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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, on ‘News 24/7’ radio’s ‘Power Games’, with journalists V. Skouris and A. Spanou (Athens, 28 June 2018)
V. SKOURIS: And a pleasant surprise. Mr. Kotzias, unlike the government, isn’t on ‘Pasok time’. He arrived early. So, a little before 11:00. It is a pleasure to have you with us. The more time we have with you, the better. Welcome, Mr. Minister.
N. KOTZIAS: Good morning to all of our listeners and to you here in the studio. But you know what has impressed me this morning? This is the third day we’ve been talking about Lazaridis, but not a word about a president ejected by New Democracy because he said the agreement with Skopje is good. In other words, if we say the agreement with Skopje is good, it’s not news, unless if we resign or are taken off the party list?
V. SKOURIS: We had Mr. Michalos with us a short while ago. We talked about all the issues before you came in. So Radio 247 will be as pluralistic and as objective as it can, prioritizing the news as it comes out and not playing any games on that level. Angeliki, let’s start. First question. Skopje. Ladies first!
N. KOTZIAS: As a rule. After all, ladies are wiser, more serious and more important in the life of humanity.
A. SPANOU: As things are developing at this time in our neighbouring country, what is your assessment of the timetable? When will the agreement come before the Hellenic Parliament?
N. KOTZIAS: The timetable is going well. I think they’ll be holding their referendum on 16 or 23 September, because, according to their law, there have to be two months of public debate, and as soon as they have held the referendum they will proceed to the constitutional changes. When they finish with those, the agreement will come before Parliament.
I think it is interesting that the President of North Macedonia – call the country what you will at this point – Mr. Ivanov, accused Zaev of surrendering to Greece.
What can I say? I’m amazed. Mr. Zaef surrendered to Greece, which, according to the opposition here, surrendered everything to Zaev. This is also news that doesn’t play on the larger portion of Greek news media, because if they played the accusations of Mr. Mitsotakis’ brother party in Skopje – the accusations they are making against the government in Skopje – people would realise that everything isn’t as stereotypical or one-sided as New Democracy or Mr. Tzitzikostas – who appears to want to create a northern league – would like.
V. SKOURIS: Do you have information suggesting that Mr. Tzitzikostas ...
N. KOTZIAS: He is acting like all Chauvinists who don’t respect or appreciate third peoples and who are only interested in their own careers.
V. SKOURIS: And you are saying this with regard to yesterday’s meeting between mayors and metropolitans, members of the Church?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, what business do metropolitans have at meetings called by Mr. Tzitzikostas so he can boost his political career? And I want to say that I respect the Church. I’ve proven this. I support it in difficult circumstances. I defend it internationally. But some members of the clergy have no business meddling in the country’s political controversy.
A Few days ago, we had the 3rd meeting of the Rhodes conference, with the participation of 25 states and representatives of states. On the days of the Rhodes conference, a Rhodes priest came out and talked about the government, the prime minister and me in a way that only the lowest of rogues talk. He denigrated the government. The accusations of treason were the least of it.
We are talking about really low, nasty comments, and the Metropolitan said he couldn’t do anything about it. The Ecumenical Patriarch said these matters don’t concern him: They concern the Metropolitan. The Rhodes prosecutor is away, because he suddenly has other things to do.
In other words, we’re talking about a situation where hate speech is being tolerated. And this hate speech is facilitated by the conduct of the main opposition party and mainly its officials in northern Greece, like Mr. Tzitzikostas.
V. SKOURIS: Yes, but Archbishop Ieronymos is keeping things low key.
N. KOTZIAS: I said a part of the church. Rhodes is not under the Church of Greece. It comes directly under the Patriarchate.
V. SKOURIS: Under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as a ‘New Country”.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes. In other words, everyone in the country says whatever they want. There are no longer any standards. I ask you, Mr. Skouris. I have received 800 letters threatening my life and the lives of my family members. I have received whole boxes of blood, saying my family’s blood will be shed, too.
V. SKOURIS: Boxes of blood?
N. KOTZIAS: Yes. Blood-soaked soil. I have received a variety of calibres of bullets. Where is the prosecutor? Because we aren’t dealing only with the offences of slander and defamation. We have punishable crimes, including felonies. Like the attempt to keep the government or its ministers from performing their duty not as they choose, as stipulated in the Constitution, but based on blackmail and threats. These are serious crimes under Greek law, but I haven’t seen anyone react to them.
V. SKOURIS: Until now, we knew of two instances of your receiving bullets. And you’re saying you have also received boxes of blood-soaked soil?
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, yes. A number of days ago. But that isn’t the issue.
V. SKOURIS: Let’s try to understand this.
N. KOTZIAS: I found the telephone numbers, addresses and names of people who called and threatened me. And rather than arresting them, rather than the prosecutor stepping in, they just leave them or summon them to the authorities and ‘advise’ them. Advise them against what? That they should keep their telephone number from appearing? What warning did they make? We’re talking about a situation of hate speech that has to end. This has nothing to do with the Skopje issue. It is reminiscent of 1963, 1965. I’m old, so I remember very well, and I was an activist then, demonstrating and so forth, as is well known. What I mean is, what we have here is tolerance for hate speech.
V. SKOURIS: ... by the judiciary, if I understand correctly.
N. KOTZIAS: I don’t get it! Have you seen a prosecutor take issue with the daily threats against MPs? And is that all? Let me say something: I underscore that many, many people demonstrating against the agreement with Skopje are doing so with good intentions, in good will. Clearly. They are doing it because this is what they believe. Clearly.
