To the uninitiated, the name dispute between Greece and FYROM seemed like a triviality – a curiosity at best.
In the decades-long tug of war, the devil was always hidden in the details. What seemed like a matter of principle (at best) or foolish pride (at worst) to outsiders raised numerous implications of concern to Greeks, especially Macedonians.
The reinvention of the Slavic state using borrowed symbols such as the Vergina Star and text books teaching the children of Skopje that they are descendants of Alexander the Great constituted “identity theft” for most Greeks and did not help matters.
Of course, were it possible to conjure Alexander the Great from the dead to ask him how he felt about the issue, he may have begged a different approach. He may even have enjoyed the statues commissioned in his honour to beautify Skopjian squares. As a master of propaganda, he’d have used the works to solidify his myth.
Let’s not forget that the great warrior king known for his military genius and diplomatic skills was recognised for allowing Greek culture to be loosely adapted by various peoples. Alexander’s controversial gestures, included the mass wedding at Susa in 324 BC where he declared himself a Persian king, adopted a non-Greek style of dress and encouraged his officers to marry noble Persian wives to unite the two cultures. If anything, he was more focused on the goal than on accuracy in the way in which a tale is told or an identity is sold.
Alexander the Great is not here to find a magical solution to Greece’s woes, but the engineers of the Prespes Agreement would have us believe that the name dispute that for three decades stood as a Gordian knot in Balkan diplomacy is now well and truly behind us.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addressed an international audience at the 4th Delphi Economic Forum and referred to the accord struck by the two countries as a “diplomatic masterpiece.” He stood smug, much like an Alexander that had cut the Gordian knot and surveyed his new friends of North Macedonia much like Alexander may have eyed the Persian wives.
In a Davos-like atmosphere, he told guests at Delphi that benefits of the agreement include trade relations and cross-border investments that would be mutually beneficial to both countries. Of course, he was preaching to the converted as he explained that “Greece and North Macedonia are no longer two sides of an unsolved puzzle”.
His description of the two countries as two neighbours that have “invested in friendship, cooperation and solidarity and who provide an example, not only in the Balkans but for Europe and for a better world,” is banter that may indeed get him that Nobel Prize he has been nominated for. Nonetheless, it won’t guarantee his reelection come October.
The prevailing view is that the Prespes Agreement will cost Syriza a huge chunk of votes, especially in Northern Greece where there are fears that the timeline for the agreement was too rushed and contrived. There are fears that Greek products using the product name Macedonia won’t be protected, and reports such as the BBC’s recent spotlight on an alleged “invisible Macedonian Slav minority” have not been reassuring in regards to the geopolitical landscape following the accord.
And what is Greece getting in return? Greece already had cross-border investments. In fact, since the end of the Greek embargo from February 1994 to September 1995, Greece had risen to become one of the most important business partners of North Macedonia with 12.1 per cent of total foreign direct investments pouring into FYROM. So Greeks are left unsure why an agreement was needed when Greece is already an esteemed business partner with the neighbouring country.
Greece’s interlocutors are well aware that the average Greek is not happy with this agreement, and this could be seen by their movements on the sidelines of the Delphi Economic Forum. Discussions with Greek opposition leaders was the focus of foreign diplomats because ultimately they will be the ones to ensure the implementation of the accord.
They are aware that Syriza’s days may be numbered.
All things – good and bad – come to an end, even Syriza, even the reign of Alexander the Great. All that is left behind is a legacy. All too aware of this, Mr Tsipras took the podium and explained his actions.
He said: “We were thinking about the future and the people who will benefit from this (Prespes Agreement) and not about a moment of political glory.”
And it is Susa we remember – not the state of the marriages left behind in its aftermath.