Athens must stay the course

The election reruns in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will take place on Sunday but the balance of power in parliament will only be slightly, if at all, affected. The fact that the USA wants to bring FYROM into NATO as soon as possible is a motive that can help UN special mediator Matthew Nimetz’s task over the name dispute. Athens is not the biggest obstacle. Although it has the political advantage, it has already accepted an equitable settlement. The same, however, cannot be said of FYROM President Nikola Gruevski. Some argue that he will abandon his hard-line nationalist stance, but nothing is certain. For the time being, he is not backing down and is even insisting that he will, if pushed, put the issue to a referendum. If the West puts too much pressure on him, he may try to torpedo the entire mediation process. Greece need not be concerned by such an outcome. It also has no reason to be in any rush nor to stall for time. The ball is in Skopje’s court. The true dilemma for the people of FYROM is clear: on the one hand is their constitutional name and visions of a «Greater Macedonia» and, on the other, lie the very tangible benefits of EU and NATO accession. This dilemma will become even harder if the EU ceases accession talks. Athens, meanwhile, would like to see a solution, but this does not lie in its hands. It cannot back down from its stance so far. The most likely scenario is that the deadlock will continue. On a practical level, this means that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis will be forced to stop accession talks with FYROM from taking place. Any change in his stance from Bucharest would be a contradiction. Under these conditions, the Macedonia debate is something of a luxury in strategic terms, and one that may cost FYROM dearly. This does not mean that they will change course; the most likely scenario is that they will keep marching toward the edge of the cliff. When politics is so deeply influenced by nationalist fantasies, the grasp on reality is lost.