Day of Division as PM Fails to Unify Greek Parties on FYROM



PM Alexis Tsipras (L) and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Maximos Mansion, Jan. 27, 2018 (Courtesy: PM sources.)

Greek opposition politicians were briefly united on Saturday, if only in their lack of agreement over the ‘Macedonia’ name dispute and over their antipathy to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ strategy.

The premier held face-to-face meetings with a succession of party leaders at his official residence, Maximos Mansion, all day on Saturday.

However, despite a relaxed-looking Tsipras greeting each leader in turn, there was little consensus to be found over Athens’ approach to the FYROM issue.

Greece’s government will now proceed with scant unity among its parties, or even its ruling coalition.

Opposition parties were angry by what they viewed as an unacceptable delay in being briefed by the country’s leader amid international and UN-brokered talks on the Macedonia name controversy.

First up was New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis who initially left Maximos Mansion after a 45-minute meeting without comment. Mitsotakis later said he had only gone to meet Tsipras because of his “institutional role” as opposition leader.

He accused Tsipras of “dividing” Greeks, saying: “[Tsipras] never informed either the parliament or the Greek people.

“He came to negotiations without having even secured the support of his government partner.

“Worse, however, he divided the Greeks. He has defiantly defied our fellow citizens who legitimately express their patriotic concern.”

He also accused Tsipras of choosing “to walk this way alone”.

PM Alexis Tsipras with PASOK leader Fofi Gennimatas, Maximos Mansion, Jan. 27, 2018 (Courtesy: PM sources)

PASOK leader Fofi Gennimatas told Tsipras that divisions between his SYRIZA party and its Independent Greeks coalition partner had made talks with Skopje and the UN difficult. The junior party in Greece’s governing coalition opposes any use of the term ‘Macedonia’ by the government in Skopje.

She also said any final deal should tackle not only the name of the Balkan country itself but also stymie any potential irredentism against Greek territory.

PM Alexis Tsipras with Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumpas, Maximos Mansion, Jan. 27, 2018. (Courtesy: PM sources)

Communist leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas said there was still concern about EU and NATO policies in the region and remained pessimistic about a resolution. Skopje has been blocked from membership of both bodies by Greece over its use of the ‘Macedonia’ name.

PM Alexis Tsipras (L) with The River leader Stavros Theodorakis, Maximos Mansion, Jan. 27, 2018. (Courtesy: PM sources)

Leader of The River party, Stavros Theodorakis, said the main issue remained controversial clauses in FYROM’s constitution and proposed a name for the country in Slavic which would be untranslatable. Suggestions from the UN of alternative names for FYROM have so far all included the word ‘Macedonia’ — a red line for many Greek parties and voters.

He also hit out at cabinet divisions over the naming issues, saying it was “ridiculous” that Defense Minister Panos Kammenos had a different position to the prime minister.

PM Alexis Tsipras greets Centrists’ Union leader Vasilis Leventis at Maximos Mansion, Jan. 27, 2018 (Courtesy of PM sources)

Vasilis Leventis, head of the Centrists’ Union, told Tsipras at the beginning of their meeting that his party remained opposed to any use of ‘Macedonia’ by FYROM.

He also issued a warning for the SYRIZA leader after the meeting: “Anyone who betrays the people’s mandate will cry on election night.”

“I had asked for consensus and a broad government because we would need it. I told him that instead of starting the negotiations offering compound name we should have asked for exchanges from the start and the other side to have its accession to NATO and EU” said Leventis.

My opinion is THAT the negotiation to start from zero and if this happens, I told the prime minister that the people, with me first, will be on his side, added Leventis.

He clarified that he is against the name Nova Makedonija because Macedonia is Greek and there is no room for deductions on this. “I told Tsipras not to bear this stigma”.

This week will see UN envoy Nimetz visit both Athens and Skopje for meetings at foreign-ministerial level in an attempt to push forwards talks held in New York and recent bilateral meetings between Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart, Zoran Zaev.