Interview by Ioannis Michaletos to the newspaper “Nova Macedonija” in Skopje (FYROM) and the journalist Cvetin Cilimanov, 19/09/2008

The Interview is translated in English:


Q1. Greece is open about blocking Macedonian entry to the EU as well, after it vetoed our entry into NATO. Do you think that this is the right policy and that Greece has something to gain by keeping its smaller neighbor stilted in development?


The Greek foreign policy in respect to the issue you mentioned is driven primarily by the historical-cultural aspect of the bilateral confrontation between the two countries. Basically, the name issue from the Greek point of view refers to a conflict with another country that violates historical and cultural rights. If it wasn't for the name issue, both countries would be very good allies and I sincerely believe that Athens & Skopje would have already formed a sort of an "Axis" or an alliance, since they have almost identical geopolitical interests regarding to the Balkan politics.

As a political analyst that monitors Balkan affairs, I can fully confirm that the mind frame of the Greek policy is exclusively driven by the name issue, which has become a deeply rooted position within the whole spectrum of the society and not just a political or diplomatic affair.

Therefore it has surpassed the level of "Right or wrong" in geopolitical terms, and it has reached a level concerning Greece's historical posture. Under these circumstances your observation of an eventual veto in the EU accession negotiations is valid, if the name issue is not resolved by then.

Q2. After Georgia, there is now talk in the Greek media (E Typos, Ethnos) that Greece overdid it with its support for Russia and with poking the US in the eye while blocking the NATO enlargement. Do you fear that the stronger EU-Russia and US-Russia rivalry will be harmful for Greece?


In general Greece is one of the last EU countries that have proceeded into forging closer ties with Moscow. Actually the big turn happened just 18 months ago when Greece signed agreements concerning pipeline construction along with Bulgaria and Italy as well.

If there is a confrontation between USA-Russia, resembling a "Cold War", a country that will be negatively influenced foremost would be Bulgaria since it is the pivotal state from which all the main energy projects will pass through and in parallel it has a Black Sea presence which is deemed as important to NATO. Athens on the other hand has multiple obligations regarding the EU and other countries such as Serbia, Middle Eastern ones, Israel and increasingly China, therefore the tremors from a conflict will be more or less normalized.

Myself I don't assess that we are going to experience a new Cold War because that is not in the interest of most countries in Europe and beyond.

As far as Greek media outlets are concerned, as you may know, the journalists tend to exaggerate certain events in order to capture the attention of the public! The theme around a Russian-American rivalry will soon be replaced by a Chinese-American one and if we look 15-20 years before it was Germans vs. Americans and Japanese as well! I have to stress that the Yalta agreement of 1945 still stands, at least by Moscow's side...
Q3. Greece accuses Macedonia of blocking the negotiations. Do you honestly see a political party, or the majority of MPs in Greece, supporting the end of the "name issue" even with a name that is acceptable for Greece? Our Government claims that the Greek political scandals and the very logic of Greek nationalism prohibit someone, anyone, from accepting any kind of deal and claims that if we, for fun sake, accept all the Greek demands (one name for all purposes, give up national identity and language rights, etc) Greece will just move further to the right, with new demands.

My opinion is that once the name issue will be resolved the relations between the two states will blossom. It is true that there a strong tendency by the public in Greece to unite over a cause, but this was more evident in the early '90's. Nowadays there are very few and politically on the sideline forces that wouldn't like to see the relations being improved, even if the name issue is resolved.

The scandals in Greece I would say they are typical of any Mediterranean country with a vast state bureaucracy and political patronage. I don't think they exercise influence as far as foreign policy is concerned.

To give you a clue, I will state the following news that surfaced in the Greek press the other day: Last July, at the height of the disagreement between the two countries, the Greek foreign ministry lifted 50 million Euros for the "Motor axis 10". The capital was frozen since 2002, and the Greek ministry decided to proceed as a token of good gesture despite the heavy political climate. This news didn't receive attention in Greece and that means they were not manipulated for political reasons but it was an initiative aimed at the PM Gruefski in order to facilitate dialogue when conditions permit. 

Q4. Macedonia builds a very different political model then all its neighbors (possibly excluding Kosovo, but it's too early to tell). Do you think that the Macedonian model of including all the minorities in the ruling of the country and giving them state legitimacy, gives a reason for fear to the neighbors? An example is the Greek movement Omonia in Southern Albania which recently hilariously demanded that Albania gives the minority Greeks the same rights that Macedonians give to the Albanians in Macedonia. You see the possible pattern here for all the other minorities in the Balkans.

