ATHENS – With Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saying he will agree to let the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) keep the word Macedonia – the name of an abutting ancient Greek province – in a new composite name, his coalition partner is resisting, but finding dissension in its own ranks.
Tsipras’ anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA wants to settle the more than 26-year-old battle with FYROM which began when a New Democracy Conservative government at the time agreed to let the word Macedonia be used for the country which broke away from Yugoslavia but only until the two countries could agree on a permanent solution.
Since then, FYROM has claimed Greek lands, including Macedonia and the second-largest city and port of Thessaloniki and has made no move to change its Constitution which pursues that policy.
Instead, FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev has said only that his country will change the name of its airport and main thoroughfare both named for Greek conqueror Alexander the Great it also has claimed.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) serving SYRIZA, said he’s opposed to giving away the name Macedonia but has vacillated and changed his mind a number of times and ducked out of sight during the new brouhaha.
ANEL lawmaker Dimitris Kammenos, who is also a Parliament Vice President, said Tsipras’ meeting in Davos, Switzerland with Zaev on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum was irrelevant even though the two leaders said they wanted to end the name feud and get Greece to lift its veto on FYROM’s hopes of entering NATO and the European Union.
“By taking down a sign or changing the name of a road doesn’t mean anything. What needs to change is the constitution with all the irredentism,” Kammenos said, referring to Zaev’s pledge to change the name of Skopje’s airport and main thoroughfare, both named after Alexander the Great, sid Kathimerini.
He added that an “honorable compromise” would never be reached as FYROM authorities will “never change the constitution.”
But another ANEL MP, Thanassis Papachristopoulos said the party would not bring down the government by stepping out of the coalition after Adonis Georgiadis, the Vice President of the major opposition New Democracy snickered that Panos Kammenos would agree to anything to stay in party with polls showing ANEL now has only around 1 percent support after betraying its alleged principles in bowing to austerity and working with SYRIZA.
ANEL is under pressure to fall in line with SYRIZA which wants to give away the name Macedonia as soon as possible, ahead of critical meetings this year of NATO – the alliance Tsipras said he would remove Greece from – and the EU.
SYRIZA MP and former minister Nikos Filis said Kammenos’s stance did not represent the coalition. “The official position of the government is for a composite name, the established position of the past 25 years,” he said.
“The government has one line, not two,” he said, adding that Kammenos’ opinion was his own and could be debated in Parliament.
Tsipras could get enough votes from other parties, particularly the new center-left grouping the Movement for Change, led by the former PASOK Socialists who fell out of favor after serving New Democracy in a coalition and also backing austerity.
That has led to speculation that the center-leftists, despite vowing otherwise, could be wooed to work with SYRIZA, a prospect that leaves ANEL and the Defense Minister twisting in the wind and with no political leverage to use against Tsipras, who now also has the backing of the Church of Greece which used to be opposed to giving away the Macedonia name.
Archbishop Ieronymos said the Church does not approve of protest marches, including one in Thessaloniki on Jan. 21 which saw hundreds of thousands of people angry over the coming name deal and another planned for Feb. 4 in Piraeus.
United Nations Special Envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has failed for more than two decades to find an answer, is brokering negotiations again after a three-year hiatus and all the names he’s put on the table include Macedonia, along with a qualifier such as Upper or Northern or New Macedonia, anathema to Greek nationalists.