ATHENS – All of Greece’s rival parties have turned down a proposal by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to reach a name deal to call itself Ilinden Macedonia which they said reaffirms irredentist claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia, an abutting ancient Greek province.
If anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader accepts that offer, he then would have to, besides ordering his 144 lawmakers to vote for it, to get the backing of the nine members of his junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who has said he would reject any name deal that includes the word Macedonia.
The two countries have been feuding over the name since a New Democracy government under then-Premier Constantinos Mitsotakis agreed to let the new country emerging from the break-up of Yugoslavia to use the word Macedonia until a permanent agreement could be reached.
But that fell through after successive FYROM governments immediately claimed Greek lands, including the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki along with Greek heritage, history and culture as it had none of its own.
In phone conversations with Tsipras, the leaders of the New Democracy, Movement For Change, To Potami and Greek Communists KKE all rejected the proposal said to have been made by FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev to Tsipras during talks in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on the sidelines of a meeting between European Union and Western Balkans leaders.
Despite the opposition, Tsipras’ administration said it’s willing to discuss the name of Ilinden Macedonia although Ilinden refers to an anti-Nazi uprising in the Balkans in 1944 in which rebels wanted to unify the area and seize parts of Greece, an idea reportedly acceptable philosophically to Tsipras and SYRIZA.
While Kammenos said he wouldn’t go along with the name giveaway of Macedonia he also said he wouldn’t stand in the way of deal as otherwise if his opposition prevented it he would be out of power and with virtually no chance to get back into office in the next elections with surveys showing he has about 1 percent of the vote after reneging on his promises.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis reportedly told Tsipras that the Republic of Ilinden Macedonia is “unacceptable” because it’s the height of irredentism. Tsipras said he was closing on a deal but said that FYROM would have to change its Constitution to remove claims on Greek lands and use a new name both internationally and domestically.
New Democracy said the term Ilinden is linked historically and directly with efforts to create a “Macedonian” nation which includes Thessaloniki and extends to the Aegean.
Former PASOK Socialist leader (the party became part of the center-left coalition Movement for Change) Evangelos Venizelos told Parliament that the name is the “epitome of irredentism.”
PENCE CALLS TSIPRAS, US PUSHES FOR DEAL
US Vice President Mike Pence pushed Tsipras to reach a solution, adding pressure on the Prime Minister, who said he would take Greece out of NATO and close a US base on Crete but didn’t.
In a phone conversation, Pence, a former Governor with no international or foreign policy experience, told Tsipras Greece and FYROM should end the feud, which would help American interests about NATO.
A statement issued by the White House said Pence and Tsipras “agreed that the parties have an historic opportunity to resolve this issue and that time is of the essence,” using careful diplomatic language.
“The Vice President encouraged Prime Minister Tsipras to continue working with Prime Minister Zaev on a mutually-acceptable agreement. Resolution of this issue would promote stability and peace in the region,” it said.
NO WAY! NO WAY!
FYROM calls itself Macedonia, as do 140 other countries in the world and United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has failed to find a solution for 20 years before resuming talks again this year after a three-year break, said Greece must give in.
That comes amid reports the US wants a name deal so that Greece will lift its veto blocking FYROM from getting into NATO with America wanting another ally as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.
Movement for Change leader Fofi Genimata also said Greece must stick to its guns and insist a new name be used domestically as well as internationally and that FYROM must change its Constitution.
Zaev said he is ready to go ahead with a new name for his country in order to solve the dispute with Greece and pave the way for full integration of the small Balkan country into the European Union and NATO.
Greek political leaders briefed by rejected the proposal outright and the Greek government itself, in a response to Zaev’s remarks, was evasive about the particular name proposal.
Zaev said that “Republic of Ilindenska Macedonia” is the compromise name acceptable to both sides. The adjective “Ilindenska,” meaning, literally, “the day of the prophet Elijah” refers to a 1903 uprising against Turkish occupiers as well.
“With this possible solution, we preserve the dignity, we confirm and strengthen our Macedonian identity,” Zaev said, but added that final say on the new name will be put to a referendum.
Zaev reiterated that Macedonia has no territorial claims to its southern neighbor and confirmed the inviolability of the borders. “Macedonia is ready to confirm this in all necessary ways,” Zaev said, except changing its Constitution.
He also said that with the new name proposal “we make a complete distinction with the Macedonia region in Greece,” although the new name stil includes the word Macedonia, with 68 percent of Greeks rejecting a giveaway and two massive protests this year being ignored by Tsipras.
All the opposition leaders said the name Ilinden Macedonia was unacceptable because, as Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas said, it is “neither a geographical nor a temporal” designation, as agreed in nearly two decades of talks mediated by the United Nations. Some opposition leaders called the proposal a provocation on FYROM’s part.
A statement released by the Greek government reflected its ambivalence about the name.
“We welcome the acceptance by (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) that a solution to the nomenclature cannot exist without the adoption of … a name for all uses,” the statement said, meaning that FYROM could not call itself Macedonia domestically, while having another name for international use.
“However, we encourage our neighbors to continue working together to find a commonly accepted name with a geographical or temporal designation, just as the package of proposals tabled by the UN Special Envoy, Matthew Nimetz, also provides,” the Greek statement added.
Zaev did not have an easy time with his country’s opposition leaders, either.
The leader of the main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party Hristijan Mickoski said after meeting with Zaev that his party is against the name change, and that his party will not support a change of the constitution and of the Constitutional name Republic of Macedonia despite the Premier’s urging.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)