ATHENS - Breaking with the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition he serves, Defense Minister and Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader Panos Kammenos rejected a deal the government made to let the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) keep the name Macedonia and to be called North Macedonia.
Macedonia is the name of an abutting ancient Greek province and Kammenos said he couldn’t stomach supporting the deal fashioned by anti-nationalist Premier Alexis Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias as it will also allow citizens of North Macedonia to call themselves Macedonians and claim a Macedonian language and identity.
Kammenos - who stood with Tsipras against a no-confidence measure brought by the major rival New Democracy Conservatives - said the deal was “bad,” after he earlier said he would order the remaining five Members of Parliament in his party to vote against ratification when it comes to the Parliament in autumn.
ANEL lost two members when he ejected one for voting against Tsipras and another quit in disgust over the name deal, although he had voted for the Premier and against the no-confidence measure.
The coalition is now down to 152 lawmakers, a majority of only two in the Parliament, leaving Tsipras unable to take any action against Kammenos who has often barked public defiance of SYRIZA policies anathema to him only to then vote for them so he could stay in power with polls showing ANEL has sunk to 1.5 percent support among voters and unlikely to return to Parliament in the next elections.
In his comments on Tuesday, Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader and Defense Minister "For me, the deal is bad, I don't accept it and will try to block it," he said, without explaining why he didn’t do that when he could have voted no-confidence in Tsipras - and then said the next time he wouldn’t support his boss.
"In order for the procedures to be launched for FYROM's accession to NATO, all the conditions of the Prespes agreement must be fulfilled," Kammenos said, referring to the accord signed between Greece and FYROM in the Prespes lake district last month.
“Those conditions include a referendum in FYROM, changes to the country's constitution and formal ratification of the deal," he said. Even though that hasn’t been done yet fully, Tsipras said he would lift a Greek veto and let FYROM get into NATO - the defense alliance the Greek leader said he would take Greece out of - and let the Balkan neighbor being European Union entry hopes.
Those had been stymied for 27 years after a New Democracy government allowed the country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to use the name Macedonia in what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement before successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.
"There is no future for Skopje in NATO if the agreement is not ratified," he said, using the name of FYROM’s Capital. “As far as Greece is concerned I will make sure that the deal will not be ratified without the approval of the Greek people,” without explaining how he could stop it if Tsipras can woo supporters from other rival parties. Kammenos did not threaten to leave the coalition, however, as it would take him out of power.
"The expectations that Zaev is trying to cultivate in his country are his own business," Kammenos said. "Someone's wishes are separate from a country's foreign policy and from existing documents," he said.
While Zaev said he’ll allow a referendum in the autumn, Tsipras has rejected the idea after polls showed 62 percent of Greeks are opposed to what he did, further weighing him down after plummeting in popularity for reneging on anti-austerity promises.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)