With North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev calling for early elections in April, 2020 after that country’s hopes to open European Union accession talks were dashed, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said every aspect of the deal that gave away the name of Macedonia is being followed.
Former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA leader and then-Greek premier Alexis Tsipras sealed the deal changing the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and lifted Greek vetoes on that country getting into NATO, which is in process, and also over EU accession.
But while Greece got little in return and didn’t stand in the way of the EU talks, France, Denmark and The Netherlands objected, citing North Macedonia’s record on corruption and organized crime, as they did with Albania’s hopes.
Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis opposed the deal although it was his late father and former premier Constantinos Mitsotakis who in 1991 first allowed the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to take the name of Macedonia.
But after successive FYROM governments kept claiming Greek lands, history, heritage and culture, Greece put up the NATO and EU roadblocks for the deal which Zaev said could unravel although it brought him and Tsipras Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
“Mr. Zaev is once again taking advantage of the inherent problems of the Prespes agreement which we knew and had already warned about. The deal has already yielded results and Northern Macedonia reaps benefits as the road to NATO integration has been opened,” Dendias said, reported Kathimerini, as he cited the name of the lake bordering both countries where it was signed in 2018.
“Our aim is to solve problems and mitigate the negative consequences of the agreement through the European path. For this reason, we will continue to monitor closely our neighbors’ full compliance with their responsibilities.”
Mitsotakis said he couldn’t reverse the deal but would make sure that North Macedonian companies stopped marketing goods as Macedonian but hasn’t moved to stop that yet
Dendias blamed SYRIZA and said it should “consider its responsibilities for a problematic erga omnes which it continues to present as an accomplishment,” using a latin term meaning “towards all” to make sure everyone’s rights and obligations are respected.
Speaking in an interview with Euronews, Zaev said there is a link between the implementation of the name deal and the opening and closing of accession chapters. “Especially for internal use in some cases,” he was quoted as saying, adding that part of the agreement will freeze because it cannot be implemented after he said it could fall apart, too late to change the name though.
In the Euronews interview, Zaev said the obstacle to starting EU accession talks is playing into the hands of nationalists who tried to stop the deal, as did those in Greece where two-thirds of people objected to it.
Zaev suggested that the EU snub felt like a betrayal after he had put his political career on the line in the face of vehement protests in his country and Greece.
“We changed our name, we changed our constitution, we got the majority in a process of 120 days, a very painful process because there were a lot of threats by the nationalists and radicals in our country, and after that the message (from Europe) was: ‘OK, you are ready,’ but now we are not ready. Really, we can wait but it’s a big disappointment for us,” he said.
“We changed everything in the country. We changed all signs in our public institutions, signs with all our neighbors in the airports, in our documentation, websites, everything,” said Zaev, referring to removing statues of Alexander the Great and taking his name off their major highway.
“I’m afraid very much. If there is positive soil for nationalism and radicalism to rise again, it will mean big damage to the whole Balkans. And when the Balkans have a problem, Europe has a problem,” he said.