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Interview of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, on ALPHA TV’s “Autopsy”, with journalist Antonis Sroiter (15 February 2018)
JOURNALIST: Minister, it is Valentine’s Day today, a day of love, and we are here, together. I’ll say its a day of love, not a day for lovers. But love is the only thing I don’t see in our relations with Turkey. In recent hours and days, I have seen a crisis the likes of which I don’t remember seeing since Imia. There is tension between the two countries and there is an official announcement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry that now clearly states that Imia is turkish territory.
N. KOTZIAS: They have said it before
JOURNALIST: They have said it before.
N. KOTZIAS: That is why we underscored to them in our announcement that they are violating international law and that they have a lack of knowledge on geography. Because the Imia islets are certainly Greek. They are Greek territory according to international law and international agreements/treaties. I don’t think this can be disputed, and I don’t like getting into discussions like this, because it means I’m participating in Turkish nonsense.
I would say that Turkey has become very nervous. In the incident involving the Imia islets, Turkey reached a red line and, in a sense, crossed that line. And we told them there won’t be such, let’s say, peaceful conduct from the Greek side again. I think that Turkey is nervous because things aren’t going well in Syria, it has an open front in Iraq, it has closed borders with Armenia, with Cyprus it is acting like a ‘cowboy’ in the eastern Mediterranean, due to the EEZ and the fact that large quantities of natural gas appear to have been found, and, as you can understand, Turkey couldn’t play the energy game it wanted to play the way it wanted to play it.
And it is taking this nervousness out on Greece, this overall nervousness and aggressiveness, which in my opinion indicates two things about our foreign policy: the one issue, with which we started our discussion today, is that we must resolve the problems we have with our other neighbours and focus on the main geostrategic/geopolitical problem our country has; and the second one, that our foreign policy must abide by strict rules and strict principles; but be a policy that, at the same time, leaves no room for this nervousness to be taken out on us.
JOURNALIST: I’m not one of those people who loses one’s temper or thinks we should go to war for some reason – so we say things like that.
N. KOTZIAS: I know you aren’t, neither am I, but it is good to remind that it was with cries like this that we went to war in 1897, that we went to the war of the Asia Minor catastrophe. It was with great hollow cries that the junta spoke of national, patriotic duties and essentially surrendered Cyprus to the Turkish invader. We have to remember that the degree of patriotism is not directly proportional to the tone of one’s voice. You have to address the other side responsibly, with composure, setting out a strategy that, often, doesn’t need to be stated publicly.
JOURNALIST: So, with this as a given, I cannot but stress that a Turkish vessel clearly hindered a Greek vessel within Greek national waters, in the area of Imia. And one would ask, what else has to happen, from a certain point on, for Greece to react. You said Turkey stepped on and perhaps crossed our red line. If it crossed our red line, the reactions to a red line’s being crossed are the demarche, for example?
N. KOTZIAS: We didn’t just make demarches. I think that if you look at the announcements from the European agencies and institutions, the statement made by the President of the European Commission, Mr. Juncker, you will see that, for the first time, Greece has Europe on its side, with the clear statement that it isn’t just Greece’s borders that are being violated, but Europe’s borders! It is very important for this to be understood, and Greece must be careful at a time when Turkey wants to shift its domestic crisis – and the insecurity we described earlier, and lack of composure – onto us. It is apparent that the Turkish army’s operations in the Kurdish part of Syria aren’t going as expediently or as smoothly as Erdogan thought they would. It isn’t the kind of ‘walk in the park’ they thought it would be. And this irritates him. He is also irritated by this whole story with the Cypriot EEZ, as well as Greece’s EEZs with Albania and Italy.
JOURNALIST: I wanted to ask about that too, because there is tension there, as well.
N. KOTZIAS: They are irritated by the fact that we are in a dialogue and resolving our problems. And it may irritate them a great deal that we are resolving the problems with Albania, and I hope we also resolve the problems with Skopje, because the ‘pincer’ they want to set up for Greece – in other words, our not just having problems down in the Mediterranean, the Aegean and this whole arc, but our also having problems to the north – they see that this ‘arc’ won’t hold in the long run, and this makes Turkey more nervous.
And as I said, the Turkish leadership is currently caught between arrogance, a sense that they can do anything they want, and insecurity and fear. And we have to be cautious, because if you want to confront someone, you have to decide when and how; you can’t leave it up to him.
JOURNALIST: So what if, tomorrow, somewhere else in the Aegean, or in the same place, another Turkish vessel rams a Greek vessel again?
N. KOTZIAS: They won’t do it again. It mustn’t happen again. And the Turks have to hear this, because they are always talking about warnings ... And I have told them that Greece – not in a negative sense about these two countries, but with respect to Turkey’s conduct – is neither Syria nor Iraq.
JOURNALIST: So you are saying we won’t have a demarche again, if it happens.
N. KOTZIAS: We are an organized state with good defence, good defensive systems, strong allies, vast diplomatic capabilities. For the time being, I believe that – I am the minister responsible for diplomacy – diplomacy must come first. It is just that I am dismayed by something: We acted from the very first moment. At midnight on Monday we acted, we ‘mobilised’, telling everyone – the Americans, the French, the Germans ... And now we also have the other members of the Security Council and the UN, the EU, NATO. Today, in fact, Mr. Kammenos showed the NATO military committee the film clip, so that they understand what Turkey, a NATO ally, is doing. I think it is unfair, after all of this activity, for the other guy to come out the next day and say: “you didn’t do anything, you didn’t react,” and I don’t know what else. That is not responsible conduct. And foreign policy, as I said, is not always done in shouts. It is done with effectiveness.
JOURNALIST: How would you respond to the Turkish Prime Minister, who came out and said that this whole incident is the result of a Greek provocation, to which Turkey simply responded?
N. KOTZIAS: That was more the tenor of Erdogan’s statements to his party. I would say that the Turkish Prime Minister, knowing that the Turkish side had gone further than it should, was apologetic to our Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: At the same time, one of Erdogan’s aides came out ...
N. KOTZIAS: A fool ...
JOURNALIST: Fool or not, he is an advisor to Erdogan, he holds that position.
N. KOTZIAS: The fact that he is still Erdogan’s aide doesn’t make him clever. A clever fool ...
JOURNALIST: Being someone’s advisor doesn’t generally make you clever. But being an advisor to a prime minister, a president, a country gives your opinion weight.
N. KOTZIAS: He has to weigh his words.
JOURNALIST: Right. So, this person ...
N. KOTZIAS: What would he say if one of the Greek Prime Minister’s aides came out and said that he would break Mr. Erdogan’s arms? And I’ll tell you the key thing about this story ...
JOURNALIST: Let me say what happened today, because you may know, but our viewers may not know: This man came out and said that Greece is a fly with the audacity to quarrel with a giant, and this fly will pay!
N. KOTZIAS: He hasn’t seen elephants running away at the sight of a mouse ...
N. KOTZIAS: That was a risible statement. What is serious – and we told the Turks this – is that they regard the Kurdish movement in the regions of Syria they want to attack as a terrorist movement. And they compared this region with Cyprus and the Aegean – that it is kind of the same thing. And we asked ourselves: if Turkey has terrorist neighbours, should it be explaining it to us? And if they’re so confident, let them take it to the international organizations and NATO. In other words, the statements they are making are very peculiar in the context of diplomacy. These are weighty statements, weighty insults ... big threats. You don’t usually say these kinds of things in diplomacy. You say these kinds of things when you are very, very nervous and steeped in your own insecurity and arrogance.
JOURNALIST: And not just to us, but also to the United States and the rest of the planet ...
N. KOTZIAS: Because some people are telling us that Turkey is aggressive, because we aren’t making good foreign policy decisions. So Turkey, which is aggressive towards everyone, only Turkey makes good foreign policy? And everyone else, from Armenia to America and from Western Europe and Germany to the European Commission, doesn’t make good foreign policy decisions?
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with the level of the international reaction? A Greek vessel was rammed.
N. KOTZIAS: I always want a bigger reaction than the one we get.
JOURNALIST: I will just say that we have the spokesperson for the Commission – who happens to be Greek, but this is his job and he has to measure his words – who only said, “You hit a vessel that was paid for by Europeans, and you mustn’t do that.”
N. KOTZIAS: And yet it is an interesting case.
JOURNALIST: Yes, it is, but it’s like his saying that had the Greeks paid it for, there would be no problem.
N. KOTZIAS: We looking into whether the Turks should pay for it.
JOURNALIST: Have you thought of asking for damages for what happened?
N. KOTZIAS: We have asked our Legal Service to look into it.
JOURNALIST: And if your Legal Service says we have a right to compensation, how will you proceed? Will you take legal measures?
N. KOTZIAS: I would be very happy to ... Most certainly.
JOURNALIST: A lawsuit against the Turkish state, for example?
N. KOTZIAS: Whatever our Legal Service says.
N. KOTZIAS: Why? Should we let them get away with it?
JOURNALIST: No, of course not. It’s money, which we can’t spare right now ... A half-hearted reaction from the UN, I would say. The U.S. followed its normal line: “You’re all right, settle it between yourselves, don’t bother us too much.” I didn’t see anything very ...
