ATHENS – Major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece’s deal to let the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) call itself Northern Macedonia cedes the name of an ancient Greek province and “recognizes a Macedonia ethniticity and language,” for Greece’s Balkan neighbor.
Calling it a “bad deal,” Mitsotakis added that, “It is against the (interests of the) majority of Greeks. Some people do not realize it or, even worse, they do not care to understanding it,” he added.
He said that anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras “does not have any political legitimacy” to commit Greece to a deal that is not approved by his junior government coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who said he opposes the name giveaway but wouldn’t stand in the way of a deal, allowing him to have it both ways.
“This has no precedent in Greek political and constitutional history and an insult of the parliamentary system,” said Mitsotakis, who still hasn’t said whether he would agree to letting the name Macedonia be used in any agreement.
It was his father, the late former Premier Constantinos Mitsotakis who in 1992 agreed to let the new country forming from the collapse of Yugoslavia to use the name Macedonia in the acronym of FYROM.
That was supposed to be temporary but after successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major ports of Thessaloniki, Greece used a veto to prevent FYROM from getting into NATO and its European Union membership hopes.
“Accepting the ‘Macedonian language’ and the ‘Macedonian ethnicity’ constitutes a non-acceptable national concession,” he said in a video posted on his official Twitter account.
The deal requires that the name Northern Macedonia be used domestically in that country as well as internationally but allows its citizens to be called Macedonians in official documents and to say their language is Macedonia.
FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev said his country’s Constitution would be changed to remove claims on Greek lands that he wouldn’t consent to barring the use of the Macedonian identity or language for its citizens.
Mitsotakis raised his objections again in a meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos – a member of New Democracy – and said Tsipras has no legal standing to make the deal although it must at some point go to Parliament, likely after Northern Macedonia is already in NATO and moving toward getting into the EU, too late to reinstate a veto if parts of the deal are not honored.
Speaking on SKAI TV, New Democracy spokeswoman Maria Spyraki said the government had presented a “bad agreement,” adding that the prime minister “has no legitimacy to put his signature on it.”
HOLD THE PHONE
The center-left grouping Movement for Change (KINAL) said it would wait for the full text of the agreement before taking an official position. It is led by the former PASOK Socialists who became defunct after backing austerity measures while serving New Democracy as a junior coalition partner in a former government.
In a statement, KINAL said officials will review the agreement to make sure it contains what is necessary to safeguard Greek interests and to promote regional stability, including a change in FYROM’s constitutional name for all uses (“erga omnes”) and the removal of any elements perceived as irredentist.
With ANEL opposed, or perhaps not, to the deal, Tsipras might need votes from rival parties to get it through Parliament and has long been wooing KINAL.
Cyprus liked the deal too, with government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou telling state broadcaster RIK it was important and could generate many “national gains” for Greece without explaining how that would happen if the name of Macedonia is given away.
US LIKES IT
But there was praise for the deal from the United States after it was brokered with the help of UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who had failed for two decades to find a solution but resumed talks this year after a three-year break amid speculation it was done to get another country into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.
A US State Department statement lauded the deal as an “ historic agreement (that) … will benefit both countries and bolster regional security and prosperity.”
It also praised Tsipras and Zaev for showing “vision, courage and persistence” in their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable settlement. The US is “ready to support this agreement,” it said, while praising Nimetz.
ALBANIA LOVES IT TOO
There was also joy in Albania, which also covets Greek lands on its borders with Prime Minister Edi Rama calling Tsipras and Zaev “two progressive leaders” and used their Twitter handles to give them praise, tweeting: “Balkans are today a better place thnx to you both.” Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of FYROM’s 2.1 million people.
Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati also congratulated “our neighbors & friends” for a “breakthrough agreement” that he said would lead the Balkans region to become part of the “Euro-Atlantic family.”
Both Albania and FYROM hope to launch full membership negotiations with the EU and the European Commission in April approved the start of accession talks. The final decision is expected from the European Council at the end of the month.
UN JOINS THE CHORUS
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the agreement too, after his failure last year to bring a reunification deal on Cyprus with Turkey, which has occupied the northern third of the island since an unlawful 1974 invasion.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Guterres “urges all citizens in both countries to come together to move the process forward,” in the usual platitudes put out by the UN to avoid irritating anyone on either side.
Dujarric said Guterres “hopes that parties to other protracted conflicts may be inspired by this development to work towards negotiated settlements without further delay,” although voters in FYROM will have a chance to have their say in a referendum that Tsipras has barred for Greeks and as Parliaments in both countries must ratify the deal.