‘Macedonia Dan,’ the ref with a plan

It normally takes days, if not years, before the true behind-the-scenes developments of a particular, major issue come to light. And, of course, for a journalist, there is nothing more fascinating than getting his or her hands on these golden nuggets of information, precious pieces of a puzzle that simply did not seem to be making any sense while the issue was in progress. How Greece reached the point of vetoing the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s NATO bid is one such mystery, especially as far as the leadership in Skopje is concerned. It is now clear that there were two moments in the entire affair of the name dispute that played a critical role in the context of the veto. The first was the neighboring country’s decision to name its airport after Alexander the Great. An unfathomable decision from any point of view, especially as the country was working on getting an invitation from NATO, this was a decision that incensed the Greek prime minister at the time and made him reach the conclusion that negotiations with Skopje were impossible and even that the country may pose a threat. The second turning point was when the president of the United Nations General Assembly, Srdjan Kerim, a FYROM national, addressed his country’s president in the enormous assembly hall not with the name of the country used by the UN, but by its constitutional name. The initial impression was that this was merely a diplomatic blunder. But in fact it was a premeditated – and idiotic – act of provocation. The question here is why? Why does the leadership in Skopje feel toward Greece much like Real Madrid would feel when walking onto the pitch to face Apollon Kalamaria? The answer lies in the referee. Skopje believes that the real referee in the name debate is not Matthew Nimetz, but US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, or, as some call him, «Macedonia Dan.» And here is the missing piece of the puzzle. Fried refused to believe until the final hour that Greece would ever exercise its right of veto. We don’t know why he thought this, but he did. Speaking to a Greek politician, he said that Greece was a paper tiger on this issue and would never dare cast a veto. The prime minister, who obviously knows what this term means, reacted as one might imagine. He also knew only too well that if you get a reputation for being all bark and no bite, you are bound to be humiliated at some point. All of this, however, belongs to the past. Now is the time for Greece to be cautious on how it will proceed in negotiations, because while nobody any longer believes that we are a paper tiger, the referee is still essentially the same and, if he can, he will do considerable damage.

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