N. KOTZIAS: That is how they talk, in that way, about their allies the Kurds, who are fighting with them. And I don’t know whether this got into the Greek news. From the reports I saw, returning from abroad today, Assad forces hit regions where there are American officers and trainers. In other words, there are the anti-regime forces, resistance movements let’s say, trained by Americans, and they were hit by Assad contingents and artillery. This is ... International observers haven’t yet concluded as to whether or not it is intentional, but it is a new phenomenon.
JOURNALIST: To finish with this topic, what happened ...
N. KOTZIAS: Not even in this case are the Americans condemning the Turks. So I think the West is clinging to a delusion: that Turkey is something extremely good and we mustn’t lose it at any cost. I’m not saying anyone should lose Turkey, but it’s a delusion ... I remind you of Mr. Obama – who liked us, and we liked him very much – who spoke at the University of Cairo and said that Turkey is the model Muslim country that implements all the rules of Democracy, as those rules are perceived by the West. I think they sometimes have an exaggerated view of Turkey. They dress Turkey up, but Turkey is not really that pretty; it also has problems.
JOURNALIST: The speech-writer is of Turkish origin. From a certain point on, it can’t be explained any other way.
N. KOTZIAS: There are also interests involved. You know, in foreign policy there are no friendships, there are interests.
JOURNALIST: As you mentioned interests, it is in the interest of many European and non-European countries, the interest of the global community, judging from the companies that are participating, for the drilling to move ahead in Cyprus. And yet right now eight Turkish warships have blocked the Italian drilling rig inside Cyprus’s territorial waters. And again we don’t see the international community reacting. And we see the Italians themselves saying that we have to settle the matter all together.
N. KOTZIAS: The Turks have issued a Navtex until 22 February. And I have a feeling they will wait until then, hoping that the Turks leave after that. The Italians deal with these kinds of problems differently – and in the midst of a very tough run-up to elections, as you know – from how they were handled by the French, who were very tough in their stance on Turkey.
JOURNALIST: Do you see an escalation at this time in Cyprus and in what is happening? Do you see this ending with the completion of the Turkish exercise? What is the Foreign Ministry’s assessment? That this front is even more tense and dangerous than the Aegean front right now?
N. KOTZIAS: I think they are interlinked, because they concern Turkey’s behaviour towards the international rules and laws they are violating. And that is why we are cooperating and consulting closely with the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with both my outgoing friend, Mr. Kasoulides, who will continue to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs until the end of the month, and with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, with whom we are in communication. And I will have a meeting with him, in Athens, at the beginning of next month. I have already invited him, because he assumes his duties officially on the 1st of March, and through an envoy who will be going to Cyprus in the coming days, so that we can exchange views in person, not by telephone or despatch, on how we should proceed and work together against this sort of extortion from the Turkish side.
JOURNALIST: To finish with this topic. I know that, in foreign policy, a lot of things are done rather than said. And right now you are apprised of the climate between Greece and Turkey following the incident in Imia, following the ramming. We had the Prime Minister’s telephone conversation ...
N. KOTZIAS: We are all trying to calm things down.
JOURNALIST: Did you see willingness from the other side? I don’t know whether it was genuine or not, but did you see a desire for all this to end?
N. KOTZIAS: From the Prime Minister of Turkey I saw very serious willingness in this direction, but I don’t know if other forces in Turkey share this willingness, or whether they are controlled by the central state of Turkey. This always remains to be seen.
JOURNALIST: Is there a chance that what happened came from the forces who want the tension for Turkey’s domestic political developments? Do you believe this?
N. KOTZIAS: There was a change in Turkey: the Coast Guard was transferred from the ministry it came under – the defence ministry – to the ministry of interior, which is headed by one of the powerful men in the government. It remains to be seen.
JOURNALIST: Whether he is making his own policy, in essence...
N. KOTZIAS: I don’t think he is making his own policy. He is closely associated with Erdogan. But it remains to be seen why this action took place and what kind of restlessness it involves.
N. KOTZIAS: Turkey’s relations with us aren’t its worst relations. Its “worst relations” are currently with itself. I identified it as a “nervous power”, and I’ll tell you why shortly. And it is what is known in international relations as ‘revisionist’. That is, it wants to change things. For example, its incursion into Syria is revisionist, as regards the Treaty of Lausanne, with regard to Syria. Because the Treaty of Lausanne isn’t just a Greek-Turkish agreement, it is an international agreement. Now, what do I mean by nervous? Turkey is a country with a lot of contrasts and contradictions. It has contrasts of an ethnic nature; in other words, it has 15 to 20 million Kurds. It has contrasts of a religious nature; it has the Alawites, especially in Istanbul, who do not follow the mainstream Muslim faith of Erdogan and the AKP. They have contrasts in social formation. In other words, if, as I imagine you do, you go to Izmir and Istanbul, there are very developed areas with industry, banking systems in eastern and central Turkey. There are also feudal structures or family structures of a feudal kind. There are many, many contrasts. One more was added to these: the vacillation of the leadership itself. For the past year and a half, since the attempted coup, Turkey’s leadership has displayed nervousness, fear, insecurity, lest someone try something else, because they were unprepared for the previous one. Might an enemy be waiting round the next corner? Is what the Americans, the Germans, the Europeans, the Greeks are saying insinuating something else, some plan that I haven’t uncovered?
And on the other hand, they had arrogance. These are the Turks who went into Iraq, who went into Syria. This is the government that crushed the coup attempt. This contradiction in the character of Turkey’s leadership, between fear, insecurity, concern and the arrogance of one man, one movement, one government that can overcome anything. These are conflicting phenomena and create unstable conduct. So Greece has to bear these things in mind and have a very sober foreign policy focused on how it will keep Turkey away from extreme provocations; if possible, how it can block the daily provocations, and how it can strengthen those forces inside Turkey that want a European democratic orientation. Do these forces exist?
JOURNALIST: I want to ask you that, because ...
N. KOTZIAS: If you look at how Turkey’s coasts voted in the referendum, and by coasts I mean the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts, in these regions, just as in the large cities – in other words, where the middle and working classes are concentrated, the educated, where Turkey’s developed social sectors reside – over 60% voted against the revision of the constitution. In other words, a Turkey that thinks differently, that no one should abandon.
JOURNALIST: But on the other hand, Mr. Minister, I don’t see a better day. What I mean is, you said something, and it is absolutely right, that Erdogan, even with the things he says, the threats, the bombast and the rest, is the most moderate person on the Turkish stage right now. The opposition in Turkey says he is acquiescent. They ask him why he doesn’t immediately take back the 18 islands the Greeks have taken.
N. KOTZIAS: That we have taken, they say, in the past decade.
JOURNALIST: Yes. In other words, between a rock and a hard place. A rock and an even bigger rock. And I would like to ask, first, if this concerns you, and second, whether you think Erdogan, beyond what he says, is a factor for stability.
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, everything you described requires us to be serious, composed, and to look at how to deal, in the long term, with the problem called Turkey. When I go to Ankara, I tell Erdogan, whom I talk to frankly – and I think he appreciates the fact that I am always frank with him. He talks tough, I talk tough. I said to him: “Look at how things are. Allah put us here together, and now he is watching to see what you will do with us. Will you live based on the principles of the Quran, in peaceful coexistence with us, or will you create problems?” This remains to be seen.
JOURNALIST: What does Allah say to him?
N. KOTZIAS: He smiles, as a rule. Of course, he says he wants good relations, but of course, by good relations, Turkey means with a Greece that is a small country on its periphery, and not a Greece it sees as an equal. Our economic crisis, too, may have played a role. In other words, at a time when Turkey was going through an economic ‘boom’, we were sinking and our GDP was shrinking. We lost €80 billion, and this gave them – and not just the Turks, but the whole of the Balkans – the sense that Greece no longer plays the same role. That’s why, you may have noticed, even though the Turks often talk to me very provocatively – and the opposition here asks why I don’t respond – it isn’t always right to respond to the other side. I have responded to them two or three times in the past three years. My first response, which they listened to very carefully, was, “remember, Greece is neither Syria nor Iraq.” These experiments of yours won’t end in the same way they do elsewhere.”
JOURNALIST: You have said something else, and I’d like you to explain what you mean. Because the Turks may understand it, but we may not, with the knowledge we have: that if we open up issues of disputed territory, Greece, too, has claims it can make on Turkey right now. What do you mean, and what Turkish territory can we dispute, if we put the treaties on the table and read them right now?
N. KOTZIAS: All of the islands and islets we have as Greece were granted to us by international law. Turkey, let’s say the various forces of its government machine, disputes this from time to time. If they study international law more closely, they will see that Turkey is the one with islets that might be interpreted, according to international law, as not belonging to it. That is what I said to them. Don’t open up ‘grey areas’. Because if we open up the case of ‘grey areas’ based on international law, you will not only be wrong, you will have losses.
JOURNALIST: So you are saying that if we open up this issue, we are the ones who should claim territory.
N. KOTZIAS: Not territory.
N. KOTZIAS: There are scholars – not necessarily from the same political ‘space’, or university, as me, or from the ministry – and I think they will write in the coming time. They have carried out studies on this, and I think they will present them at some point. But I don’t want to provoke anyone. What I say to the Turks is that things are good as they are, and they would do well to accept them. If they emerge as a revisionist power, their revisionism might be a boomerang. Nothing else.
JOURNALIST: On the other hand, however, we haven’t heard anything concrete. You’re saying we may hear something in the near future.
N. KOTZIAS: It is a matter of the scholars’ deciding when they want to publish the results of their studies.
JOURNALIST: So you’re saying there is a study that would lead to the conclusion ...
