The temptation of Zoran Zaev
As the pause in the so-called name talks continues, we learn that all is not well in HappyLand, the land of positive spin, public relations, and statements that everything is just super swell. Last week, Greek newspaper Kathimerini posted a news article stating “name talks losing momentum” noting “the momentum after the more recent talks between the foreign ministers of both countries in the lakeside resort of Ohrid appears to have slowed down,” which is fine with the majority of Macedonians who believe, rightly, that there is no need for these talks to continue because they will result in the eradication of the Macedonian identity, culture, language, you name it. Even though both sides “have agreed on almost all peripheral matters” according to the newspaper, the main sticking points are Greek demands that the “new name” be “erga omnes” meaning “toward all” and that Macedonia must change its constitution to reflect this new name, among other things.
Consider the following “unhappy” news, if you are a member of the set that very much wants to change Macedonia’s name and identity: Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias, in an interview with Greece’s Radio 24/7, noted that Macedonia will not be joining NATO at the upcoming summit in July due to time considerations. He noted, among other things, that even if Zaev agrees to change the constitution, time would need to be set aside for debates in parliament (and a vote), a public referendum, and more. Furthermore, in discussing the issue of identity, language, etc., the “new name” must apply internally, in Macedonia (meaning a change in the constitution) because if not, questions and confusion will arise in the future. He insinuates that the Macedonians would — if allowed to keep “Republic of Macedonia” internally — insist that they are “Macedonians” in international circles, in legal documents (business documents, educational diplomas, passports, etc.), and that this confusion would “worsen bilateral issues.” Of course they would because they are.
This whole statement of Kotzias’ is part of a negotiating tactic. He’s putting public pressure on Zaev in particular to agree to push to change Macedonia’s constitution, especially since Zaev and his government have all been telling the Macedonian people that an agreement would come soon and that Macedonia would enter NATO in July. But there is more: Greece hit back at the European Commission last week for insisting that a solution is close. Again, Kathimerini states “the decision was not one for Brussels to make” with the Greek Foreign Ministry stating “there is still a long way to go.” Again, this is all part of the negotiating tactics of the Greek government in attempting to push Zaev and his government to agree to a constitutional change.
All of this leads me to the temptation of Zoran Zaev. He desperately wants an agreement. His entire ascendency to the premiership of Macedonia was based on delivering an agreement. The West backed him 101% in his bid to become prime minister, knowing, rightly, that he would be more amenable to giving Greece — and the West — what it wanted: an agreement. That agreement would not take into consideration Macedonia, or the Macedonians, of course. The West of course doesn’t really give a damn about your identity as Macedonians. What the West wants is Macedonia in NATO and the EU. To be fair, of course, most Macedonians want to be in NATO and the EU, though not at the price of changing Macedonia’s name and identity. But the wants of the Macedonians be damned, according to the West. “You’ll be in NATO and the EU whether you like it or not.”
And so to the temptation of Zoran Zaev.
The internationals in the West will want to give Zaev what I call the “Carl Bildt Award,” essentially a lifetime of job security, prestige, an international moveable feast of first-class flying, resorts, and food and drink, a stage on which to pontificate on any subject without having to suffer any consequences for what you say and the ability to intervene in the lives of others around the world in which you have no right to intervene. In other words, a cushy job in some international organization. Granted this doesn’t apply only to Zoran Zaev. Other members of his government will be tempted by this as well because two things are the absolute truth: first, they will not be in their current positions forever and two, if they somehow manage to succeed in ramming through an agreement which Greece and the West want, their names (how ironic) will be cursed through history by the Macedonians.
What’s next? Oddly, shortly after the above-reference articles came out and after Kotzias made his statements, Zaev gave an interview to AFP in which he said both “I believe the conditions have never been better for us to achieve a comprehensive and lasting agreement,” and that failure would not mean “the end of the world,” an odd duo of statements. It’s his own attempt at signaling to the Greeks that he is prepared for the whole thing to collapse in the hopes that they will soften their position on erga omnes. The only problem with this is that Zaev wants a deal more than the Greeks want the deal. And hence, the temptation of Zoran Zaev will continue.