The new Denktash

Greece is both lucky and unlucky in its troubled relations with its northern neighbor. It is unlucky because the politician at the helm in Skopje is a leader who suffers from small-party shortsightedness when dealing with foreign relations and who, in the words of one veteran Western diplomat, «couldn’t even serve as mayor of an average Greek town.» It is nigh-impossible to imagine how Nikola Gruevski will be able to wriggle out of the corner he keeps painting himself into. First of all, he dropped a clanger with the airport name change and has convinced the Greek prime minister that he is not a person you can hold a discussion with. He continued insisting on a referendum over the Macedonia name issue, even though he knew this would kill any chance he had of making history by proposing a compromise. Now, with his letters about an ethnic minority, he is becoming a bit silly. Gruevski is simply not interest in a settlement and would rather hang around the EU and NATO waiting rooms being a big fish in a small pond. So Greece is unfortunate because it has no one it can talk to in Skopje. It is also fortunate because the crude manners of Gruevski and his associates have been noted by everyone. Even the country’s US mentors, such as Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Daniel Fried, have realized that by cultivating Skopje’s arrogance, they are shooting themselves in the foot. It is too late for tears, because, come January, these guys will be nothing more than a footnote in history and Gruevski will be playing his own game in spite of their delayed admonitions. It is extremely difficult to predict which way the debate will go. Most likely nothing will happen and it will join Cyprus on the list of issues to be solved after an entire generation of diplomats retire. Either way, Greece has the luxury of time because after Bucharest it has gained the advantage and earned the understanding of its partners due to Gruevski’s crude ways. In other words, Greece is faced with another Denktash – not necessarily a bad thing in the long term.