A need for composure

Following the agitation of the past few days, it would be advisable for Greece’s political world to compose itself anew in order to deal effectively with the crisis over the FYROM issue. The strenuous opposition of Costas Karamanlis’s government on Thursday to Washington’s hasty recognition of Greece’s neighbor as the «Republic of Macedonia» helped reduce the sudden emotional charge, but was probably politically ineffective internationally. The United States actually waited for more than a decade, during which many countries recognized FYROM as Macedonia without triggering a strong Greek reaction, except against Turkey and Yugoslavia when still ruled by Slobodan Milosevic. Some Greek protest was necessary, so as not to nullify a struggle begun back in 1991. But Athens should have negotiated directly with Washington to get the latter to exert its influence on Skopje if it wanted to reach a mutually acceptable solution. Speculation, however, that the government intends to use its veto in the EU and NATO to impede FYROM’s accession to both bodies is probably unfounded. A viable policy of splendid isolation demands the existence of an empire, the presence of a Cecil-like fourth Marquess of Salisbury, who – for the sake of friendship – sacrificed his personal comfort to serve Queen Victoria as prime minister. Greece is not Britain, we have never had political families like the Cecils, and the country needs common sense rather than splendid isolation. Athens believes it has solid EU support to counterbalance the US action, but it cannot count on that for long. The enlarged EU is not a vehicle for confronting the US, and European leaders have a poor track record in managing Balkan issues. The Europeans, in fact, first put pressure on the US to lead the war on Yugoslavia. The Greek government must curb its resentment and seek a mutually agreeable, if compromise, solution on the FYROM name issue by March. The solution will certainly contain the word «Macedonia,» which will irritate the more hardline conservative elements in northern Greece. Slavs in FYROM do have irredentist tendencies and often appropriate the historical and cultural heritage of the Greeks of Macedonia. At the end of the day, if Greece is not able to deny illegitimate assertions and rein in Slav irredentism in FYROM, then one wonders what reason Greece has to exist as a state entity.