Alexis Tsipras: “I see a deal where we only gain things, not give them away”
“I feel happy and fortunate that I happened to be prime minister at a time when there was a significant political change in the neighbouring country, which gave Prime Minister Zaev and myself the opportunity to make a real and laborious effort to solve a problem going back decades,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday.
The prime minister made the statement in an interview with the Greek state broadcaster ERT on the agreement reached with the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the name issue.
According to the prime minister, the agreement brought multiple benefits for Greece and the region, while he rejected criticism that he had given too much away.
“I see a deal where we only gain things, not give them away,” he said.
Outlining the process, he said the two sides had made an effort to solve the issue with respect for each others’ values, dignity and positions.
The agreement could be viable, Tsipras added, though the crucial issue at this time was whether the government in Skopje would succeed in meeting the conditions that it laid out. “We are creating a momentum to defeat the peddlers of patriotism on both sides,” he said.
Through the agreement, Tsipras noted, Greece was putting a stop to efforts to “hijack” its history, while the deal went no further than recognising the right to self-determination, while showing respect for the identity that had been cultivated in Greece’s northern neighbour.
He also made it clear that the foreign ministries will only sign the agreement if it was ratified on both sides of the border and that Greece’s neighbour would have to complete a number of steps before the deal was put to the Greek parliament for ratification.
“Only if it is activated will there be obligations for our side on an international level,” he said. Unless all conditions where met, he continued, the agreement would be cancelled.
“I believe we shall succeed, however,” the Greek prime minister added, predicting that the other side would ?take the big step? that would allow the deal to come to the Greek parliament.
“For us in Greece, it is in our discretion to refer to them as either Northern Macedonia or Severna Makedonija,” Tsipras said, explaining that the name is not untranslatable and citing examples of other states whose names are translated when rendered in Greek, such as Montenegro. If the government had agreed to an untranslatable name, he added, where all countries would call Greece’s northern neighbour “Severna Makedonija”, the awkward full version would soon be shortened to plain “Makedonija”, whereas ‘Northern Macedonia’ would now be used in all languages, Tsipras said.
“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 FYROM.
Asked about the government’s junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, which has openly opposed the agreement, Tsipras noted that the prospect of such a deal had not existed when the coalition with ANEL was formed. He was not asking ANEL leader Panos Kammenos to change a position of principle, Tsipras added, but to not jeopardise the country’s governance and course at a crucial time.
Asked about the prospect of an opposition censure motion in the Greek parliament and whether this would amount to a vote of confidence, Tsipras noted that all important votes acted this way.
“Some pretend that there is no governing majority. If they believe this, let them table a censure motion,” he said.
The prime minister suggested that a referendum in Greece was not necessary, as it was in FYROM, since Greece will not be changing its constitution as its neighbour would have to do. In foreign policy, he added, one acted based on the interests of the country and these now demanded that this long-standing problem was finally “put to bed”.
Tsipras noted that he had taken over as a prime minister at a time of great difficulty and had faced crucial decisions but was proud of the choices he had made since 2015:
“Greece is a country that in these three years was transformed from a pariah-state and a part of the problem to being a part of the solution,” Tsipras said.