The moment of truth is here for Greece, which has been deeply divided over the past year with regard to talks for settling the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
After 27 years of negotiations aimed at finding a mutually acceptable name, by bridging two diametrically opposed demands – Skopje’s desire to be fully recognized by its constitutional name, “Republic of Macedonia,” and Athens’s absolute objection to the use of the term “Macedonia,” which goes back to ancient Greece – there was a deal.
As far as Greece is concerned, the agreement should have been able to pass with an overwhelming majority. But for that to happen there should not have been winners and losers in the domestic arena. Instead, we are a country divided, and all the politicians bear responsibility for this.
First and foremost, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has indeed shown leadership in the eyes of the international community, and he rightly gets credit for this, but on the domestic front he cynically used the agreement as a tool to drive a wedge in the ranks of opposition New Democracy. What he ended up doing was driving a wedge into the population.
This writer has repeatedly argued that the best and most responsible approach for safeguarding Greece’s best interests would have been for the two main protagonists of the political scene, the prime minister and the main opposition chief, to have come to some sort of agreement between themselves, out of the spotlight of publicity, that would have brought about cooperation and much more effective management of the issue.
Had Tsipras taken a different approach, he probably would have gotten a sympathetic ear from Mitsotakis, who sees the big picture, which is not restricted to bilateral relations with FYROM, but also includes dangers in the broader Balkan region as well as on the global geopolitical chessboard.
Anyone who has followed closely the developments on the name issue over the past 27 years knows that the Greek side has made mistakes. Had he enjoyed more leeway in Parliament, Constantinos Mitsotakis would probably have dared to push for a solution, possibly with the name “New Macedonia.” Costas Simitis and George Papandreou later came close to a deal with the name “Upper Macedonia.”
Those of us who were at the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest felt the palpable anxiety of Costas Karamanlis, whose aim was – let’s not forget – to secure a name with a geographical qualifier and for universal use.
Today, moderate observers, who are in the minority, see the deal as an honest compromise that does not insult the other side’s dignity. In this respect, foreign diplomats and analysts who consider the agreement to be more in Greece’s favor because it gets FYROM to change its name, need to understand and respect how deeply emotional this issue is for the Greek people – something shown by the large turnout at the protest rallies.
In that context, they will be more objective in their assessment if they also point out the concessions that Greece has made.