ATHENS – A leaked 2008 cable compiled by US Ambassador to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Gillian Milovanovic showed Greece’s neighbor was willing to take the name North Macedonia but keep a “Macedonian” language and identity, almost identical to what was agreed this year with the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.
Anti-nationalist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pushed for the agreement to end a 27-year name feud after a New Democracy government in 1991 agreed to let the new country emerging from the breakup of Yugoslavia to temporarily take the name that included Macedonia, an abutting ancient Greek province.
But after successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, Greece used a veto to keep its neighbor out of NATO and beginning EU accession talks, both of which will be lifted by Tsipras even though FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev hasn’t yet moved to change his country’s Constitution as promised to remove irredentist claims on Greek territories.
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotizas earlier had admitted he made a concession to let residents of what would be North Macedonia call themselves Macedonians, as did the 2008 proposal which said passports of Greece’s neighbor would say Macedonia.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis – whose father, the late former Premier Konstantinos Mitsotakis was in power when the name of Macedonia was first given away – said the leaked cable was another reason why he would not go along with the deal if he came to power.
“Today’s revelation from WikiLeaks, that Skopje (FYROM’s Capital) had been asking since 2008 to name their country ‘North Macedonia’ and their people ‘Macedonians’ who supposedly speak the ‘Macedonian’ language confirms in the most tragic way what I have been stressing all those months. That (PM Alexis) Tsipras, (Defense Minister Panos) Kammenos and (Foreign Minister Nikos) Kotzias wanted to present their extremely damaging agreement – which satisfied what Skopje had been demanding for years and had been rejected by all previous governments – as a success for Greece,” Mitsotakis said.
“I reiterate my commitment: New Democracy is not going to ratify this agreement,” he said, without mentioning that it may be a done deal if he comes to power as it has been ratified by FYROM’s Parliament and will go before voters there in a Sept. 30 referendum.
If that passes, it will go to the Greek Parliament, likely early in 2019 as Tsipras, with 62-68 percent of Greeks opposed, has barred a referendum. His junior coalition partner headed by Kammenos, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) are opposed however and the Defense Minister said he would take his party out of the coalition if it comes to a vote.
That would require Tsipras to find votes from rival parties and another partner to keep his government from collapsing, with polls showing Mitsotakis and New Democracy far ahead after the Premier kept reneging on anti-austerity promises.
The classified cable, titled What the Macedonians need to resolve the name dispute is dated July 29, 2008 although Milovanovic was Ambassador to FYROM only through 2007. The apparently discrepancy was not explained.
The cable showed FYROM’s negotiating targets have not changed much in the last decade and were essentially reached when Tsipras and Kotzias agreed to give up the name of Macedonia as well as the Macedonian language and identity.
The proposal then said that, “Macedonia would use its constitutional name in referring to itself, on passports, product labels, in the media,” which would mean the name North Macedonia would be mostly symbolic and the country would call itself Macedonia – as 140 countries now do anyway.
Kotzias responded to Mitsotakis – who didn’t mention that New Democracy was in power in 2008 – that FYROM’s Prime Minister then, hardliner Nikola Gruevski, did not want any solution to the name dispute and that the discussion was a ruse.
“In order to mock the international players, (Gruevski) pretended to be forced to accept a compromise. No one believed him, except, in retrospect, Mr. Mitsotakis,” Kotzias said in a press release as he doesn’t give news conferences nor talk to reporters.
Kotzias added that the WikiLeaks release showed FYROM wanted to use its constitutional name Macedonia without any modifiers for domestic use – a condition that New Democracy accepted, he said.
Kotzias also said that the then New Democracy government claimed the best solution to the dispute would be the name North Macedonia, which was rejected repeatedly by Gruevski unless it was tied to concessions allowing the use of a Macedonian language and identity.
“Bottom line is that Macedonia needs assurance that their language, nationality, etc. would continue to be called Macedonia, not North Macedonia,” said the cable. The US calls FYROM by the name Macedonia.
It also said, disputing Kotzias’ view now, that, “Gruevski expressed his view that Greece is determined not to solve this issue,” and it wasn’t.