Zaev finally returned home. He came back riding a white horse. He returned with a job done. He returned with a historic agreement reached. He returned with open access to Macedonia’s membership in NATO and the EU. His remarkable optimism has won once again. In the difficult battle that led him to resolve the decades-long name dispute with Greece, he gained new friends for Macedonia, new sympathies, and gained the reputation of a statesman of large format.
Unlike the calculating behavior of the predecessors of Zaev and Tsipras, who used nationalism as a tool in their societies, the Macedonian and Greek prime ministers demonstrated a completely different kind of political behavior. Taking the risk of their political persistence, through sharply confronting the opposition forces in their countries, they agreed to talk openly and honorably about the fears of their peoples. Zaev showed complete understanding that the name of our country should be different from the name of the region of Macedonia and that the adjective Macedonian we use for our language and nationality will not refer to the Hellenic period of Greek history and culture, and Greece has shown an understanding that the name Macedonia cannot be erased from the name of our country, and that, with the necessary explanation, we have the right to call our nationality and language Macedonian.
Many people in the world, who for decades have watched the protests of the burning nationalist heads of the two countries, did not believe that the two courageous prime ministers could step forward from the well-known matrix of political behavior in the Balkans. But that happened, and an agreement was reached between Greece and Macedonia.
Hence, Professor Edward Joseph rightfully writes in the US magazine Foreign Policy that the prime ministers of Macedonia and Greece, Zaev and Tsipras deserve to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the reached agreement. He believes that the agreement creates a model for dealing with identity clashes that lead to conflict, not only in the Balkans, but globally, as well as that it brings increased confidence in the European Union and the entire Western Balkans project. For the antagonists throughout the world stuck in identity disputes, Joseph estimates that the agreement between Macedonia and Greece, if survived by political challenges, is a model.
The prestigious Washington Post newspaper, which calls Zaev and Tsipras peacemakers, says: “In the coming period, support for peacekeepers from Macedonia and Greece is needed by the makers of international politics, because the agreement depends on its ratification in the Greek parliament and its approval of a referendum in Macedonia. If this long-awaited compromise becomes a victim of nationalism and political commodism, it would be a sad day for diplomacy, and it would be a lost chance that the two countries will soon regret.”
Zaev and Tsipras are now facing a big battle in order for their success in the world to become successful before their domestic public as well.
With a poll published in the weekly Prototype in Greece the day before the signing of the agreement, Tsipras warns that almost seven out of ten Greeks, or 68.3 percent of Greeks, oppose the agreement reached with Macedonia, 73.2% do not agree for the name of our country to contain the word Macedonia, and that 49% of those who voted for SYRIZA in the previous elections are against the agreement reached. But Tsipras had a majority in the parliament that allowed him to sign the agreement and, by next September’s elections, no further obligations to ratify the agreement would be necessary.
Among the opponents of Zaev’s agreement there is the president of the state, Gjorge Ivanov, the opposition, a large part of the Macedonian diaspora and a large number of citizens who voted for changes in the last elections, but who are frustrated by “the blackmail that Macedonia was exposed by Greece “. Unlike Tsipras, Zaev has undertaken an obligation to ratify the agreement urgently in the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia, so that the ratification bill can be passed if it is not signed by the President, and in autumn the agreement should be accepted on a referendum, after which the Constitution should be changed with a two-thirds majority in the Assembly.
Macedonia after the ratification of the agreement in the Parliament can get a date from the EU to start the negotiations for EU membership and an invitation for NATO membership even without Ivanov’s signature. Whether the removal of these two major obstacles to NATO and EU membership will be sufficient for the approval of the domestic public, is yet to to be seen.
The key tool that the Macedonian opposition has used so far is known as the political obstruction of all the moves of the new government. It should be expected that this will continue through the use of the Foreign Policy Commission by abuse of the parliamentary procedure and with all possible types of obstruction of the work of the Assembly that we have already watched so far. On the other hand, Ivanov whose term ends in April next year, despite Russia’s support of the agreement, will work on his Russian agenda for disrupting Macedonia’s entry into NATO and the EU, even with further gross violations of the Constitution, use of the so-called “Pocket veto”, as well as the incitement of internal conflict in the country.
Hence, Zaev’s battle for “conquering the hearts and minds” of citizens to support this agreement in a referendum and to change the Constitution, will be neither easy nor certain.
Zaev and Tsipras as of today, are really getting into the process known as “managing consent” in their countries. In this process, they will have to deal with a mythological consciousness of many citizens about their glorious heritage, nationalistic attitudes and fears, the reluctance of a person to change his faulty opinion, even when faced with firm arguments for their wrongness, and with key resistance to those who ask “And what do I personally get out of it?”
Commissioner Johannes Hahn has already offered to help convince the domestic public in Macedonia about the usefulness of the agreement. The EU and NATO will also have to make their contribution with their decisions. But in the end, we will all have to learn that in small countries such as Macedonia domestic politics must be obtained with the instruments of foreign policy. And that means negotiating, bargaining, making mutual concessions and achieving painful compromises, by which the international public will be able to conclude that Macedonia has matured politically, and left the tunnel in which it was stuck for so long.