The situation in the Balkans is still in flux because as Churchill intelligently said "The region produces more history that it can consume". From what I have understood the Albanian communities in the Balkans believe that due to demographic reasons and a hypothetical assistance from USA, they will be able to create a greater Albanian state or at least a "Great Kosovo". Honestly I think that as long as these ideas prevail in various members of the Albanian Diaspora there could be potential trouble.

About all the minorities in all Balkan countries, there could be no serious upheaval, unless a third power does not intervene in the future and uses them as a Trojan horse for its own interests. I have to be blunt to that, but the future in the Balkans regardless of the good willing of the local governments, still rests in the hands of the largest states in the planet and primarily in USA, Germany, Russia and the big countries of the EU, not forgetting certain elements of Islamic influence and Turkey. The Balkans traditionally is on the edge of three worlds: The Latin-Catholic one; the Islamic-Turkish one; and the Grand-Slavic Russian one. Under these circumstances everything is possible in the future, be it a great artistic and cultural renaissance or an ethnic based conflict. Hopefully the former will prevail.

Q5. Macedonia political changes were largely due to the shifting demographics and we now have a system in which any minority over 20% gets special treatment, while five smaller minorities are also given smaller special rights. Greece has the similar low demographics, 1.3 births per woman, has an ageing population and needs a large influx of seasonal labor (including Macedonians and Albanians) but it insists that it is ethnically clean, save for the Muslim minority. How will things play out in Greece in the future, as the demographic changes become more apparent? Greek social scientists I have spoken with usually put their hopes in assimilation of the Albanian migrants.


This is a very hot topic that has recently acquired another important twist and that is the continuous flow of mostly Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, Pakistan and Central Asia. It is difficult to predict the future patterns involving the mass transfer of populations, but my guess are that is going to play an important role in the Greek domestic political debate.

On the other hand Greece has a sizeable Diaspora that should it is provided the necessary motives, could return at least in part back in the country, thus raising considerably the population. I think this is an issue that makes most European and Balkan leaders anxious and one has to take into consideration that many analysts expect a mass movement by North Africa as early as 2012. Should that happens; social skirmishes -To say the least- should be expected.

About minorities per se, the classification in a world level, is that they have to be indigenous, and that means that they habituate for a long time in a specific geographical region with their own distinct tradition and history. The recent immigrants like the Albanians in Greece do not conform in the above model, they are ordinary immigrants.
Q6. Macedonia has been able to push through some very painful reforms, for instance, only this year we have slashed pension rights and made it dramatically easier for companies to fire workers, and the Government is more popular then ever. Greece, on the other hand, has a horrible time passing the education and pensions reforms and has a welfare system widely considered being the first one in the line for bankruptcy as the population ages and the economy stalls. What do you think of our Government’s line that Greece is exploiting the name issue in order to avoid discussing and solving these issues? Our local joke is that if we give in on the name, we will really do it for Athens, because then the Government will no longer have an aegis and will have to get down to the real business.


I have a different approach regarding your question. The Greek reforms clearly stall because of the so-called vested interests. Foreign policy cannot alter the existence of powerful domestic lobbies that like to retain their privileged status. On the other hand Greece has proceeded in the past few years in several reforms in the educational system, the pension rights and the administration. If one carefully observes and analyzes the news broadcasts during these reforms, he will not discover any manipulation by the government of trying to raise the name issue. Foreign policy remains a terra incognita for the vast majority of the Greek population as it is the case for most countries in the world and that is the right thing to do because the complexities of diplomacy cannot be comprehended by the average citizen. Therefore the internal affairs do not mix with foreign policy as often as it is assumed.

As I stated in a previous answer, the name issue as a historical perennial issue is the stake involved. I hope that the procedures in order to find a compromise will materialize shortly, but even if they don't the geopolitical reality in the region will not change and the two countries will continue a cooperation in other fields, as they have done so over the past 2 decades.

Lets not forget that an EU or NATO entrance does not solve automatically all domestic issues; of any country. It involves more obligations and possibly painstaking reforms along with the acceptance in a wider club on which smaller states have little room to maneuver. Maybe it would be interesting to view the examples of countries such as Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and Finland that they are not part of both clubs or completely neutral. Aren't they the most successful and peaceful states in the Continent? I'll leave that as a sideline question for some thoughts not exclusively related to the name issue and the relations between the two states...

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