What’s cooking with Greece

Petar Arsovski

After the summit in Davos, it becomes more certain that the process of resolving the name dispute has a real opportunity to finish this year, or, even faster, before the NATO summit in July. This deadline is, of course, invented, because we already have a conditional invitation for membership, which provides a mechanism that is activated at the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the NATO member states, so neither must we wait for the summit, nor formal reception is necessary at all to happen at the summit, but let’s say that the symbolism is important here and that our politicians prefer a mini drama related to this event.

One thing is true: in the last 20 years, the stars have never been so well arranged, we never had a better chance of a solution, and if we miss this constellation, there is no guarantee that the whole setting will once again be so favorable. I think this for several reasons, which certainly affect the project, but I think that they need to be broken down in more detail.

First, it is obvious that the international community, in particular the EU and the United States, are actively involved in the process of supporting the solution. The last decade in the Balkans, which is double for Macedonia, has shown that when the region does not go to Europe, it spontaneously turns to other centers of power and falls into chaos, which most often produces an existential, social and security crisis. Therefore, I think that the geostrategic positions and plans of the great powers are currently focused on accelerating the Euro-Atlantic integration of the region, which certainly implies pressure for a name solution in Macedonia and Greece. So, as far as the global situation is concerned, the stars are smiling at us.

Second, the form of the process and the content of the problem are in the best position after negotiating. From our side, it is obvious that we have accepted the position that some addition (geographic, time, or ethnic) is something we can live with. Greece on the other hand, apparently abandons the position that the term “Macedonia” is unacceptable, and their current position is very similar to ours. So, as far as the content is concerned, there is a cross-section of the acceptable options from Greek and our side – a complex name with a benchmark that differentiates the northern region of Greece from the Republic of Macedonia. Then, the form of negotiations is now much more serious. So far, probably in line with the strategies of both governments, we have not actually negotiated. Negotiations are impossible when the one sitting at the table has no mandate for anything other than “thank you, I will pass on the message”. Raising the process to the level of foreign ministers, with the occasional direct involvement of the prime ministers of the two countries, is something completely different – it is a process in which those who talk really have the capacity to shake hands, and then they can implement it at home, which in dynamics and direction is diametrically different from the previous situation. Finally, the most important change, which is already obvious, is that the political elites (at least those who met in Davos), have broken – essentially work to solve the problem, and at least in their positions, they are now oriented towards finding a solution, not yes postponing the issue. It’s actually the point of a breach that I think we have never reached before. Now we have an opposite process in which the strategic decision is made – there will be a compromise – and the implementation part remains. So, “did we” close it, we are now working on “how to.” Here too the stars smile. Of course, when it was so pink, we would have already had the solution, and such texts would be pointless. Although the political will for a solution obviously exists, which is a necessary condition in this project, this does not in any way mean that this condition is sufficient. The problem lies in the details of the solution, as well as in its implementation at home. This is where the stars hysterically laugh at us. Although it is obvious that, after the offered hand of reconciliation in Davos, Zaev and Tsipras set off in a domestic campaign, trying to translate the newly-optimized optimism into some kind of domestic political consensus, already the first voices from Greece are not optimistic, and I believe that a similar or similar outcome will have and our leadership meeting. Let’s not forget, there are whole generations of politicians, intellectuals, historians and various other ‘know-it-alls’ who have built their careers over the past decades on xenophobic hysteria about this problem, and which will leave its solution to the whirlpool of political history, forgotten and meaningless in the new European perspective. These types can really make the political price for a solution, both in Macedonia and Greece, be too high for Zaev and Tsipras. As we approach a solution, these outbursts will become more hysterical. The problem remains with the referendum, which is a potential danger in both countries, as well as the possibility that we will not achieve a concrete solution that is acceptable in its details, despite the fact that global contours are accepted. In the end, it is quite possible that we simply do not have enough time to complete the negotiations, prepare the local and the public there, as well as to provide domestic political consensus within the deadline that we have set ourselves. Here the key point is not to let the space that has so far fallen to failure if we fail in this turnaround, so that we return to a position worse than not even entering this process. This was the case in 2008 at the Bucharest summit. We reached the threshold of the solution, but after we did not cross it, then we returned so back into nationalism that the result was worse than not going to Bucharest in general. The main lesson for us here must be not to allow the eventual failure of 2018 to cost us another ten years, but the possible delay to be as short as possible, and keep the process alive. If we succeed in this, we too can finally laugh at the stars.