The Prime Minister and Upper Northern Macedonia

by Yiannis P. Tzannetakos

(“Eleftherotypia”, February 24, 2001)

“I have not got much faith in the Prime Minister’s decisiveness. I have discovered […] that he has trouble making difficult decisions […]” That was the first part of chairman Konstantinos Mitsotakis’ answer in an interview given to “Alpha” channel. The question was about to what extent a forthcoming solution to the so-called Macedonian question could be sensed. The challenge to the Prime Minister was issued without mincing words. It could not have been more direct. It was, however, a challenge accompanied by a hand clearly held out in an offer of help.

“I presume that things are easier now, in my opinion they are. But I do not know if Mr. Simitis is of the same opinion. I think it is time we got rid of this loose end. Greece has always had an active interest in this country’s survival… It is in our interests that it should be there. If it were to break up, one part of it would go to Albania, one part would go to Bulgaria, and probably a small part to Serbia.”

Arguments unfold almost uncontested and pave the way so seriously formulated Greek policy on the issue can, at last, emerge and, regardless of the discretion we displayed so far, to name our neighbor by qualifying geographically the unavoidably Macedonian version.

Despite strong—and sometimes irate—denials, it is certain that names like Upper/Northern Macedonia, in other words Gorna/Severnamakedonija, are in the running. Not, however, Novamakedonija. Those directly concerned have a problem because they have been conditioned by their Titoist upbringing, but also because they have been racked by anxiety over existential issues for the last ten years while they have been struggling to gain the status of an independent country. Events in the last two years have exacerbated the situation in the country. The Albanian element has not been untouched by their fellow countrymen’s aggressive uprising in Southern Serbia. Acts of violence take place within the country’s borders, too. Separatist tendencies have emerged following the rallying of supporters in the west; sights are set on Kosovo as well as on Albania itself.

The latter officially denies inciting the deeds of the oppressed, but even these uncontrolled acts by well-armed irregulars could create a state of affairs where gains made were usable and redeemable in negotiations. Parties involved in these negotiations will have to make a great effort to by-pass and disregard any such resultant situation. However, the more reinforcement is given to support this our neighboring country, the more the separatist tendencies within it will be discouraged. Our country has nothing to gain from a redefining of borders in the region. At the same time, as long as the general anomalies in the western sector of Southeastern Europe persist, Greek political—but even more so—economic activity in the area will be impeded. Objective estimates foresee a favorable influence on the development of Greek interests if public and private enterprises gain a hold in the Balkans.

Stabilizing and reinforcing this country is thought to be the key to maintaining the status quo in the area, and to not missing the boat and scrambling to succeed with a status quo ante […] and complex peace negotiations. Less than ten years have gone by since the dictator of the rest of Yugoslavia yearned for it. He dismembered it with great generosity…

Mr. Mitsotakis was frank and revealing on this issue too. “Greece has absolutely no reason to gain territories. That’s why, once, when Milosevic made a suggestion to me […], I said that we had really had to struggle to avoid minorities… It wasn’t really said in earnest […]. Of course, I didn’t discuss it at all and it wasn’t mentioned again… It is in the interests of Greece that this country should exist. We have every reason to help it survive…” […]

What does all the anecdotal evidence signify? That we should put an end to the state of flux and to loose ends. That we should demonstrate the necessary heightened sense of responsibility because in a generalized abnormal state it is we who stand to lose the most as we have more to lose, witness the yawning gap between per capita incomes. Let’s not fill ourselves with pipe dreams of remaining untouched by the crisis. A worsening of the state of affairs in Southern Serbia would result in our road links with the rest of Europe being severed. This would not concern only those who conduct business using sixteen-wheeler commercial transport vehicles. In my opinion…

It seems that George Papandreou, the Foreign Minister, has brought the question of the name to the brink of a solution. Our neighbors now have a political problem as they will be called upon to adapt to a new name. Work, of course, has to be done. There is a need for courage, but also for realism. Gathering clouds may encourage maturity. But we also need to finalize our “contribution”, the steps (designed to help) which we have worked out. Beyond the question of whether or not the President will eventually call an official Council of Party Leaders, the Prime Minister should (to bring us back to where we started) have individual, one-to-one meetings with his colleagues in the opposition parties. He should put before them what is self-evident, so as to form a united political front which will constitute a stumbling block for those small tradespeople and hucksters of homebred Macedonian nationalism, who, in the name of their selfish search for a cross to bear, are capable of drawing this country into the Balkan problem. He should take the initiative so that we have a point in hand, then we can wait and see what will happen next.

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