead of all the above, which would have been difficult for the political leaders to resist, he did the exact opposite. From the very first instant, he demeaned and attacked the “old” political system and, of course, its leaders, considering them responsible for the problem. In other words, from the outset, he put the parties on the defensive. He immediately put forth a plan to change the political stage, with the assumption that the “Macedonian” issue would be a catalyst that would dissolve the existing political formations.

This plan is also being pushed through specific media outlets and was presented by the parliamentary speaker. The plan is multifaceted: the breakup of New Democracy, entrapment of the Movement for Change for the next government, the gradual distancing from junior coalition partner Independent Greeks and, of course, downplaying the social and economic impact of the bailout review (auctions etc).

So we have now arrived at a situation where the debate about what is at stake nationally has become a battle between the parties on electoral grounds.

Moreover, couching the debate on ideological grounds – between populist-nationalists and reformists, the right and the left, northerners and southerners – is creating the danger of a new national division, pitting the forces of yes and no against each other (something not foreseen in the original plan), which could lead to political instability.

Those that many years ago talked about the danger of the country’s “parasitic collapse” were marginalized. The collapse has taken place. There are acute concerns of a national collapse via an attempt at national amputation. The danger does not come from the weak north where the issues must be resolved, but from the east. Let us all think hard what it means for Greece at this moment in time to have a ruptured national front and a divided people. And may the governor consider his historical responsibility.

* Anna Diamantopoulou is the president of the DIKTIO – Network for Reform in Greece and Europe, and a former European commissioner and minister.