N. KOTZIAS: It draws conclusions that are different from Turkey’s.
JOURNALIST: It would lead to the conclusion – correct me if I’m wrong – that there are islets that should rightfully belong to Greece rather than Turkey.
N. KOTZIAS: I don’t know where they belong, but international law doesn’t grant them in the way Turkey thinks it acquired them.
JOURNALIST: Right, someone who looks ...
N. KOTZIAS: I’m not disputing anything. I’m just noting that they have to respect international law, not make new claims. Because if they do make new claims ...
JOURNALIST: When will we see these studies, Mr. Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: Serious scholars have conducted these studies. They will publish them when they see it fit. They were kind enough to show them to me.
JOURNALIST: Right. I assume you aren’t waiting for their initiative.
N. KOTZIAS: No, they are independent researchers. They do not belong to my political space.
JOURNALIST: I won't mention the dozens of airspace and maritime violations. I shall rather talk about what is happening at the Imia islets, which is essentially Greek territory.
N. KOTZIAS: As far as the violations, just be aware that the Turks accuse us of the same things.
JOURNALIST: Yes, I understand that and I read about it, but what is happening at Imia, recently for example, where a Greek vessel can no longer approach, and I am not talking about going on shore and doing something at Imia that would create tension etc. But, I saw the Defence Minister, Mr Kammenos, 4 or 5 miles from the islet, looking at it through his binoculars and tossing a wreath, for example. And the island was blocked off.
N. KOTZIAS: The wreath was thrown in the spot where the military incident took place.
JOURNALIST: It seemed to me to be a bit far from the military incident, just so you know.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, that is what I am aware of. And I think for the first time, this year he went by ship rather than by helicopter.
JOURNALIST: Do you not think that we are turning a bit of a blind eye, to be honest?
N. KOTZIAS: No, we are not.
JOURNALIST: You are saying we are not?
N. KOTZIAS: We are not turning a blind eye to anything, and there is no action on the part of the Turks, as for example in the case of Imia, which we have not condemned internationally, for which we have failed to issue notes verbales to Turkey itself, and not called on the Turkish ambassador or charge d' affaires here. There is nothing that we let slide. We simply believe that it does not help to use as advertising spots issues, which contain elements of conflict.
JOURNALIST: I am not in favour of conflict in general, but your reply is that it is they who provoke us and we who protest. I do not know if this bears the same weight...
N. KOTZIAS: As I said, they claim we do similar things also. And I am not referring to Imia. I mean airspace and maritime violations. But, in reality it is them who do who do this. I’m not saying that what they say is correct. It is really they who do this, and I think they are testing us. They are trying our patience. They are testing us to see how we react. It isn't necessary to show them everything.
JOURNALIST: How far does our patience extend? I mean, what do you consider to be this country’s red line? For example, will our patience continue if a Turkish ship docks at Imia tomorrow and two or three of their men come ashore?
N. KOTZIAS: No, no.
JOURNALIST: What is our red line?
N. KOTZIAS: Our red line is drawn at the point where someone tries to tamper with our sovereignty and our independence. And we saw this also with various islets they would like, but we did not allow them to approach.
JOURNALIST: Will you explain that to me a bit, because you are saying it, and you know what it entails, but I am hearing this as something a bit vague.
N. KOTZIAS: I shall tell you. The last time I was in Ankara, the Turks were showing me official photographs of naval ships that had reached within a distance of 50 meters. They wanted to harass a research vessel. They tried to harass it and most likely what I am telling you happened, but these incidents shouldn't be used for publicity. These things don’t help.
JOURNALIST: Do you mean to tell me that such things take place often and involve this type of, not confrontation per se, but this veiled conflict, and we do not learn about them?
N. KOTZIAS: When a pilot locks another plane in his sights, it's as if he has shot it down. But we are in a state of peace, and he does not shoot it down. I think this is a response which we can understand, and I would even say that the percentage of Turkish planes which we intercept at the moment is much greater than in the past, because Turkey has lost two-thirds of its pilots during its crisis and filled their ranks either with pilots who had retired or gone on to the usual private airlines, or even pilots who have not completed their training.
JOURNALIST: Young pilots?
N. KOTZIAS: Young ones. And I think they are aware of this. This is a longstanding problem with Turkey. Turkey has a large investment capacity in expensive defence systems. You know that it has ordered an aircraft carrier from Spain. I can see the Russians potentially giving them S-400s, despite the fact that the Turks themselves said they would station a cluster across the Aegean Sea. These are issues that require intelligence and new systems. Not expensive ones, because economy military systems do exist with which you can reshape your defence. But those are military issues. As far as I’m concerned, in regard to foreign policy, I am interested in how I will be able to enforce the rules of diplomacy, so that we don’t arrive at the difficult issues. I remind you that when I became Minister, in Turkey they had set up a firing range which included a portion of a Greek island. And while they expected me to go to them and protest, I simply reported them to the international authorities. And they were forced to retreat. This was a new tactic, which we adhere to today, also. You don’t always have to protest to the Turks. You can take them to an international environment, where they will find it difficult to proceed with such actions.
JOURNALIST: What can change in order to improve this situation, Minister? Mr Erdogan currently has elections ahead of him. Whether he is elected or not remains to be seen, but if he is elected, it is the same Erdogan with whom we are familiar. If he is not elected, what is to follow will most likely be worse. I can see it in the mindset, and the provocations and statements. Very often, when the opposition becomes the government, many times this changes some things as well...
N. KOTZIAS: I think that the strengthening of our country, the recovery of the economy, the restoration of the social cohesion and a confident Greece, with a profound cooperation with other Balkan countries is an antidote to the strengthening that Turkey has known over the past two decades. Did you know that, at one point, we had the same gross national product as Turkey? Today Turkey's is eight times higher. Therefore, political measures are needed and, within the political measures, I think, are all our external agreements, our political actions.
JOURNALIST: As Greeks, far too many times, and I think the same holds true for the Turks, we see things from our angle, and the big picture from our point of view. And we say the Turks are wrong and we are right. I would like to ask whether sometimes you recognize that they might be right. For example, there was an attempted coup. There are some people who seem to have been involved in this coup. These people found refuge in Greece. Through a Court decision, we are not handing them over Turkey to be tried. And in my mind, this is a bit upside down. If an attempted coup had taken place here, and some Greeks had fled to Turkey, accused putschists, and the Turks refused to hand them over to us, what would we say? Do you admit that they might be right, at least in this regard?
N. KOTZIAS: I would say that we have a different political culture. Our perception of Justice is different. We fully respect the independence of Justice. They have a different approach.
JOURNALIST: So, you don’t concede that they are correct in this regard.
N. KOTZIAS: I think that we have different political culture.
JOURNALIST: In this climate with Turkey, which is not a good one, I think we've discussed it quite a bit. What is the chance for a solution to the Cyprus issue to advance, Mr Minister? Certain steps were taken, and some steps have been taken recently. What can we expect right now?
N. KOTZIAS: Turkey has to realize that the era when someone behaved as a colonial power or believed they could annex territory in third countries is over. It must acquire a sense of pragmatism and realism. It cannot have occupying forces in Cyprus, nor can it attempt to determine the fate of Cyprus. Turkey has to learn this from experience, from the international players, and from the negotiation that I hope may start up again.
JOURNALIST: You don't say it with certainty. More so as a hope. Do you think that we are in a stage where…..
N. KOTZIAS: I must tell you something. I said it during the previous negotiations as well. The negotiations must be prepared well. I do not necessarily think that any "let's negotiate” policy leads to the proper results. We stayed in Crans-Montana for 11 days. The main issue that I have broached from the first day that I became Foreign Minister is Guarantees and Security. In other words, for Turkey not to have the right to interfere in the domestic affairs of Cyprus, to have an occupying army and act as the guarantor power. That’s it. From the first day to the last, I did not back down. Turkey must show realism and pragmatism. This issue continues to be pending, to Turkey's detriment. Turkey has a geostrategic, old-fashioned type of thinking. As Davutoğlu said in his book, even if no Turkish Cypriots existed, Turkey would have to find one in order to intervene on his behalf. In other words, it must abandon the idea that it can intervene in third countries. Its policy in Syria, in Iraq, shows us that we have the right to have doubts; as to whether it understands how to resolve the issues. I understand that it considers Kurdish groups and Kurdish areas to be enemies, or a threat to its interior, but whatever threat exists, there is the fact that it does not recognize the legitimate rights of the Kurds, which a modern state should recognize for one of its minorities. And I say this because many times I have said to my Turkish colleague "if you gave half of the rights you seek for Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus to the Kurds, you would not have a security issue".
JOURNALIST: Relations between America and Turkey are not good at this time. On the other hand, though, in the eyes of a simple observer, Turkey has invaded two countries to present.
N. KOTZIAS: Three, including Cyprus.
JOURNALIST: As regards Cyprus, this issue has gone on for too many years. But I am talking about recently. It has invaded two countries, and the international community has not simply failed to react, but we even had sympathetic statements. I must say that Turkey is dealing with some terrorists. It is the spoiled child for a large portion of the international establishment, and the Western world on the one hand.
N. KOTZIAS: For centuries now.
JOURNALIST: And on the other hand, with the Americans, we see tension, a supposed stand-off, with Erdogan dragging them along every day, and no reaction to what is happening at all…. How do you explain this?
