Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras went to Skopje, the capital of the newly-named North Macedonia on April 2, the first visit by a Greek premier to the Balkan nation since its independence in 1991.
He landed there a couple of days after being jeered and called a “traitor” while in Greece’s second-largest city Thessaloniki, which sits in the province of Macedonia, whose name was given away in a deal he made renaming The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to end a 28-year name dispute between the countries.
The agreement brought a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Tsipras and North Macedonia Premier Zoran Zaev even though two-thirds of Greeks opposed it, further driving down the Radical Left SYRIZA leader’s hopes of returning to power with elections coming this year.
Tsipras traveled to Skopje with a delegation of representatives from more than 100 Greek firms and 10 cabinet members but not business leaders from the real Macedonia in Greece, who still are furious over the deal that will let companies in North Macedonia peddle products as Macedonian.
The two countries are expected to sign deals on the economy, defense, infrastructure and transport and try to increase business and trade ties.
“This visit is another step toward consolidating Greece’s leading role in Southeastern Europe as a pillar of peace, stability and growth,” sources were quoted by the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) saying.
Major opposition New Democracy (ND) shadow defence minister Vassilis Kikilias said it was ironic Tsipras was welcome in North Macedonia but not in the real Macedonia in Greece, mocking him.
Kikilias wondered whether the deal was made for the businessmen accompanying Tsipras to Skopje.
“We were always in favour of Skopje’s accession to NATO and the EU but with an honest and correct agreement,” Kikilias noted. He noted that the Conservatives leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakissaid the party will defend Greece’s interests and “if Skopje does not agree on essential issues nobody expects New Democracy to open its arms.”
While he can’t stop North Macedonia’s path to joining the defense alliance after Tsipras lifted a Greek veto, Mitsotakis said if he comes to power this year, with polls showing he likely will win, that he would veto North Macedonia’s hopes of joining the European Union if Greece’s interests would be seriously harmed.