Othon Anastasakis is the Director of South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX), based at St Antony’s College; a Senior Research Fellow at St Antony’s College and Associate at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. Recently, dr. Anastasakis contributed an opinion article for the ENA Institute of Alternative Policies on the recent developments in the issue of FYROM and the Prespes agreement -that proposes the name “Republic of Northern Macedonia” for the neighboring country: 

The agreement is very important in that it sets off the process of disentangling Greek foreign policy from the ‘name issue’ that has deadlocked our diplomacy into an absolutely sterile confrontation with our northern neighbor.

In is a known fact that nobody, outside Greece, understood our positions and that everyone abroad called the country “Macedonia”. The fact that the term “Macedonia” continued to be used and had been solidified in the name of the neighboring country, either as “Republic of Macedonia” or as “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, is also self-evident.

The agreement brings SYRIZA closer to the center-left views on foreign policy, that have always been moderate as far as the “Macedonian issue” was concerned, but their proponents did not dare to speak up. This agreement finally provides moderate citizens with an argument that they can use to support their position and brigns SYRIZA closer to more technocratic approaches in Greek society. Until now, the ‘name issue’ was a taboo, but this agreement puts a stop to this. From now on, Greeks can voice different views on the “Macedonian issue”. The dialogue has begun on a concrete basis for the first time, and the moderate side has acquired a voice, an argument and a name for the “country with no name”.

It is important, in my opinion, to focus on the positive outcomes of the agreement and to start a public dialogue on the issue. The political party that supports the agreement has a number of arguments to highlight.

The agreement:

  • Replaces the name “Republic of Macedonia” with a complex geographical definition [Republic of North Macedonia] and firmly anchors the ancient Greek past of the region to the Greek side. The concessions of the other side are obvious compared to the previous extreme situation.
  • Paves the way for cooperation with the Western Balkans, from which Greece had been cut off in recent years, due to both economic and bilateral issues with FYROM.
  • Tackles a range of issues concerning bilateral co-operation and confidence-building measures that should be brought into focus.
  • Consists a first major step in resolving bilateral disputes in the former Yugoslavia area, paving the way for the solution of the other major Balkan issue, the one between Serbia and Kosovo. In resolving this important dispute plaguing the Western Balkans, Greece can become a credible third party in the international system.
  • Places Greece dynamically in the economic and political game of the Balkans and helps Greece to “find its good old self”, at a time when Turkey has increased its influence in the region and especially in the neighboring country.
  • Give the country considerable credibility within NATO and the EU in a period of great geopolitical instability.
  • Allows Greece to bargain from a stronger position with the EU and the US in financial and political issues.

To highlight all these advantages, the government needs to align itself with voices from academia, business and other sectors of public life that share its view on the “Macedonian issue”, and to make sure that an alternative to nationalism is heard.

This text does not want to exclaim triumph, it just focuses on the positive outcomes. This agreement marks an important beginning. As we have witnessed from other similar agreements in the region (Serbia-Kosovo), there will be problems in its implementation, some to be expected, and others that will  come up depending on the circumstances. In my opinion, and as the recent past has deomonstrated, the strength and autonomy of Greece is interwoven with its economic base and not with the intensity of nationalist voices.

Translated by: Ioulia Livaditi