N. KOTZIAS: Imagine if it were America, if it were us, what I would be accused of... I think that there are two lines in America. One is the classic administration which sees Turkey, the military force which provides them with the necessary access into the Middle East and Russia's underbelly, and the politicians who see a nervous Turkey. And they can't explain to Turkey exactly where they want it to go. Don't think that large countries such as America don’t also have contradictions and questions in terms of their foreign policy.
N. KOTZIAS: I do not think they have decided yet. Look, Europe had a big problem as to what to do with Turkey, and its European course. I believe that the position we have formulated, and the Germans adopted also in the European Councils, is correct. Turkey must be the one to decide what it wants to do with Europe, and not Europe. In other words, does Turkey wish to be a European country? Does it wish to be a democratic European country? The first country to gain from this will be us. We will have a reasonable neighbour…. Should Turkey not wish to become one, then we shall have a problem.
JOURNALIST: I am referring to the absolute lack of reaction to the invasion of two countries. Can’t one take this and apply it to the Aegean, because if it invades two countries, Syria and Iraq, and no one bats an eyelash, no one reacts, perhaps this will be the reaction if, for example, it should invade a Greek island also. Because we see an incredible indifference, I would say, at the moment.
N. KOTZIAS: The first issue is that in Syria, there is an alliance between Turkey, Iran, and Russia, which to a large extent plays a leading role in Syria. And I would say that the West started the issue of overthrowing Assad, but was not able or did not want to, rightly or wrongly, did not see this issue that it started through. And it left room for third forces to enter. The West has fallen back, and we must all take this into consideration. The West is not the one it was used to be in the past. As regards Greece, it is a part of this West. The West in a third area is one thing, and the West in its own region is another. And I think we need to constantly remind Turkey of this. Greece is neither Iraq nor Syria. Not that it is doing the right thing there either, but it will not be able to do here what it is doing there.
JOURNALIST: You returned from Vienna. You had two meetings with your fYROM counterpart.
N. KOTZIAS: Almost 12 hours of continuous negotiations.
JOURNALIST: A surprisingly… that is what I would say to you, a long duration. I will not ask you what you were discussing for 12 hours.
N. KOTZIAS: We gained experience in Crans-Montana, in 2017, when we had 11 days of negotiations; seven consecutive days with the Albanians. That is our job.
JOURNALIST: It really is impressive, the fact that you sit and talk with someone for 12 hours. It is large, of course, the agenda. That meeting ended. The feeling that prevails in journalist circles is that things did not go too well. It did not advance too much. Your joint statement, as I interpret it, is that we did not agree on anything, that we will talk again. On the other hand, however, the Prime Minister of fYROM comes out, in a totally different climate, and says: "we had seven issues pending, we settled three of them in the past days. There are four issues left". Because you are going to Sofia and you will see him again, perhaps you will settle the remaining four and we can be done with this.
N. KOTZIAS: I think that Mr Zaev expresses an optimism that is good for the negotiations. We had a point-by-point discussion. And when you negotiate, point by point, basically you can't agree on anything, because on each point you see things one way, and your counterpart has a different point of view. So, what you try to do is to include the various points into one package. What we refer to, academically, as a package solution. Which means that I will give you a point which is not so important to me, but which is important to you, and you will give me a point which is important to me, but to you a little less important, because otherwise, no agreement can exist. In other words, if you take things one point at a time, everyone has their views. You have to put it all together and say: "What is the most important to me? It’s issue A. For you, what is the most important issue? Issue B. Then, I will give you B in order to get A".
JOURNALIST: So, you have not settled three of the seven pending issues. From what I understand, at least, as you see things.
N. KOTZIAS: I repeat, it is an expression of optimism on the part of Mr. Zaev, but any sort of optimism is positive.
JOURNALIST: This expression of optimism, do you share it?
N. KOTZIAS: I would like things to be that way.
JOURNALIST: You would like...indeed. Between a wish and reality, of course, there is often some distance. I understand…
N. KOTZIAS: It is also a question of interpretation sometimes…. I think that perhaps Mr Zaev said that we have agreed on the general principles. For the solution to some problems, I may be thinking of the very practical solution to... Mr Zaev - his behaviour, his way of speaking - is for Greece and for his own people too, an ideal situation, a great personality. He may come off as very polite and smiling, but I've realized that he has a strong personality with great determination. And, I think, on both sides, finding a compromise means that both sides must make concessions. But the compromises must be positive, beneficial to both countries. They must not be “rotten” ones, as I say. We do not make such compromises.
JOURNALIST: So I am holding on to the fact that we did not settle certain issues and, if they are settled, they shall all be settled together.
N. KOTZIAS: According to my definition of settled issues, no. But according to his definition, certainly yes. It is a different mentality, you know, some things.
JOURNALIST: So it’s an issue of how things are seen, in other words.
N. KOTZIAS: On some points, but the way of seeing things should also be....
JOURNALIST: If we had witnessed all this a year ago, perhaps we would never have imagined that we would have made so much progress in what is referred to as the Skopje issue, that we would be talking about an international agreement, and perhaps even a solution to the problem. I would like to start from there and ask you today, Thursday, where are we? How close, how far we are, what steps we have taken and, presently, at which stage of the negotiations are we?
N. KOTZIAS: Look, first of all, I must tell you that we have pending issues with two of our three neighbours to the North, in other words with Skopje and Albania. And that one month ago we concluded, in Albania, the whole package of pending issues that we have had for 70 years now, or 60 and 50, and I think that is a good thing. Our country must not have pending issues. For the last three years we have worked very hard to stabilise and develop the Balkans and Balkan cooperation. This is an area to which we are linked and upon which our economic interests and our economic development directly depend, as well as social prosperity and peace throughout the region. Consequently, for three years now, we have been working hard to find solutions to these issues. Every negotiation has its ups and downs. I can never say,if it does not finish one way or another, that the negotiations will definitely lead us to a positive result. What is certain is that we are working in order to achieve this result. We understand that in order to achieve this result, concessions must be made. But, as I always say, good compromises need to be made so that both sides can win, as well as their States and their people, and not wrong compromises, or, as I say, “rotten compromises” that lead to or create new problems.
JOURNALIST: There is a haste recently, that is what I would call it, from our neighbours to the North also, to proceed, to rush our issues. Since you are familiar with the background, we are not as familiar with it, what is it that is suddenly making both and Albanians and the people of Skopje want to settle their issues with Greece, to want to settle their issues in general? Is it accession to the EU, or is it something else that is making them to rush, that is forcing them to resolve their international issues?
N. KOTZIAS: I would say that the international environment is urging them to show greater wisdom with regard to the problems. For the Albanians, on the one hand, our consultation and our negotiations are ongoing for two, two and half years now. Hence, they have matured, and it was reasonable at some point to reach a successful conclusion. And I hope we get there. For our friends from Skopje, on the other hand, I think that the issue of their security and stability plays a very important role, and this depends on their integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. I want to make a necessary clarification at this point. We are not negotiating to solve the problem that we have, the name issue - with everything it entails - with the fYROM, because we are being pressured for them to join the EU, NATO. We are turning to good use the fact that they are under pressure and want to join these structures, in order to render the negotiations more productive and immediate. That makes a big difference.
JOURNALIST: It clearly does...
N. KOTZIAS: We are not the ones under pressure.
JOURNALIST: And this shows who is in a hurry and who is under pressure. Now, …
N. KOTZIAS: Or who should realize their true situation. In other words, sometimes I hear my friends from other countries negotiating as if we were the ones who are under pressure, because some people here in Greece believe this fairy tale. Greece is not under pressure, but it does have a responsible stance. We are not doing it out of a vital need to survive, but rather out of responsibility, because we are the strongest power in the Balkans, in South-eastern Europe. And whoever is the strongest doesn't have the most rights, as I always say, in international relations, but has the greatest responsibility to contribute to the stability and security of a region.
JOURNALIST: If I were to take it from somewhere today, I would say that - and correct me if I am wrong - what we expect as the next step is for one side to present the comprehensive negotiations proposal on the part of Greece, from you in other words, for us to present our proposal for which you have also set a deadline up to the end of February. When will we be ready, Mr. Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: Thank you for your question. In February, I hope to have given a draft pact for debate by the Skopje side. Meaning this: That in this pact we also have the issues related to the name issue, as well as a special, large section on the irredentism. Because, as I have said, from the very first moment that I became a minister, the name issue is the condensation of irredentist tendencies on the part of the other side. And then there is a large part, which pertains to our joint action, our cooperation in all areas, from education and culture to cross-border cooperation. I mean that - you are well aware because you are a well-respected journalist - that our foreign policy today is a policy that says: "I want to set a positive agenda". Therefore, I cannot enter into a pact, which will only include the name issue and the problems of the past. I want it to be a pact, which, thanks to the solution to the name issue, will facilitate our long-term cooperation. I am deeply convinced that these two countries, Skopje in particular, because it is a difficult issue, and Albania, will be our closest allies and partners, in the future, in the region.
JOURNALIST: I will ask you about this. And what will we gain from all of this? I want to remain on this pact. If I may, I would simplify it a bit. You will essentially propose one or several names to which the Greek side also agrees and will request specific changes as regards irredentist elements in their constitution, in three laws, and so on. So, in short, you will give them a paper on which negotiations shall begin on one point, and then?
