With a deal to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) awaiting approval by the Greek Parliament, Premier Zoran Zaev said “Macedonians “ in Greece will have the right to be taught the “Macedonian” language, setting off a furious response.
With anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras silent, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said Greece will not accept “arbitrary” interpretations of the agreement to rename FYROM as North Macedonia although the agreement allows citizens there to be called Macedonians and have a Macedonian language and culture, giving away the name of an abutting ancient Greek province.
According to FYROM news sites mkd.mk and vecer.mk, Zaev’s remarks were made to a lawmaker of the nationalist VMRO party who asked about the fate of so-called “Aegean Macedonians” under the deal,
Asked by Kathimerini if Zaev did indeed refer to “Aegean Macedonians” and their right to be taught “Macedonian,” and if his comments imply the existence of a “Macedonian” minority in Greece – FYROM’s government spokesman Mile Bosnjakovski said his country’s language belongs to the group of southern Slavic languages and that it will become an official language of the European Union when FYROM joins the bloc.
The deal also lifted Greek vetoes keeping FYROM out of NATO and beginning EU accession talks but only if it's finally ratified and becomes North Macedonia and gives up irrendentist claims to Greek territories, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.
Bosnjakovski said there are no articles in the deal specifying language use in FYROM and Greece. He didn’t say whether Zaev referred to “Aegean Macedonians.”
Earlier, Greece’s Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos said that Athens expects FYROM to fully respect the name deal it signed with Greece last summer “in letter and spirit” but wants to examine what Zaev said.
Greece has said that FYROM’s insistence on describing the Slavic language of FYROM as “Macedonian” is tantamount to an attempt to appropriate the heritage of the Greek culture of the ancient Macedonians.
The major opposition New Democracy slammed what it described as Tsipras’s “provocative” silence on the issue and that the deal “encourages instead of erasing Skopje’s irredentism,” adding that, “The statement by Zaev about the capability of teaching the so-called Macedonian language in our country is a provocation to all Greeks.”
Curiously, there was no response from Tsipras' junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who opposes the agreement and said he will take his party out of the coalition when it comes to vote in Parliament at the same time he said he won't stand in the way of the deal.