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15° Nicosia,
20 February, 2019
 
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Greece after Prespes

Athanasios Ellis

Athanasios Ellis

Despite having generated intense confrontation between political parties and painful division in Greek society, the name deal between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was ultimately endorsed by Parliament. The international community hailed Athens’s institutional move, similar to the way it had welcomed the constitutional revision in Skopje.

Confrontation was intense, and it often veered into extremist territory. Many rallies were organized to protest the Prespes accord. Turnout at these demonstrations was large. It was not just far-right and fascist elements. A large chunk of the protesters were well-meaning patriots. As were the people who stayed home. They weighed the facts through their own prism and decided to back the agreement. No patriots and traitors here. Just different assessments and priorities.

In that context, opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis's declaration, in the Economist gala, that he would not call someone a traitor because he supported the Prespes deal, neither would he back the violence we saw recently, was welcome and useful.

For those of us who have followed the Macedonia saga from the very beginning, from the Mitsotakis government and the first mediation efforts of Cyrus Vance, with all the wasted opportunities and the considerable damage to the national interests, the deal represents an honorable compromise. It certainly comes with concessions, some painful, as does every difficult agreement which is the product of hard negotiations, which in this case lasted almost three decades.

A lot was said during the lengthy debate in Parliament – including comments that were over-the-top, excessive or outright false. Most interesting perhaps was the confrontation between two former foreign ministers, Nikos Kotzias and Dora Bakoyannis. Despite their personal differences, their exchange was mainly political, drawing on arguments and evidence. People were able to draw their own conclusions.

Looking back, it would have been better if Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis had come to a backstage understanding. It would have helped the country enormously. Also, confidential Foreign Ministry documents and telegrams should not have been made public. But all that cannot be undone.

Now Greece is called upon to handle the day after. And by Greece I mean all Greeks. Tsipras is the prime minister today, but Mitsotakis may be in his place tomorrow. Neither side stayed clear of populism on this. Greece cannot afford any more of that.

A key national goal must be to turn relations with FYROM into the benefit of our country. This means strengthening our friendship and deepening our commercial and economic cooperation. Furthermore, we must capitalize diplomatically on the fact that, for the first time in decades, we have managed to be part of a solution, not a problem.

Politics aside, there’s the impact on society. Ordinary people were divided on an inexcusable level. Hence, another national goal must be to heal the wounds. It won’t be an easy task. The healing process will take time, but it must start without delay. That’s an obligation for politicians, intellectuals and, above all, us in the media.

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