The witless deal between ex-Premier Alexis Tsipras and his Skopjian counterpart Zoran Zaev at Lake Prespa (aka ‘the Mistake by the Lake’) three years ago continues to manifoldly manifest its colossal folly. The Euro football championship currently underway was the latest scene where Greece conceded yet another own-goal in its diplomatic match against its tall tale telling onomastically challenged northern neighbor.
Skopje’s participation in the Euro 2020 set the stage for its latest trampling of the ‘spirit’ of the Prespa Agreement. Their unwillingness to implement even basic terms of the agreement, as was apparent from their national team’s jersey and the rhetoric associated with it, which plainly and unapologetically infringe on Greece’s heritage, says it all.
When the Greek Government finally decided to petition for change to the jersey during ‘stoppage time,’ its diplomatic shots were blocked not only by Skopje’s state authorities, which laughably claimed to be unable to intervene in the affairs of their national football federation, but also UEFA, which kicked the ball into Row Z, effectively giving Skopje a free pass.
It is plain as day, as it was right from the get-go of foolhardy agreement, that Skopje will continue to cite preposterous obstacles and cheap excuses to avoid implementing its contractual obligations. Its hope is that these delay tactics will eventually change the status quo in its favor, considering that Skopje’s much ballyhooed membership in NATO and EU member-state candidacy will continuously increase pressure on Greece for further concessions. Besides, Greece has become synonymous with concessions in recent years.
Meanwhile, a provision of the Prespa Agreement calls for Greece to pass three memoranda with Skopje – something the current administration has thankfully delayed, partially because of their unpopularity with ruling party MPs, and partially because doing so would signal an acceptance of Skopje’s ongoing provocations.
The current main opposition SYRIZA party, which is chiefly responsible for this diplomatic fiasco, is trying to sell the public snake oil by celebrating that match commentators and reporters now refer to the neighboring country using the geographical qualifier ‘north’, as if continual references to the players and team with the misappropriated epithet ‘Macedonian’ isn’t sufficient enough to create the obfuscation necessary to facilitate revisionist history.
But Skopje’s Premier Mr. Zaev took things a step further, publicly referring to his nation as “Macedonia” during their last match, which he later nonchalantly dismissed as “a slip of the tongue,” leaving Greek politicians caught napping yet again.
Even the current ruling party, which campaigned against the Prespa Deal and promised a tougher stance on Skopje, has disappointed many – particularly in the region of Macedonia – with its fatalistic approach to this failed diplomatic undertaking. For the moment, Bulgaria is picking up the slack and holding Skopje accountable for its revisionism, infringement, and objectionable rhetoric.
Skopje’s EU candidacy suffered another setback last month, when it failed to gain approval for the start of negotiations due to Sofia’s objections over the term ‘Macedonian language’, which, linguistically, is merely a Bulgarian dialect. Moreover, it insists that Skopje relinquish any claims to the greater region of ‘north Macedonia’. Although keeping quiet and letting Bulgaria do the dirty work may keep Greece in good standing with world powers, watching on the sidelines as Bulgaria flexes its muscles in the Balkans may set a negative precedent that Hellas might later regret.
As far as the ‘Biden doctrine’ promising sanctions against anyone challenging the Prespa Deal or other agreements serving U.S. interests in the Balkans, let’s not kid ourselves. The United States considers Greek acquiescence to be a foregone conclusion. U.S. warnings are likely directed to Bulgaria and Albania for their role in destabilizing Skopje, with the former blocking its path to the EU and the latter pushing for federalization to serve the interests of the statelet’s substantial ethnic Albanian population, which is a precursor to secession.
These are the greatest threats to the viability of a nation whose very existence is promulgated on a historic falsehood and will likely end up being divided between Bulgaria and Albania. Naturally, Greece will then have to confront challenges and possible expansionist claims from larger, more formidable nations, and the chief cause will be Hellas’ culpable indecisiveness in defending its historical claims and rights.
As the richest nation and oldest EU member in the Balkans, Greece should be playing the role of regional leader. Since, however, Greek governments often place foreign interests above national ones and do not follow a Hellenocentric policy, they are content to remain a few steps behind and play catch up, rather than attempt to shape developments.
Still, Skopje’s insistence in proceeding with the falsification of history and misappropriation of neighboring countries’ cultural inheritance, even if this jeopardizes its long-term viability, is remarkable. Likewise, Bulgaria’s stance, which has, until now, resisted pressures from more powerful nations in the name of defending its language, history, and territorial integrity, is equally noteworthy.
In contrast to the ethno-nihilistic circles leading Greece from one diplomatic fiasco to the next, despite the fact that Skopje and Bulgaria’s cultural capital and history cannot compare with Greece’s in terms of ‘soft power’, the latter appear to better understand and appreciate the importance of cultural heritage, and defend it as they should. So long as Greek Governments continue to commit ‘howlers’ at the behest of international match fixers, all Hellenes can expect to see on the diplomatic pitch is more own-goals.
If at least some political and other civic leaders don’t decide to defend the pitch and play ‘catenaccio’, and if those ‘sweepers’ who will save errant passes and block opposing strikers don’t come off the sidelines, Greece will lose its diplomatic matches before it even leaves the locker room. Skopje’s football jersey is just the start of dirty tactics and unsportsmanlike play that its opponents will seek to get away with.
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