After nearly 30 years of inertia and repeated national concessions, following an entire year of gruelling negotiations, Greece was finally coming to the end of an arduous process, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday, taking the stand during the parliamentary debate on the Prespes Agreement.
“At this moment we are one step away from a historic event,” he told lawmakers, stressing that the time had come for each one of them “that cannot be blackmailed or terrorised and speak only with their conscience” to step up and face their responsibility to history and the nation.
Replying to main opposition New Democracy President Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who had preceded him, Tsipras slammed him for being “divisive and offensive” and accused him of lacking arguments to support his positions. He also strongly criticised the main opposition leader’s failure to condemn attacks targeting MPs that supported the Prespes Agreement.
“You did not find one word of condemnation…you attempted instead to address us with language targeting those that have a different opinion on a crucial national issue,” Tsipras said.
He also accused Mitsotakis of shifting his position once he realised that the government had negotiated a deal in which all of Greece’s crucial and critical negotiating positions up until that time had been accepted, and of suddenly discovering that the main problem was the “granting of language and ethnicity”. When the note verbale from Skopje explicitly stated that the Agreement does not refer to ethnicity but nationality and that the language was ‘Slavic’, the main opposition “discovered the oxymoron that we are conceding ‘nationhood’…” Tsipras added.
“The thousands of protestors that gathered outside parliament the other day… if you asked any one of them they would tell you they are protesting over the name, not the language or citizenshiop nor about the peaches,” the prime minister said.
The Greek people deserved to know the truth about a national problem that had plagued the Balkans for three decades and “deprived us all these years of valuable diplomatic capital,” Tsipras noted. Thirty years of inertia and procrastination “that has become a foreign policy dogma” in Greece, had resulted in constant diplomatic defeats and led to the recognition of FYROM with its constitutional name by more than 130 countries, including the US, Russia and China.
In addition to the risk of losing the name ‘Macedonia’, Greece also risked losing a large part of its history through an unprecedented “hijacking” of the history, cultural heritage and symbols of Macedonia, which were in inalienable part of ancient Greek heritage, Tsipras pointed out.
The “nationalist paroxysm” in the early ’90s created a climate in public opinion, which had culminated “in the maximalist position agreed during the 1992 Council of the Political Leaders, regarding the non-use of the term Macedonia or any derivative of this by the neighbouring country,” he noted, which had fed “the fantasies of many” but was never implemented by the governments that followed, either in their foreign policy or in the negotiations, including in the temporary name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) established under the interim agreement and used for the next 25 years.
Addressing Mitsotakis, the prime minister pointed out that Greece’s national position in support of a compound name for all uses dated back to 2007, three years after the US recognised FYROM with its constitutional name, and was continued by all subsequent governments, most notably in Bucharest in 2008 when Greece blocked FYROM’s entry into NATO.
The handling of this victory by the same and later governments was “catastrophic”, he added, leading to an unfavourable decision against Greece at the international court in 2011 and, in light of this, Skopje had not been prepared to discuss either changing its name erga omnes nor making any change to its constitution.
Tsipras said the present government had managed to get an agreement that was fully within the guidelines of the national policy since 2007, including a compound name with a geographical qualifier for all and every uses, including domestic use, amendments to the neighbouring country’s constitution, removal of the terms ‘Macedonia’ and ‘Macedonian’ from public infrastructure, as well as protection for Greek tradition and the historic legacy of ancient Greek Macedonia.
“Your main problem is not the Agreement. Your main problem is SYRIZA and that I am the one bringing this agreement,” he told the opposition parties opposing the agreement in parliament.