ATHENS – With major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis demanding the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition present a common position, he hasn’t yet said whether he supports letting the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) keeping the name Macedonia in a new composite.
It’s a dilemma for him. His father, the late former Premier Constantine Mitsotakis was the one who let Greece’s neighbor when it was forming after breaking away during Yugoslavia’s collapse to use the name Macedonia – that of an ancient abutting Greek province – in what was supposed to be a temporary solution.
But FYROM governments almost immediately began claiming Greek lands, including Macedonia and the second-largest city and port of Thessaloniki, along with Greek history and culture.
Anti-nationalist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he wants to let FYROM keep the name and lift Greece’s veto on that country’s hopes of getting into NATO and the European Union, but only with a qualifier such as Upper Macedonia, and only if its Constitution is changed to remove irredentist claims on Greece.
But his junior coalition partner, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) opposes the name giveaway and said he wouldn’t back it at the same time he said he wasn’t willing to go as far as walking out of the coalition and bringing down the government, allowing him to have it both ways.
Mitsotakis has said the schism is hurting Greece during the negotiations that are being brokered by United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has failed for two decades to find a solution and resumed talks after a three-year break.
The new impetus is seen as being pushed by the United States wanting to bring FYROM into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans, with the defense alliance and the EU having critical meetings this summer.
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, the point man in pushing the name giveaway, briefed New Democracy Shadow Foreign Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos after Mitsotakis refused to meet with the SYRIZA minister.
The government said Koumoutsakos made no critical remarks during the meeting, but after the New Democracy veteran later said the coalition’s handling of the issue only served “to intensify our concerns,” SYRIZA fired off a statement that the Conservatives opposition “do not reflect the true state of affairs.”
According to the ministry, Koumoutsakos “did not express any reservations or concerns during the briefing, which lasted for more than two hours, and only made constructive comments,” said Kathimerini.
Kotzias briefed party leaders on his talks last week in Vienna with his FYROM counterpart Nikola Dimitrov and the two are due to meet again with the stalemate continuing because FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev won’t change his country’s Constitution.
Greece wants the name solution to be “erga omnes,” namely for general use at home and abroad. More than 140 countries already call FYROM by Macedonia and Nimetz said Greece has no choice but to give in although it could still veto FYROM’s NATO and EU chances unless a name other than Macedonia is agreed.