- Bilateral Relations
Foreign Minister Kotzias’ statements and responses to journalists’ questions following his meeting with FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki (Skopje, 24 June 2015)
N. KOTZIAS: Arriving in our neighbouring country, I noticed that most of
the churches are named for Saint Nikolaos. And sitting next to Nikola,
who shares my name, I gained the sense that I have the right name with
which to come here. I thank my colleague, Nikola Poposki, very, very
much for the reception and the talks we had.
This is the fourth time we have met to talk about the good relations we must develop between our countries. And what we agreed on from the outset was that we need to take all possible measures to develop the trust between the two states, between the two Ministries in particular. I think that we two have already gained this trust.
Greece is a country that contributes in all ways and by all means to the stabilization and security of the region. And we have common interests with our neighbouring country, which we want to see move along the European path at even greater speed. We want there to be all the possible measures and tools that will make the country a European country in every aspect. And I am certain that this will happen, and Greece is prepared, with the experience it has, to contribute in this direction. We want all of our neighbours to be members of the EU, to have rule of law, to have economic development, because my country, too, depends to a great extent on what happens in the Balkans as a whole.
In the framework of the road of trust – as the Chinese say “silk road”, we will say the road of trust, Nikola – we agreed on 11 confidence-building measures, and I believe there will be additional ones in the future.
I believe that we have the capability to talk about and resolve the name issue, based on international law and good neighbourly relations. I think that Nikola and I are determined to explore, to search out, to promote and – and I believe my colleague Nikola shares this belief – to work to develop trade and investments between the two countries, cooperation between the educational institutions, particularly the universities and culture. It is well known that I, personally, see culture as a great value and soft power, but also as being of economic importance – it helps mutual understanding of peoples, because, as I am fond of saying, politics also requires signals. We are peoples here in the Balkans, with many sentiments, common traditions, styles of dance, songs.
We also agreed with Minister Poposki on the great importance of cooperation in the fields of internal security; security, that is, of the borders, cooperation on justice. And I think that our Secretaries General and Political Directors – as of tomorrow, since we have now publicly stated our agreement on the confidence-building measures – will work on the implementation of cooperation in all these sectors and on the creation of new fields of cooperation.
Once again, I would like to thank my colleague, Nikola Poposki, for the courtesy he always shows in our bilateral meetings, his understanding of what I believe, just as I understand what he believes, and, despite the age difference, the creation of relations of trust. When people trust one another, they can fight together to solve major problems and, as we say, move mountains.
Thank you once again, Nikola.
Responses to questions from news media representatives:
N. KOTZIAS: I thank Nikola Poposki very much for his responses, and particularly for his description of the CBMs. I want to tell you how we think – you know that the Balkans have a strange history. There are two risks. One is that history should imprison us, and the other is that we produce more history than we can consume.
Our history is necessary. But history must be a school for us, not a prison, so that we can learn, be taught. And what we have been taught is that development, security and stability in the Balkans needs all of us and our cooperation. The creation, for example, of pipelines, the creation of railroads – because there is a major Piraeus-Budapest plan – is a way for us to create networks and for these to help in our relations and with stability.
What my colleague and I agreed on from the outset, since our meeting in Budapest, is that we need such networks and not just one or the other project, like the Turkish Stream. We need comprehensive networks. The second thing is, we need trust in an era when globalization is bringing new problems, when European integration appears to be getting more difficult, we have to creatively stabilize the relations between us. We are neighbours with friendly peoples. This is the point of the CBMs: not just trust, but also to intensify our relations and make them more consolidated.
Now, regarding The Hague. Because I happen to be a professor of International Relations, I will respond as a professor – I am also the Minister, of course. The Hague itself says, in its ruling on the specific case, that it has no jurisdiction for responding on the name issue. Thus, there is no issue of violation of international law. I would recommend that you read it yourself, very carefully. It is available in all the languages.
Regarding the next question, the name. I want to make something clear. Greek foreign policy considers the existence, stability and security of this country to be a good thing for Greece itself. And we are doing everything we can to help it on its path to the Euroatlantic institutions. We want to help and we will help with our European experience. We believe that the unity and stability of this country is a gift for the Balkans. There is a dispute over the name. For every problem, there is a solution.
The last question, regarding irredentism. I don’t believe that I or my counterpart are irredentists. I’m not talking about that level. I am referring to this – and I want care to be taken in the translation. A very good diplomat of ours said to me this morning that in Egypt there is a city called Alexandria. Not only do we not have a problem, but we are proud of this fact. I went to India once, and the Indians said to me, “we are successors to Alexander the Great” – or in Afghanistan, where our political director was. Great. Everyone has the right to his identity. It’s just that the manner in which he uses that identity mustn’t create the impression among third parties that it might be abused. That is, if a former politician of the dear country I am visiting raises a flag that is not legal, on Mount Olympus, for no reason, that is irredentism. Or when maps are made by some third party, showing the incorporation of regions of third countries, that is irredentism. It is not my job right now to give you a list of cases or non-cases. You are exceptional journalists who can also report on what is making understanding between the two sides difficult.
I will tell you this sincerely and straight out. There are many in this country who feel that there may be some people in Greece who don’t want your country to exist. I assure you that we want it to exist, we are pleased that it exists. And there are many here who want to include parts of third countries and create the impression in Athens that they think there are regions of Greece that they want.
The government of this friendly country is clear. It has no such intentions. On both sides, neither the governments nor the societies call into question the other side. But in the Balkans of nationalisms – and there are those who have an aggressive nationalism – we can also observe the presence of aggressive nationalisms that also have the element of irredentism, which doesn’t help understanding, communication, the coexistence of the two states. We are fighting this. Just as we are fighting the irredentism of third parties, we are fighting anyone who does not respect the existence of a third country. We are against extremist nationalisms. We respect all those who feel and have patriotic sentiments.