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10° Nicosia,
20 January, 2019
 
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Holding referendums in FYROM and Greece

Athanasios Ellis

Athanasios Ellis

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is moving ahead with preparations for its referendum on the name deal reached with Athens, which will pave the way for its induction to NATO and remove a major obstacle to the process for it to join the European Union.

FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev held two meetings on the issue with his country’s political leaders last week. They examined the different aspects of the referendum, from the date on which it will take place and what kind of character it will have, to the composition and role of the electoral committee that will oversee it and the exact question that will be put to the people.

The first meeting was attended by the leaders of all parties that have at least two deputies in the Parliament. This broad gathering annoyed the head of the main opposition, who demanded that a new meeting in the more traditional format of the four main parties be called. Zaev accepted his demand and convened the second meeting. It did not result in an agreement, but the parties will meet again, possibly on Monday.

Neither the content of the name deal with Greece nor what FYROM’s politicians think of it is the issue here. Zaev was the one who negotiated the agreement, so it is only natural that he should defend it and talk about its positive effects regarding the country’s Euro-Atlantic prospects, that he should stress the positive aspects of the deal he brought his people and not mention the concessions he had to make. The arguments of the nationalist opposition against the agreement are also known and are not the issue here either.

The issue is that the leaders of FYROM seem to be handling a sensitive issue that will impact their country’s future in a much more responsible manner than our leadership did when it called the people to the crucial referendum of July 2015. It was a time when, likewise, the future of this country was at stake in terms of its position in the eurozone and possibly its relationship with the West more generally.

On that occasion, the Greek government did not hold any consultations with the parties of the opposition, but went ahead and decided on its own to call a “fast track” referendum within a week of its announcement. It put forward an overly complicated question of 70 words or so, references to three international organizations, dates, and even the original titles in English of the relevant agreements with the creditors. And it designed a peculiar ballot on which the “patriotic” No option was placed at the top, and the Yes – presented as the option of the supporters of Chancellor Merkel – at the bottom.

The comparison is disturbing as FYROM cannot be described as a developed European democracy – far from it. Still, I dare say that on an issue of national importance, our neighbor to the north has proven more respectful of its institutions, and in a sense more mature than Greece.

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