Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos

Meanwhile, in Greece…

We continue to drink from the proverbial firehose. Media reports that after the more than two-hour discussion between Greek PM Tsipras and Macedonian PM Zaev in Davos, Zaev agreed to change the name of the airport in Skopje (currently Alexander the Great) and the name of the E-75 highway which runs through Macedonia. At the same time, Macedonian government officials charged with discussions on the identity and name will meet this Saturday to discuss the latest proposals from UN negotiator Ambassador Matthew Nimetz who will visit Skopje on January 31 (and Athens either before or after that). This is what we know from the Macedonian side.

Meanwhile, in Greece, another demonstration will be held in Athens on February 4. Many Greek analysts and commentators are remarking that the demonstrations in Solun last Sunday, and the general reaction of the public toward the talks, have taken the Greek government by surprise. Which means it is worth taking a look at what is going on in Greece with respect to this entire issue for the simple reason that “solving” the issue does not depend on the Macedonians alone — it means the Greeks have to agree. And that is not a given.

In Greece the political hacks that run the country are interested in one thing: their own self-interest. There are general elections in 2019 (or possibility later this year) and the government of Alexis Tsipras, which has surprised everyone (including, probably, themselves) at their own staying power in office (so far) are still working through other issues, namely Greece’s debt, austerity, and financial arrangements with the international community, among other things. Analyst Nick Malkoutzis, writing for MarcoPolis, has a very thorough analysis of what is going on vis-à-vis Greek politics here, writing “the upshot of all this is that a complex diplomatic issue is being handled in an opportunistic manner by the key players in Greek politics.” In his lengthy analysis, he explains what is going on with SYRIZA’s junior partner, ANEL, and its leader, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who repeatedly “has said that he will not accept the name “Macedonia” being used in any solution.” Malkoutizs takes readers through the various machinations on ANEL, as well as the ins and outs of New Democracy, which is currently leading in the polls. It’s a lengthy but excellent read.

At the same time Malkoutzis reiterates a Greek talking point that very few in the media, academia, the Macedonian Government, the UN, the think-tanks, the EU or the Americans or others seem to be able to answer: that of identity. Malkoutzis writes “If Skopje can agree to satisfy Greek concerns regarding any irredentist ideas, regardless of how fanciful these may seem outside of Greece, and is willing to temper claims to a ‘Macedonian’ language and identity so there is no confusion with ancient or modern Greece, then there can be a basis for a discussion.” And it is these “irredentist ideas” that now seem to be popping up with regularity and yet which no one really seems to be able to define. Greek newspaper Kathimerini (and others) seems to suggest that this has a basis in Macedonia’s constitution and writes “Meanwhile, irrespective of what kind of solution may be reached, there are concerns in Athens about FYROM’s constitution, which suggests irredentist aims. Its Article 49, for instance, underlines the importance of ‘the rights of people belonging to the Macedonian people in neighboring countries and displaced Macedonians.’” And yet Macedonia changed its constitution — and Greece proclaimed itself satisfied — in 1995. And yet here we are, back to the beginning as it were. This could be cover for a more sinister definition of “irredentist aims” that being the fact that the Macedonian Constitution refers to the “Republic of Macedonia,” which, according to the Greeks, is itself irredentist. Angelos Chryssogelos makes this point in euobserver writing “FYROM is referred to as the ‘Republic of Macedonia’ in the country’s constitution and recognised as such by most countries. But Greece objects to this official appellation, which it feels creates erroneous impressions about the history and legacy of ancient Macedonia and raises dangers of future irredentist claims against its own northern region of Macedonia.” What that means, in practical terms, is that Macedonia must change its constitution — the Zaev government does not have the votes to do so (it would need two-thirds) and then there is a question which someone needs to ask of Zaev: would you be willing to change Macedonia’s constitution to reflect the “new name?” and if so, how would that affect our identity? Inquiring minds want to know the answer to that question. Chryssogelos makes that point when writing about the potential pitfalls ahead in these discussions noting “the dispute does not concern only FYROM’s name but a host of issues touching on identity, historical memory and sensitive issues of public policy and symbolism.”

The future of these negotiations is fraught with obstacles. From my point of view, that’s a good thing because the negotiations should have been broken off a long time ago for reasons I explain elsewhere, noting that the status quo is acceptable — if only certain organizations and governments (the EU, NATO, the US, etc.) and groups of people (Macedonia’s ethnic Albanians) would leave it be. Macedonia has other options — that is a fact. It would be best for all of Macedonia’s citizens to focus on those while retaining your chosen name — and identity.

Proud American & Arizonan w/Hungarian ethnicity & passion for Macedonia, Hungary & Estonia. Traveler, PR man, history buff & wine, craft beer & cigar enthusiast