N. KOTZIAS: It is a document, which I think will be approximately 20 pages long. We have the first part ready. And it will pertain to the name, as well as to everything associated with the name. In other words, that is, how this name will be used. We favour its use both internationally and domestically. Internationally, both with regard to international organizations and with regard to transnational relations. So, we have the name, we have the use of the name, then we have its derivatives, which are identity, ethnicity, and language. And we then have some individual issues, such as trade names. There are too many commercial goods of the same type bearing the name "Macedonia" on the part of both sides, and these of course must be changed. But this is an issue we shall not address in this negotiation. My personal opinion is that this is an issue that must be put to an international commission of experts, under the supervision of the UN, which will consider the brand names, as they are called, one by one.
And then there are certain technical issues, such as abbreviations, acronyms and so forth. And these are all related, of course, with that country’s Constitution. My friends from Skopje believe that there is no need to amend the Constitution. And they cannot do it at the moment, they do not have the majority to do so. However, we believe that in order for an agreement to have long-term stability and to be implemented within the country, constitutional amendments are required, because otherwise, we will end up with arguments in the future. That country will have name "A" internationally and name "B" domestically. Documents will be produced domestically with name "B" and will be displayed internationally, and we will again begin the same thing we have been doing for 25 years. We will protest to international organizations, they will say “we didn’t mean it that way.” It is a point of contention. These things must come to an end.
JOURNALIST: Of course, because good foreign policy also requires realism, you are well aware, as we all are, that Zaev does not have the power at the moment, the parliamentary power, to proceed with a constitutional amendment. So, if we went there with an ultimatum and said “you change the constitution or else no deal", in fact it would like putting a stop to the negotiations.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, you are right.
JOURNALIST: How do we overcome this?
N. KOTZIAS: Those who want the Constitution to be amended here and now, they know that this isn't going to happen. So, it is they who do not want an agreement. But I want to explain to you that our not reaching an agreement with our friendly country to the North would mean perpetuating a problem, having a permanent area of instability in the region, a country in which Turkey continuously attempts to intervene. The day before yesterday, last Monday, Mr Zaev was in Turkey, as you are aware. FYROM's army is trained by Turkey. I think it is good to develop our relationship in such way that we perform these tasks in genuine cooperation.
JOURNALIST: How do we overcome this obstacle, Mr Minister? I read that you are proposing an international treaty, which in due time would lead to an amendment of the constitution when possible.
N. KOTZIAS: I will put it like this: There is a timetable within which the implementation of both things can be ensured. What my friends from Skopje are asking for, in other words integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, and what we are asking for, a constitutional amendment. These two things go together. One will not be achieved without the other.
JOURNALIST: And the suggestion that the Greek…
N. KOTZIAS: I just want you to remember negotiations have their ups and downs. In other words, moments of crisis and moments of non-crisis. Even in the agreements we concluded with the Albanians, there were two or three moments when we thought the entire agreement would collapse over one thing. In the end, we found the solution.
JOURNALIST: Is what the Greek side is proposing something to which the people of Skopje are receptive? That is to say, okay, you cannot change your Constitution now, let’s resolve our issues, let’s agree on something, let's make an agreement in principle on some of the issues and when the time comes for you to join the Euro-Atlantic alliance, for example, then you must also amend your constitution. This …
N. KOTZIAS: Not so late. Much earlier and much more directly. I don’t think they like it. I think that in a compromise, both sides are forced to make concessions they do not want to make. For example, the Greek side has supported a compound name for 10 years now. If you were to say, what name would I like to give you as godfather to this country, I would not want it to have the name "Macedonia", but, unfortunately, for 25 years now, its name, even the one Greece uses, is a compound name, "the former Yugoslav Republic", which includes the name "Macedonia", “..of Macedonia”. Let's not act as if we haven't been living with this name for 25 years now. Consequently, they will have to make a compromise, which, on that point, will be difficult for them.
JOURNALIST: A few days ago, you essentially called on Mr. Zaev to clarify his position as regards the name issue and the compound name. In short, what is it that he would like, if I may put it simply. Mr. Zaev replied that we agree on a compound name with geographical designations. Now, two names come to my mind on the basis of everything that has been put on the table, "Northern Macedonia" and "Upper Macedonia". I cannot think of another geographical qualifier. If you have any others on the table, tell us. I would like to ask if the Greek side also agrees to these designations.
N. KOTZIAS: Look, the debate about the name is more complex. The Skopje side would like to just keep the plain "Republic of Macedonia". They understand that, geographically, Macedonia does not belong to them alone . Most of Macedonia is ours. They must move away from irredentism, which means that they understand that their nation does not originate from the Macedonia of Alexander the Great, since antiquity, and that this heritage belongs only to Greece. And the name should generally express this reality. Various names do exist. “Upper Macedonia,” “Northern Macedonia,” "Vardar Macedonia,” “Macedonia Vardaski" etc. But there is a discussion to be had there. Will the name will be in Latin, will it be in English shall we say, and then potentially translated into all other languages? I think this is what they would like in Skopje. What I would like is a bit more complex. I would like it to be a name that already sounds and, as one sees it, will be understood to be some other Macedonia - a geographical entity and not a historical heritage - than Greek Macedonia.
JOURNALIST: Can you give us an example of such a name?
N. KOTZIAS Many words in Slavic for all the names you described.
N. KOTZIAS Some people are debating whether the name “Nova Macedonia” is chronological or geographical, there is “Varda Macedonia” in which “Varda” is something good for them, in that in Albanian and in the Slavic languages, the first two syllable are the same, Varda: Vardraski and Vardai. There is what we call “Upper” and they hear it as “Gorna Macedonia", etc. Various words exist, the Slavic language are very rich and can express this reality.
JOURNALIST: In other words, you prefer “Gorna” to “Northern” for example, and for it not to be in English…
N. KOTZIAS I prefer from the name, as it is heard internationally, for it to be clear that this is the portion of Macedonia located in the present-day fYROM, in Skopje, with Albanians and Slavs, and that this portion has nothing to do with Greek Macedonia. I do not want the two to get mixed up. And in their own language, in any case, they will be able to understand it.
JOURNALIST: Now, this…
N. KOTZIAS This does not mean that anyone can impose it. You asked me what I thought would be preferable.
JOURNALIST: Was this statement from Mr Zaev a step towards what we are discussing at the moment? Towards a solution, in other words…
N. KOTZIAS: Look. I made an observation directed at all sides, that with the Greek Government saying a compound name, its problem is not the “North”, “Upper”, “South” etc., but rather "Macedonia". And the fact that we said publicly that we accept a compound name, the name “Macedonia,” and you saw how many reactions there were, and what difficulties arose. And I told them that we cannot keep telling our public that there is a need for a compromise and for them to act as if their public doesn’t need to compromise. And, in essence, Zaev’s response, “yes to a compound name” was a response to this argument of mine. That I want to see you, too, fighting for a compound name. Because you have an emotional difficulty with regard to changing the name, but we have a very intense emotional difficulty in regard to Macedonia because, for many years, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYROM), they understood the name “Macedonia” as a national attribute and not a geographical one. So here, in order for this designation to regain its geographical nature, it must be given an adjective. It must be defined territorially, geographically.
JOURNALIST: So we had this statement on the part of the fYROM Prime minister, to which there were no special reactions - correct me if I’m wrong - domestically, a tepid statement from the opposition, in order to explain what to us exactly…
N. KOTZIAS Everyone is waiting to see where the negotiations are going to lead. In Greece, everyone is denouncing the negotiations, where they think they will lead. It is a cultural difference, perhaps.
JOURNALIST: Also in Skopje, Minister, we have not seen demonstrations, we have not seen rallies, we did not see concern or, if you will, entities and organizations coming forward and attempting to take a position on what is happening. Why this difference between the two countries?
N. KOTZIAS I think that what played an important role is that the issue of the name of our neighbour to the North got tied to domestic issues. In other words, the statements of the President of ANEL, that he will not accept this name, was originally considered, in December, to be a good tool to break the government's majority. And so we got caught up in other matters.
JOURNALIST: There is a great debate taking place pertaining to their Constitution, without the average Greek citizen knowing exactly what this Constitution states. I would like for you to briefly tell us about these irredentist elements we are discussing, how are they exactly identified in the Constitution of our neighbouring country. What does their constitution say, in a few words, that really disturbs us, does not frighten us, but disturbs us as a country?
N. KOTZIAS First of all, their Constitution does not contain the irredentism it did in 1995, because certain amendments have been made. But there are certain issues, particularly in the preamble, in Article 3 and in Article 49.1, which refers to a “Macedonian nation,” “Macedonian traditions” which are anything but benign.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything else that you would point out?
N. KOTZIAS I think that these are the most basic issues. There are other articles in which it would be good to have stricter wording about our neighbour's true intentions.
JOURNALIST: We are in this negotiation, which is in a very critical…
N. KOTZIAS In other words, to clarify, let’s take 49.1: it speaks of the “Macedonian nation” outside of the fYROM. We don’t talk about a Greek a nation outside of Greece, we talk about Greeks abroad. The difference is as follows: that when you talk about Greeks abroad, you mean Greeks who went abroad. When you talk about a “Macedonian nation”, you mean parts of your nation that exist elsewhere as minorities.
JOURNALIST: Which belong to another country, in short.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes. This is where it needs to be amended and clarified.
