Nor­mal­iz­ing Greece-FYROM re­la­tions once and for all

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY TOM EL­LIS

The For­mer Yu­goslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia’s Prime Min­is­ter Zo­ran Zaev has shown courage in his per­sis­tence to push through the name deal signed with Greece. This is some­thing the more mod­er­ate voices on the Greek side ap­pre­ci­ate, as is the fact that when the em­bat­tled pre­mier is ad­dress­ing a do­mes­tic au­di­ence he needs to high­light the ben­e­fits he se­cured with the agree­ment rather than the con­ces­sions he was forced to make. The lat­ter he will ei­ther down­play or not bring up at all. Nev­er­the­less, at this im­por­tant junc­ture for the suc­cess of the deal, FYROM’s prime min­is­ter, as well as the Balkan coun­try’s politi­cians and cit­i­zens, need to re­mem­ber two very im­por­tant things. First, that the agree­ment still needs to be rat­i­fied by the Greek Par­lia­ment, where the bal­ance is also quite shaky and ma­jor­ity sup­port is not a given. The sec­ond is that even when the deal passes in Greece and FYROM joins NATO, it will still face a slew of is­sues on which it will need Athens’s sup­port and co­op­er­a­tion. Main­tain­ing the ex­ist­ing level of ten­sion will only prove harm­ful to FYROM’s long-term in­ter­ests. In the mean­time, in­ter­na­tional play­ers who are in­vest­ing in a suc­cess­ful out­come need to un­der­stand that im­ple­men­ta­tion of the agree­ment in the long term is more im­por­tant than al­low­ing cer­tain over­the-top state­ments which will only con­trib­ute to the detri­ment of the deal’s long-term suc­cess. I am re­fer­ring here to Zaev’s re­cent com­ment in re­sponse to an op­po­si­tion politi­cian’s ques­tion re­gard­ing the right of the “Mace­do­nians of the Aegean” to be taught the “Mace­do­nian” lan­guage. This needs to be the West’s strate­gic pri­or­ity if what it is seek­ing is sta­bil­ity in the Balkans. The frus­tra­tion on the Greek side – ex­pressed more dis­creetly by govern­ing SYRIZA and much more vo­cally by op­po­si­tion New Democ­racy – is ab­so­lutely jus­ti­fied. One of the key prin­ci­ples of the Pre­spes name deal is that the two coun­tries will not med­dle in each other’s do­mes­tic af­fairs, and this is be­ing en­shrined in the changes be­ing in­tro­duced to FYROM’s con­sti­tu­tion. The is­sue at hand is not to hide the prob­lems so that the deal goes through. Such an ap­proach may lead to an even big­ger cri­sis in the fu­ture – be­tween two NATO mem­bers. At the same time, although it may not halt FYROM’s process of ac­ces­sion to the Euro­pean Union, it will cer­tainly com­pli­cate it. The goal should be to nor­mal­ize re­la­tions be­tween Athens and Skopje once and for all to the ben­e­fit of both coun­tries. And that can­not be achieved with state­ments aimed solely at do­mes­tic au­di­ences which end up alien­at­ing and an­ger­ing the peo­ple in the other coun­try.

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