The latest developments in the Macedonian issue would be positive – opening the way toward the end of a chronic and dangerous problem – if the country’s political forces were not trapped in automatic modes of behavior and mutual distrust. The fact that a government appears indifferent to the political cost of seeking a deal with our neighbors would be a step toward the rational solution of the problem if the agreement did not appear to have loose ends and did not appear aimed at creating problems within opposition parties: First, the opposition was kept in the dark on the negotiations; second, other parties are being called on to support an agreement that the government’s junior partner will not support. Consequently, the opposition parties cannot ignore their reservations regarding the deal and support it.
This raises the question as to whether Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras really does want to solve the problem or simply to appear as the only one interested in solving it while others obstruct him. Because the deal has a long way to go before it is ratified by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, there are two possibilities: Tsipras may expect that the agreement will not be ratified by our neighbors; if he calls early elections, before the deal is ratified in Skopje, ratification in Greece will not be his problem. His SYRIZA party will be able to claim that it tried to solve a problem that others created, only to be obstructed by those same reactionary forces. The satisfaction with which the leaders of our European Union partners, NATO allies and other international organizations greeted the deal suggests that Tsipras gained points with his tactics, beyond Greece’s borders at least, with all that this might entail. He does not seem to have taken into consideration what might happen if our neighbors ratify the deal and Greece does not – when our country’s position in the EU and NATO will be weakened.
In the 1990s, the issue of our northern neighbor’s name united almost all Greeks, at a time when, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world was changing. Over the years, the maximalist positions of both Athens and Skopje prevented agreement. Until the present, when the prospect of compromise causes tremors in both countries. In the Greek government and opposition parties there are people who want to see the problem solved. The proposed deal is not ideal, but perfection has proved to be an illusion. The government can claim credit for any success but also responsibility for potential failure: Its choices prevented consensus and widened division. Whether this was due to clumsiness, indifference or cynicism, time will tell.