JOURNALIST: Therefore, there are many people who simply say, 'who cares about all this discussion about the irredentist elements of the Constitution of the fYROM,' or, if you will, the whole discussion on the effort of Skopjans to speak of a “Macedonian nation” etc.. It’s a tiny country which cannot possibly threaten Greece, so one could say “let them believe whatever they believe, let them write whatever they wish in their constitution, let them write it, they cannot do anything to us in practice. Let’s move on and be done with the matter. How do you see all that?
N. KOTZIAS That is just one side of the reality of it. Which is the side that really wants to solve our issues, because we will live with this country in the region as a married couple, for the centuries to come, within European structures, because we shall cooperate with this country for the development of the region, particularly northern Greece. And for economic and social development. I would say, however, that no one should underestimate any country because it is twice the size of Cyprus in terms of population. And if we demand to be respected, let’s say the by US, which is 30 times larger than us, why should Skopje not demand, quite rightly, that we, a country five times larger than fYROM, respect them. Respect for borders, state entities, their sovereignty are matters that are independent of size, it is a question of international law and faithfulness to international rules on the coexistence of states. I think that we should demonstrate this to them, and they should demonstrate this to us. In fact, I would say that some slogans which were heard, certain ones, not the main ones, which were heard at the rallies in Athens and Thessaloniki, contained some elements that were not good. Just as certain people, in their speeches in Thessaloniki, spoke on the dissolution of that country and told us we too should grab a piece of it after it has broken up. Some people here sought weapons to go and fight, where this is not necessary. Frankly, believe me, the worst scenario for Greek foreign policy would be the dissolution of that country. In other words, it would be like having a large Albania with aggressive nationalism looming over our heads, and a large Bulgaria with aggressive nationalism. I often say abroad that it is a gift of God that this country exists, but that it had the wrong godfather. You know, “God” and “Godfather” in English, and I play on the words, that it is good gift from God but has the wrong Godfather.
JOURNALIST: I would like to bring this issue to a close by asking you about Mr Nimetz. He is a man who, if I am not mistaken, has been trying to help resolve this issue, in his own way, for 25 years. Does Mr. Nimetz still have a role to play, or now, given the good relationship between you and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country concerned, do we no longer need a mediator?
N. KOTZIAS Look, there are three different things. First, Mr. Nimetz is the representative of the Secretary-General of the UN, and he is the man who will produce the Report requesting that the Security Council adopt the agreements we are going to conclude with our neighbouring country. We need this man.
JOURNALIST: We can't do without him.
N. KOTZIAS Yes, as a function, somebody has to perform it. Second, for another person to come, a personality. I read about it these last few days as well. I am not in favour of this. The research that I have conducted on all international negotiations has led only to one conclusion: The more people involved, the more difficult it is to have a positive result. Indeed, a characteristic example - because we too found ourselves in a debt crisis - is Germany, which as you know held a negotiation – in London, in 1953 – on its debt from between the wars; two large loans it had taken from the Americans in the1920s. The Germans continuously write: We need to reduce the number of negotiators, because otherwise we shall pay a lot of money. And in the end, they celebrated when the number of negotiators was reduced, because they would thus find a good solution, and indeed they did. In other words, international experience says not too many people. The third is that negotiations are partly under the monitoring, to put it that way, and the mediation of Mr Nimetz. But it is also partially directly between the Foreign Ministers and also between and the Prime Ministers, wherever necessary.
JOURNALIST: We need him at the moment, Mr. Nimetz? Beyond the standard…
N. KOTZIAS We need him in terms of the UN, and perhaps for the other side to feel better if some proposals, rather than resulting from our discussions, come from a third party.
JOURNALIST: Mr Minister, what took place in Athens and Thessaloniki - you referred earlier to the two rallies - does this affect the negotiations in some way? Does it change your strategy, does it change your thinking?
N. KOTZIAS First of all, I have said from the very first moment, and I want to repeat it. Rallies are an expression of a democratic right, and, I welcome the exercising of this right by a section of the population. Added to this, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and as a professor of Foreign Policy, I am very pleased that foreign policy issues are coming back to the foreground, and that our people are showing an interest in these issues, be it the Cyprus issue last year and the year before that, or the name issue. The bad part, though, is that there is not enough information and substantial public debate. I would say, for example, that it is not a coincidence that Mr Mertzos, who was the organiser of the rallies in 1992, today expresses the same view as I do: that we need to reach a compromise. Or that the prominent professors of the Society for Macedonian Studies, which supports the rallies, are in favour of the compromise. The people who are very familiar with the topic, regardless of the views they held in ‘92, today we agree on the need to reach a compromise, because Greece did not gain anything from this dispute, nor were we able to isolate Skopje, as some had a mind to do, through the policy of inaction. Because we indeed did not act on this issue, but other countries, and you understand which ones I am implying, came in and are affecting the domestic life of fYROM and want to use it in a different manner. Thus, the rallies are indeed a democratic right, but the forces that got involved in this, and certain slogans, and the way in which it occurred, would not be attractive to one who believes in the peaceful coexistence of peoples and states, and in democratic dialogue among them. The majority of the people who participated did so with good intentions, with a democratic spirit. They perhaps felt that a piece of their identity had been taken from them. However, the great danger to the country does not come from a discussion on identity. It comes from the East, from a country that has a strong economy, powerful defence weapons and systems, and which all too often appears to be a restless and revisionist state. In other words, it wants to change the Treaty of Lausanne etc. Real risks to the country come from there, and it is astonishing how a large portion of the population is moved only by issues, real issues, of identity and historical heritage, and not by geopolitical and geostrategic issues wherein danger lies.
JOURNALIST: You said that this rally, both in Athens and Thessaloniki, mainly included people who have a so-called sensitivity to Skopje issues…
N. KOTZIAS Who are not well informed. In other words, who has explained to them that for 25 years all governments have wanted to reach a compromise with a compound name to include “Macedonia”, and indeed some governments even thought about “Macedonia” alone, not even a compromise. This is why I said to many people: “Guys, I understand people who spontaneously pour into the streets. But you, the responsible leaders who were prepared to give the name “Macedonia” and sometimes even without it being a compound name, or a name in parentheses after it, how is it that you are pointing a finger at me? Because I show responsibility and don’t publicize it and don’t boast about it?” They too should act responsibly. How they behaved as a government, how they conducted the negotiations, and I think that, at the moment, we are conducting better negotiations, regardless of what the end result will be. I hope it will be positive but, as I have said, negotiations have their ups and downs.
JOURNALIST: You don’t say so, of course, but SYRIZA started playing politics, and the government started playing politics in regard to this matter. We have seen many spots with statements from your predecessors, from political leaders and prime ministers, from New Democracy officials. In a few words, perhaps what you have not said, the government said it in a certain way.
N. KOTZIAS: No, no. The government did not say what I have not said.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there is more?
N. KOTZIAS It does not help the Hellenic Republic to air its dirty laundry.
JOURNALIST: You said that the people who were at the rally basically went with good intentions. I would like to ask you whether you think that...
N. KOTZIAS: I believe that.
JOURNALIST: I would like to ask if you feel that the government has handled this matter correctly. We have seen several attacks directed at these people, we have seen an attempt at discrediting the rally. We ended up sitting around and measuring how many square metres Syntagma Square is, and how many square...
N. KOTZIAS For what it’s worth, the number given by the Mr. Toskas is correct, and indeed at the highest limit.
JOURNALIST: How do you know this now? You too are joining in on a game which really seems a bit ridiculous.
N. KOTZIAS We watched it from Asteras, the building we have at the intersection of Panepisitimiou Street and Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, and Syntagma Square, and we saw the square metres exactly. We have a good view. Can I tell you something? I don’t care how many people there were from perspective we are discussing now. I am interested in in the fact that people are moved by this issue.
JOURNALIST: But you gave in to the temptation of head counts.
N. KOTZIAS Shouldn’t we know how many people were moved by the calls for the rally? Because I imagine there are more people that are moved by the issue. I myself am moved by the issue. There is nothing bad in that. Those who are trying to exploit it, the far-right elements, those who say: “Bring us weapons so that we can go to Skopje etc.,” they are dangerous. And they should be condemned.
JOURNALIST: Among these people, can you also identify a political reaction, throughout the duration of this government being in power? In other words, one didn’t come out just for the issue of Skopje, but came out to speak out against the economic situation, and against austerity, and the measures, and taxation. To speak out against the government, in short.
N. KOTZIAS I’ll tell you. Because I receive a great many letters in favour of and against the positions that I express, and this pleases me because it shows the concern of the people in regard to foreign policy. That is one thing. Whether they agree with me or not is a second issue. The first is for this sensitivity and concern to exist. Too many people say the following. Of those who had objections. That this happened to us, that happened to us, let’s not lose our historical heritage. There was a mindset that, since aspects of the social struggles and needs have been lost, let’s not lose the aspects of the culture wars as well. Because, as you know, in history, in the 19th century in Germany, and in the 20th in America, these types of problems, the identity card, whether a religious affiliation will be indicated, if women have the right to determine what happens to their own bodies, especially if they don’t wish to give birth, the issue of bearing arms in America etc., these are culture wars. They are struggles for a cultural identity. There is portion of the people who will say to you, “We’ve lost our money, we’ve lost this, we’ve lost that. Let’s not lose our identity.” But this is not correct, because geography does not determine identity. In other words, there are, in accordance with the Treaty of Bucharest of 1913, three countries included in the space designated geographically as “Macedonia.” This does not mean that this also includes the history and cultural heritage of Macedonia. And let me tell you something more: I say it very often. The first time I was in Skopje and I held a press conference with… there must have been 300-400 journalists, many journalists, as you can imagine, and it lasted three and half, four hours, the press conference. Many hours too. I told them: “See here. I went to Egypt the day before yesterday, and I was in Alexandria. I had no problem that it is called Alexandria. But they did not ask for this name to belong to them.” Or when we go to Pakistan or India: You know, a portion of the elite of these countries say, we are descendants of Alexander the Great. There are some blue-eyed people who say: “I am a great-great-grandchild of Alexander the Great.” It does not bother me. It would bother me, though, if they were to say that Thessaloniki belonged to them. I resent the irredentism hidden behind the name. When the name is disassociated from the cultural, historical heritage and the irredentism and is strictly defined geographically, then its meaning is different.
