ATHENS – With the Greek Parliament expected on Jan. 25 to narrowly back a deal giving away the name of the ancient province of Macedonia in a new name for The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias and major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis tangled in fierce debate over the issue.
Mitsotakis said the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA was using the issue to push far-left agenda on the country, as elections loom this year and with Premier Alexis Tsipras far behind Mitsotakis and New Democracy in surveys.
“The Prespes agreement should never have been signed and, of course, it should have never been brought for ratification in the Greek Parliament,” Mitsotakis told lawmakers ahead of a vote, using the name of the lake which borders both countries where it was signed last year.
“Because it represents a national defeat… a national mistake that is an affront to truth and history. While going down, SYRIZA continues with its catastrophic mission. After wrecking both the economy as well as society it is dragging Greece to a permanent upheaval,” he said.
Kotzias went after the opposition. “The Prespes deal works for you,” Kotzias told opposition lawmakers. “(The deal) solves a problem which you could not solve and, at the same time, you can also make criticism of the government,” he said.
Kotzias’ criticism was rebutted by former conservative foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis who had also tried to negotiate a solution.
She said that although the conservative administration of then-Premier Costas Karamanlis had tried to reach a settlement, it was blocked by the government in FYROM which wanted a deal recognizing Macedonian language and nationality.
Karamanlis,who has essentially disappeared from public life after being defeated in 2009 by then-PASOK Socialist leader George Papandreou, blamed the government for the way it handled the deal that has split Greek society.
“The government should have respected the sensitivity and listen to the legitimate concerns of the large majority of citizens, but also to establish on its own initiative the terms of a basic national consensus,” he said in a statement.
“It is not acceptable for national issues of such importance to lead to tensions that create a divisive climate.”
Karamanlis said the criticism from New Democracy was rational, adding that negotiations between Greece and FYROM were done “in undue haste,” considering Greece was not in a rush to resolve the dispute.
The anti-nationalist Kotzias, with the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, was the architect of the deal but quit as foreign chief after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras backed then-Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who opposes the deal.
At the time, Tsipras needed the seven votes of ANEL to have a parliamentary majority and sided with Kammenos over his long-time ally Kotzias, who compared the Premier to Pontius Pilate but has stayed with SYRIZA and continues to defend the agreement.
The deal would see FYROM become North Macedonia, lift Greek vetoes to the country joining NATO and opening European Union accession talks and end a nearly 28-year dispute over what the name should be.
The feud began when a then-New Democracy government under Premier Constantinos Mitsotakis – father of the party’s current leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who opposes the agreement – let the country emerging from the collapse of the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia use the name of Macedonia in a temporary acronym.
After successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, Greece used its veto to keep the country out of NATO and EU hopes, setting off the dispute.