Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has said he and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras are concerned that the name agreement the two leaders signed might not be implemented.
Zaev gave an interview to Greece’s public television ERT which was broadcast on Thursday, revealing details about the difficult negotiations with the Greek prime minister on the FYROM naming issue, the deal on “North Macedonia”, along with details of the steps the two countries have to take after the Prespa Agreement.
“It is not easy, but I know that state leaders must lead and secure a good future for the children and upcoming generations. This is our obligation. This may cost [me] my political career and the political career of Alexis Tsipras,” Zaev claimed.
A referendum on the name and some required constitutional changes will be held in FYROM in late September – early October, Zaev said, expressing the hope that the people of the Balkan country will approve the agreement.
Zaev said that geographically there is Greece’s part of Macedonia, a part of Macedonia north of Greece, where FYROM currently is, a part of western Macedonia that is in Albanian territory and a part in the east that belongs to Bulgaria.
Asked about the “Macedonian identity”, an issue that has the majority of Greeks disagree with, and the fact that the people’s country shy away from their Slavic origin, Zaev replied:
“We accept the Hellenistic Macedonian identity and we have nothing against it. We recognize it. Our friends are there when we are in Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Asprovalta, Larissa, wherever we go, and I firmly believe that in such moments the citizens in the Greek Macedonia region will accept what we truly believe.
“We have other identity issues; we are not part of the Hellenistic history of Macedonia. We differ within these borders, in our own particularity, with our culture, with our history, which can only be complementary and does not negate any of the other cultures. Taking this into account, mutual recognition of identities only works as a benefit.”
Zaev said that negotiations between the two sides came to a deadlock at some point and the two leaders were afraid that the deal would not be sealed. Right before Prespa, there were serious doubts that the two sides will continue the talks:
“It was a very difficult time. Very difficult days. Me and Alexis Tsipras, as well as our foreign ministers, had been on the phone all the time. Efforts had been made for creativity in the formulation of the text of the agreement, so that there would be a guarantee for us and Greece. At some point, I thanked Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and myself, believing that we did what we had to do. Those moments prove that it was a difficult deal. We said to each other, “Thank you my friend for doing everything, maybe we cannot do more, let us keep our friendship and the friendship of our citizens.”
The FYROM premier said that right before Prespa, he was constantly on the telephone with Tsipras ironing out the details. “The last talks were about creativity in the formalities. At that moment we said we must stop being formal and think as politicians. Let’s talk about the identity of the name and the use of the name and how it will be used in the interior. In all institutions. We have honestly dealt with all the issues. I was very careful about the issue of the identity of Greek citizens living in the northern part of the country.”
Reassuring Mitsotakis, Kammenos
Regarding the strong reactions to the Prespa Agreement by main opposition New Democracy and junior coalition partner Independent Greeks and their respective leaders Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Panos Kammenos, Zaev said:
“Mr. Kammenos and Mr. Mitsotakis need to know that we have achieved a name with a geographical qualifier for all uses, that this will be done by constitutional amendments and, also, that does not affect the specificity of the northern part of Greece.”