JOURNALIST: Strictly geographically I understand that you are saying that the Skopjans have the moral right to claim the term "Macedonia".
N. KOTZIAS I am not talking about moral rights, I am talking about a geographical area. In 1913 the geographical area of Macedonia, not that of Ancient Macedonia, but Macedonia at that time, was divided between Pirin Macedonia which went to Bulgaria, one-third of Macedonia, geographically which went to the fYROM, and the biggest piece, more than 50%, which came to Greece. That is the geography of Macedonia. Just like, say, the Vardarski River is the Axios River. It runs through two countries. Now, to say that they are entitled to consider the river to run also in their own geographical areas does not constitute moral acceptance that they are heirs of the Macedonian cultures which developed around the Axios River.
JOURNALIST: No, but if one Skopjan journalist were to sit here and tell you: “Mr Minister, I have no irredentist issue with Greece, nor do I want to cross your borders, or anything of the sort ...since I step on the geographical territory of Macedonia, do I have the moral right to be called that too?" What would you say?
N. KOTZIAS: Certainly, if he were to define which Macedonia it is...“Upper” or “Gorna” or “Nova?” Which Macedonia? In other words, that it is not the whole thing. In other words, we have two things with the Skopjans. First, it is not the entirety of the geographical entity of Macedonia, and secondly, and more importantly, that their own geographical entity does not grant them historical cultural rights to Greek heritage. If they want to accept that it is Greek heritage, and to consider it something magnificent which they love...it would be a pleasure for me!
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you acknowledge the right of a portion of the citizenry to be distrustful of this government’s handling of this issue? Let me explain what I mean. You are a leftist government whose officials in the past considered the issue of Skopje extremely trivial; there were officials of this government who called the neighbouring country plain “Macedonia.” I am referring, for example, to Mr Τsakalotos. Don’t you recognize the right of a citizen to say, “There you go! SYRIZA, with what I would call its dismissive stance on this issue, has come to solve the problem for us, so they will not solve it properly for us.”
N. KOTZIAS I think, first of all, that it was not government officials who said those things. It was leaders of the governing party before they became government officials. Times have changed. Because, what I am saying to the opposition is not what was being said in 1910 or 1950; it is what was said during the negotiations. In the negotiations, you must exhibit, as you correctly mentioned earlier, realism and pragmatism. Now, as to whether they have the right to be distrustful? Everyone has the right to be distrustful. Do you think that when I lay down to sleep, I don’t think things over, I don’t reconsider? Did I do this well? Perhaps I should be careful of that? I don’t think one can say that a correct line is drawn immediately, and this is the one that should be followed. And I listen carefully to what the elements of the distrust are. What bothers me – if I may say so, in some way, not that I am entitled, but deep in my soul – is that they are forgetting our behaviour and stance over the past three years. In other words, someone comes out and says: “You are you ready to betray us and concede our national rights". But we are the government that has placed the question of Guarantees and Security on the table in the Cyprus issue, which no other government did. We carried out negotiations from which the country gained, we were not responsible for the failure to reach an agreement, and we changed the agenda and added the substance of the Cyprus problem. We are a country that has not let anything pass unanswered for the last three years. We may not announce it but, when it was necessary, I brought back my Ambassador from Prague, the Ambassador from Vienna, and I was even criticized for doing so. I made foreign ambassadors apologize, even when they had the support of the opposition. There is nothing from which we backed down, in terms of our national interests. Nor did we back down from our multidimensional foreign policy. Someone said to me: “You have made good with the Americans". If cooperation with the Americans is useful to us, why not? But when we get to the topic of, let’s say, Iran, the Americans have not made good with us, because we have a different policy on Iran. In fact, Trump, as you know, asked us: “Why are you so friendly with Iran?” and we answered him, you know the answer, I imagine, “Look here, we have 6,000 years of history, we have had 39 wars, 42 peace accords, 2,000 rounds of negotiations, enough is enough, we have done enough. There is no need for us to ruin our relationship." In other words, we do have our autonomy. With the Chinese, they condemned me because a few months ago I twice vetoed - I have vetoed more than that- with regard to human rights and China. And the Wall Street Journal condemned me in a front-page article, front page of the New York Times, I even had two-thirds of the front page accusing me. Therefore, we are proving that we have a multidimensional foreign policy, because we have good relations, wherever necessary, with America, we are developing our economic relations, wherever necessary, with China, we protect our energy interests in Azerbaijan, Iran, Kuwait, and so on. In other words, we have but one criterion in terms of our foreign policy. Our national interest.
JOURNALIST: So there is a conclusion, we go to an international treaty and the time comes for all this to be approved by the Greek Parliament. I would like to ask if you also see the same impasse that I see ahead of us. You currently have a government partner who has made it quite clear - I do not know if something really strange will happen to change this - that it will not vote in favour of a name that has the term Macedonia in it, will not support you in the Parliament and vote for it and we're in a…
N. KOTZIAS: You saw how Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, argues with his Prime Minister about the Brexit. This happens in governments, even if they are formed by a single party.
JOURNALIST: What matters of course is that this government brings something to Parliament and passes it. Your relations at present with all other opposition parties are not good due to the political situation, we have tension - we will talk about the reason along the way - how will this get through Parliament, Minister? Could we be talking about something…
N. KOTZIAS: By a majority.
JOURNALIST: Whose majority?
N. KOTZIAS: The Parliament’s.
JOURNALIST: Who will vote for it? Let’s look at it from a political standpoint. Who will vote for it? SYRIZA will vote for it. We agree on that.
N. KOTZIAS: SYRIZA may get the majority in Parliament on its own. On its own. If certain parties, as I hear, want to abstain, the ANEL party for instance. On the other hand, I think that there are prudent MPs and political forces which are above the petty partisan games and will support this agreement, because if we are bringing it to Parliament, this means it is good.
JOURNALIST: So we go…
N. KOTZIAS: An agreement which will be much better than whatever certain other parties were preparing. It would be a big mistake on their part not to support it.
JOURNALIST: Let’s look at this…
N. KOTZIAS: In fact, allow me to say, this is in their interest as well. For us to solve the problems with Albania, Skopje etc., so that, when and if they come to government, they don’t have to deal with those.
JOURNALIST: So from a purely political aspect, what you see is that your government partner, the ANEL party, will abstain from the vote, and therefore a reduced majority will be needed…
N. KOTZIAS: The majority will be above 150, for certain.
JOURNALIST: It will be above 150, you say.
N. KOTZIAS: I believe so.
JOURNALIST: You have counted your beans, so to speak.
N. KOTZIAS: You have to count your beans every day, but as I counted them this morning, yes.
JOURNALIST: Was it 150 today?
N. KOTZIAS: No, more.
JOURNALIST: More than 150. So we are talking about an actual majority at this time.
N. KOTZIAS: Actual… depending on what requirements this agreement will satisfy, it may be from an actual majority to a fairly increased one. But we’ll see, and everyone will and assume their responsibilities. Because, if there is anyone who believes that this situation has served the country these past 25 years, he is dangerous to the country in my opinion.
JOURNALIST: I want to close with the Macedonian issue with a simple question, if you could give us a short reply: What does Greece gain if it settles the Macedonian issue? at the end of the day, why do we care, one would ask, if our relations with such a small country are good? Will we gain anything from a trade aspect? Will we gain anything from a financial aspect? Other than the geostrategic aspect you described before.
N. KOTZIAS: Once communism collapsed in the Balkans, the country with the largest investments, and with a banking network as a lever, has been Greece. Today, after a policy of 25 years of inactivity - that everyone will come and give in to us, everybody will cower down - the country’s positions have given way. But the financial aspect is not the main one. It is the country's image. Let me tell you: I went to the University of Tirana during my previous official visit and I gave a speech. The first impressive thing - I can be quite a humorist - the discussion lasted two and a half to three hours, and the audience was laughing, more than half of them, before they heard the interpretation. Which shows that they know Greek. They have lived in Greece. There is a Greek element. The second example, which is identical in Skopje, but we discussed it there, is the following: They wake up in the morning there and put on Greek music, they dance to the rhythm of Greek music, then they say “that horrid-Greece”. Then they go and drink some coffee, which has probably been ground in Greece or is imported from Greece, and then they say "that Greece..." Then they go for lunch at a restaurant, perhaps a Greek one, with Greek food, or a Greek owner, they eat, they like it, they choose it. And then they say "that Greece is so annoying…". I want to tell you that these countries live in a paradoxical contradictory situation. They love and adore us on the one hand, and on the other hand they have difficulty accepting us. The reason is that we have either behaved with arrogance in the past, or we behaved in a manner they consider hostile. Solving our problems entails rebuilding the Balkans of friends who work together.
