ATHENS – Former Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said after he quit the coalition led by the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA over a name deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that four of his other six lawmakers in the Independent Greeks (ANEL) defied him and said they would back the agreement and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
The tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic party’s seven votes, including that of Kammenos, had given SYRIZA a scant three-vote majority in Parliament where the Leftists, with 145 of 300 seats, were also backed by one alleged Independent.
He said at a news conference after he quit following a meeting with Tsipras earlier on Jan. 13 that only Deputy Defense Minister Maria Kollia-Tsaroucha and Member of Parliament Costas Katsikis would vote against the deal to rename FYROM as North Macedonia and lift Greek vetoes keeping the country out of NATO and opening European Union accession talks.
He had threatened to boot any MP who went against his orders to vote against the deal as SYRIZA said the major opposition New Demoracy was “terrorizing” its members by directing them to vote against it as SYRIZA expects all its members to follow the party line without explaining the difference.
Two other ANEL lawmakers, Costas Zouraris, who is not a party member, and Athanassios Papachristopoulos, have declared their support for the name deal and are likely to back the government, said Kathimerini.
Kammenos said that both had informed him about their position well in advance and called their views an “honest disagreement,” but he wasn’t happy that Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura and Deputy Agriculture Minister Vassilis Kokkalis, had essentially defected although it wasn’t known if Tsipras would keep them in their positions or if the dissidents would try to join SYRIZA.
Kammenos praised Kountoura’s work and said her trip abroad had long been scheduled. “But she seems to have left her phone with her police escort,” Kammenos said, hinting that he couldn’t reach her, showing the level of disobedience in the party as it was coming apart.
Kokkalis, who has declared he will oppose ratification of the name deal, “discovered recently that he had to make a trip to China,” Kammenos said, not hiding his sarcasm, the paper said. “I hope he reads the newspapers (to find about the news)” Kammenos added.
Kammenos heaped disdain on Deputy Foreign Minister Terence Quick, who is not an MP and said he wants to keep his position and wouldn’t go against what Tsipras wants. Kammenos said it was Quick who was most vehement about having ANEL join the coalition with SYRIZA in 2015, saying he wanted nothing to do with the Leftists and who “was shedding tears over Macedonia.”
That was in reference to the ancient Greek province abutting FYROM and whose name will be given away permanently if the Greek Parliament, as expected, backs the deal with the votes of the ANEL dissidents and from some rival parties.
Kammenos also revealed that, during the stormy cabinet session in which he had attacked then-Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias over the FYROM deal, leading to Kotzias’ resignation, Quick had taken the of Kotzias – then his boss, and not his party leader.
At the news conference, the surly Kammenos attached rivals from the left and right, accusing them of being against him since ANEL, which he formed after breaking way from New Democracy over it support for austerity – only to back it so he could become Defense Minister – entered Parliament in 2012.
He alleged widespread corruption and blackmail without naming names and was scornful of his party losing 37 former lawmakers who had deserted the party after it was formed.
“All of them vanished. None were elected to anything, not even city councillors,” he said.
He said that FYROM was “that creation of Mussolini and Tito” as if the two had cooperated in setting it up, whose existence “perpetuates the Communist and fascist lies.” FYROM was formed after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991 and got the okay from a New Democracy government to use the name of Macedonia in what was supposed to be a temporary acronym.
Kammenos denied his far-right nationalist party was far-right, saying he preferred to have “patriots” join him or cooperate with him in elections this year with polls showing he’s polling only at around 1 percent, far below the 3 percent threshold needed to return.