Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has dismissed criticisms leveled by the opposition that the deal with Skopje on the naming dispute is a retreat for Greece.
“I see a deal where we only gain things, not give them away,” he said during an interview with the Greek state broadcaster ERT on Wednesday evening.
“It is an agreement that is beneficial for the country and the region. An agreement that gives us things,” he stressed, rejecting criticism of the deal as “capitulation” from its opponents in both Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Outlining the process, Tsipras said the two sides had made an effort to solve the issue with respect for each others’ values, dignity and positions.
“We are creating a momentum to defeat the peddlers of nationalism on both sides,” he said.
Referring to the agreed new name of the neighboring country, Tsipras said: “It is in our discretion to refer to them as either North Macedonia or Severna Makedonija.”
He explained that the name was translatable. If the government had agreed to an untranslatable name, where all countries would call Greece’s northern neighbor “Severna Makedonija”, the awkward full version would soon be shortened to plain “Makedonija”, whereas “North Macedonia” would now be used in all languages, Tsipras said.
He also ruled out a referendum on the agreement saying that Greece is not called upon to change its constitution. And in any case, he wondered “how can we have a referendum on the name of another country?”
Asked about the two Greek soldiers held in a Turkish jail since March 1, Tsipras said that there is no question of them being exchanged for the eight Turkish men seeking political asylum in Greece for the role in the Turkish coup in 2016.
He denied he ever made a promise to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Greece would extradite them to Turkey.