The second thing is the great importance of stability. I am always worried about the destabilisation of Skopje. Greece neither intervenes nor wants to destabilise them, because it was a matter of trust. And we introduced the confidence-building measures. We are now constructing a new railway line and reviving an old one, between Florina-Monastir (Bitola). We are constructing a natural gas pipeline. We are cleaning the oil pipeline. We are building trade relations. We have cooperation between universities, between the fire departments, between the police forces of the two countries. In other words, we have economic growth, social growth, stability, and the country is being relieved of a problem that it does not need. Because, you know, when we go to foreigners and we tell them: "We have the Cyprus issue, we have the Aegean Sea, we have Greek-Turkish relations, we have FYROM, we have the Albanian issue”, the time runs out. They start seeing us as whiners. And we are not future-oriented. I have a phrase I use every time I talk about these countries: history must be a school and not a prison. We tend to imprison ourselves in our history. Our History is necessary. We defend it, we learn from it.
But we need all this to be able to breathe. The poet, Seferis, says: "the wind too needs to breath". To take breaths and to look towards the future. If we use history to imprison ourselves and destroy the future, we are not doing well. In other words, can someone tell me, do we want a FYROM that is divided into two ethnic groups, on its left and right? Do we want a FYROM that is subjugated to the Turkish plans against us? Or do we want a FYROM that is friendly, a natural extension of Greece, a FYROM that comes to shop in Thessaloniki? It’s crazy: there are shops in Thessaloniki that work with citizens of this country signing whatever they sell so they can take it to their Tax Office, and at the same time we organise protests against having a relationship with this country.
JOURNALIST: These days we are in the midst of a case, and it remains to be seen whether it is a huge scandal or not, and I am referring to the Novartis case: I would like to ask if for you, as a Foreign Minister who is handling a major national issue at this time and would like consensus, I am sure of that: Did this case come at a good or a bad time - is this highly confrontational climate that has been created helping in your negotiations?
N. KOTZIAS: Let me tell you firstly that I am not a professional politician and I am Minister for Foreign Affairs, first of all, in order to pull the country out of the quagmire it had fallen into as regards the international scene, and secondly, to resolve certain problems. Therefore, as our Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, says, we will see this to the end, as far as it is up to us and not to Skopje. We want to have an agreement, and we will bring it in Parliament, and we will convince Parliament that we are right. What are the problems in foreign policy? That too many people exercise foreign policy with an eye to the country's interior. That is why I told you, I am not a professional politician ...Ι am a professional expert, from my experience as an ambassador expert at the ministry and as a university professor in foreign policy. I have been doing this work for forty years. I do not look to the country’s interior. I take it into consideration, but my criterion is the international position and the international good for the country. Unfortunately, over the last few weeks I have been seeing a new phenomenon. Some people exercise foreign policy, not with an eye to the country’s interior, but an eye to their party's interior. This is a new element and it is problematic.
JOURNALIST: I would like your opinion on the so-called Novartis case. Not to go into the judicial part, which, of course, neither you nor I know about, but a man who is 40 years in politics, who has met, I imagine….
N. KOTZIAS: 50 years!
JOURNALIST: 50 years ..who has met, I imagine, all the people we have been talking about these past few days ...you, as Kotzias. If we were sitting at a table and I asked you: "Is it possible that two former prime ministers and 10 ministers were bribed by one company?" What would you say?
N. KOTZIAS: I will not make any comment of a judicial nature, but I would say the following. There are scandals, and our people’s sense of justice and the moral advantage which the people want to have requires that these scandals are investigated and cleared up. If there were high-level politicians involved, that is their own doing. If they are not involved, I will be pleased if they prove their non-involvement and their innocence. Nobody is sentenced a priori, but the scandals are real. Who the guilty parties are, that is up to the Judiciary to find out. I mean I will vote for a Parliamentary Committee to investigate the matter, and I support this procedure, because if someone is innocent he must be returned to society as an innocent person. If someone is guilty there must be catharsis. There is an old Greek tradition from ancient times…
JOURNALIST: With some of the people that are mentioned you have a very good personal relationship …
N. KOTZIAS: Of course. I always have very good personal relationships with people, because I do not get involved in such scandals. I cannot imagine, you know, that someone did something like that… but when the evidence comes out and the facts, you say “what about this?”. I often tell my students... I once taught a course on corruption, and I told them: "Although I now teach a course on corruption, if we go out now and raise a stone, and a scandal is written underneath, I, who am teaching you about corruption, will be taken by surprise. Does this type of corruption exist too?" and a student tells me: "Mr. Minister, in order to get my certificates, I went to a municipality and I had to pay for the regular procedure. Is there anything more corrupt than this?” And I replied with the example of a country - now that I am Minister for Foreign Affairs I cannot name it - and I said: "there you have to pay to get a document and you cannot be sure you will get it”. There is always something worse in corruption and that is what amazes me. If, therefore, someone I knew, or I have a good relationship with, not friends of course, none of these people is my friend, is proven not to be as clean as they appeared to be in public life, I will say: "We saw this too in our lifetime”. That there are corrupt people in the country, there are, aren’t there?
JOURNALIST: Even if they are Prime Ministers, Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: I did not say anything, I don’t sentence anyone..
JOURNALIST: No, I am talking based on office.
N. KOTZIAS: I say that a prime minister should never be involved in scandals, he should stay clear of them. And I hope, if they are innocent, that they prove their innocence.
JOURNALIST: Did the crisis benefit the Foreign Ministry? Your internal memorandum here, has it worked? Has the Ministry been tidied up? Are you still finding unnecessary expenses?
N. KOTZIAS: Let me tell you: I travel, either on my own or with two or three associates. We have past missions that reached up to 100. The largest I have found was a mission to Tokyo, with 254 people. With our administration, there is no such issue. Secondly, using very good and exceptional professionals, from the service, we identified and brought to light a number of scandals. I would like to say that I am very proud of the fact that we brought money back which was stuck abroad. They gave money left and right and no one cared where this money went or who collects the interest. We have brought in this money now, 14 million euros, from four sources, and there is a total of 40 million euros. I must also say that I've sent 43 cases to the prosecutor, ranging from wasted or embezzled money, to matters related to visas. The most extreme phenomenon, because many from the opposition have attacked me, about what am I doing about the visas etc., the most extreme phenomenon I found one night at around 11 to 12 o’clock, because I look at these things at that time, was a visa from Istanbul for an unaccompanied 18-month-old baby! You know what that means? Trafficking!
JOURNALIST: It was being brought here to be bought..
N. KOTZIAS: It was not coming here..
JOURNALIST: Oh, it would be leaving for somewhere..
N. KOTZIAS: Visa for an unaccompanied minor, 18 months old. I have found shocking things. I do not want to constantly talk about it in public, but the Ministry itself is helping in its self-purging. I hope we stay at this level in the future.
JOURNALIST: Have you found enrichment of ambassadors, of diplomatic employees?
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, of course, this is what I am telling you. We have, we have sent the cases to the prosecutor, we also have ambassadors sentenced to imprisonment by the Greek courts. We have had a number of people undergo disciplinary proceedings. Some told me this is a witch hunt. No, that is not correct, because I don’t believe there is corruption only in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but here we examine it on a case-by-case basis. We have exceptional diplomats carrying out the questioning, the disciplinary proceedings, but I think it is a matter of honour and dignity for Greek foreign policy that there are no instances of corruption. Let me tell you, as regards the income of the staff here, the staff in our ministry has a better income than other segments of Greek society. In relation to the staff of other foreign ministries it is much lower. Well, I must remember that they are much lower than in other foreign ministries. And the staff here must remember that they are paid better than the average Greek. Both facts are true. But corruption is prohibited. And I am ruthless about this.
JOURNALIST: Tidying up the rents, tidying up the excessive homes abroad, tidying up embassies which perhaps should not exist, tidying up in general?
N. KOTZIAS: We closed down five consulates and two embassies and are opening a consulate in Erbil. But, when we were about to inaugurate it, the referendum took place. It was a week after the conflict of the central government there. And we are opening one in Singapore, because it is the centre of financial activity, but also of science, in Asia. I believe very much in this issue, our presence in new emerging powers. And I have made a series of transfers; namely, I took a position from a nice European embassy, and sent it to China, let’s say. We have a Presidential Decree that reinforces embassies in Beijing, in these areas of the world. Because that is where the future of the country is, and if we do not conquer it today, we will be looking at at from afar tomorrow. And my responsibility is to ensure the presence of the country there.
JOURNALIST: The worst thing a Foreign Minister must do? For you, the most boring, the most annoying?
N. KOTZIAS: The most boring or the most annoying?
JOURNALIST: Tell me both.
N. KOTZIAS: The worst thing a Foreign Minister must do is to say in public that which should not be said.
JOURNALIST: I see...
N. KOTZIAS: And the best thing is to have such interviews with you. It makes me ponder, think, and feel that we have accomplished something these past three years. And I thank you.
JOURNALIST: I am glad you did not put it with the boring things, and you put it with the good.
N. KOTZIAS: No, no.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much.
N. KOTZIAS: Thank you.