But listen. At the latest gathering in Athens, at Syntagma Square, before the vote in Parliament – 3 or 5 days before the demonstration in Thessaloniki – the same slogan was heard. Shall I tell you what everyone is pretending they haven’t heard: “Bring us the guns so we can enter Skopje.”
V. SKOURIS: We broadcast that. We said it. I reported it myself.
N. KOTZIAS: And you were right to do so.
V. SKOURIS: “To arms, to arms so we can take Skopje.”
N. KOTZIAS: Does New Democracy, which participates in these demonstrations, agree with or condemn such slogans? Do slogans like this have anything to do with peaceful coexistence with our Balkan brothers? Does this have anything to do with the disagreement over whether the agreement is good or bad? Or is this about an aggressive form of fascism, not any different than the national socialism that believes we are a superior race and that we must go and conquer them?
And do none of these fools realise they are opening the garden gate to what Mr. Erdogan is saying? In other words, compared to Mr. Erdogan’s saying he wants to amend the Treaty of Lausanne, what is the above slogan? More aggressive? Less aggressive? Or the other one that goes on saying ...
V. SKOURIS: But why are you criticizing the main opposition party in this regard?
N. KOTZIAS: Because they participate in these demonstrations and don’t condemn them. So I ask: do they publicly condemn these slogans? Will the main opposition party disassociate its position from these slogans? Will it say that these slogans are not criticism of the agreement, but simply hate speech.
I want you to understand that hate speech is not just the bullets and blood sent to MPs and to me. It is’t just the terrorising that is going on. Hate speech is when you really believe the peoples living around Greece to be inferior and that you have the right at any time to take up arms and go and conquer them.
And I ask, where is the prosecutor on these slogans? These slogans violate international law. These slogans violate the Interim Accord that the opposition agreed to, and I remind you that the Interim Accord never went through Parliament and was announced by a third country, not Greece. Just to be clear.
V. SKOURIS: We’ll go to a short news break and we’ll be back. I think we have gone to the essence of the conversation. News and a one-minute delay, and we’ll be back.
V. SKOURIS: We have Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, with us, and during the ten minutes he has been in the studio, I think he’s been dropping one ‘bomb’ after another.
N. KOTZIAS: No, I’m not dropping “bombs”. I’m pointing out the ones dropped by others. Don’t shoot the messenger.
V. SKOURIS: Do you agree with the “apostasy” scenarios we’re hearing.
N. KOTZIAS: You know that I rarely write tweets. I wrote a tweet on my way back from Luxembourg, saying there is a system of oligarchs; in other words, people who have made money in ways I cannot control, and this system is supporting an effort to return to developments like those of 1965. But it isn’t 1965, and the tragedy of 1965 will not be repeated. It will prove to be a farce.
V. SKOURIS: Aren’t you concerned that two or three MPs might leave the majority? I see Independent Greeks (ANEL), at least the ANEL Parliamentary Group, losing people for some time now.
N. KOTZIAS: Look, if we let this terrorising continue, your question has a bearing. The terrorisation of and hate speech against politicians – threats against their lives – has to stop, and the Prosecutors have to step in. I wonder, has a Prosecutor intervened regarding the accusations there have been in recent days? You are a journalist. I don’t follow these things, but I haven’t seen anything in this regard.
V. SKOURIS: Right after our show, Manolis Kottakis and Voula Kechagia will have the Justice Minister, Mr. Kontonis, on the phone. I think this will be one of the first questions they ask him, so he can respond to everything you are saying.
N. KOTZIAS: My criticism is not of the Justice Ministry. My criticism concerns the bellwethers of the Judiciary.
V. SKOURIS: But there is political leadership.
N. KOTZIAS: You know how the Prosecutors react. What is happening right now – the denigration, the accusations, the threats, the slander, the defamation, the violation of the criminal code, the crimes – hasn’t happened before in post-junta Greece. And some people are standing by as if nothing is happening.
A. SPANOU: I’m trying to understand this: Is all of what you are describing with regard to hate speech connected to the other accusation you are making?
N. KOTZIAS: What I know is that they can fuel each other. I’m not putting forward scenarios as to whether or not they are being paid, whether or not they are being directed. These are matters for a detective. I’m giving you a political estimate. The political analysis says that some people want to bring down the government, probably to avoid court cases that are awaiting some of them. And through their stance and hate speech they are serving these hopes and intentions.
V. SKOURIS: To avoid upcoming court cases? Do you know something?
N. KOTZIAS: I think the Judiciary knows.
V. SKOURIS: I wanted to ask you: In this climate, do you see the extreme right making gains?
N. KOTZIAS: Look, in my opinion, New Democracy is making a mistake. New Democracy has been taken over by its extreme-right wing, which is not its traditional wing, but was picked up along the way, particularly from LA.O.S (Popular Orthodox Rally). The policy of this wing has taken over New Democracy.
But New Democracy is not the genuine agent of these views. When it cultivates these views in the hope of making electoral gains, it should remember that there are more genuine extreme rightists than the extreme right group within its party, and it will probably lose votes. I have in mind a survey carried out in a region of Northern Greece, where Golden Dawn is rising, in contrast with New Democracy.
V. SKOURIS: Yes, but you are falling. Opinion polls show that there is no response ...
N. KOTZIAS: I don’t know of any such poll. Tell me a poll.
V. SKOURIS: We’ve seen a number of them. In ‘Proto Thema’ there was recently ...
N. KOTZIAS: Okay, in ‘Proto Thema’. Don’t make me comment on the quality of the newspaper.
V. SKOURIS: We’re talking about the opinion poll.
N. KOTZIAS: And the opinion polls it announces, publishes, analyses. I remind you of all of the opinion polls on the referendum, regarding ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes, and all of the opinion polls in the run-up to the past two elections. All of them, to put it politely, were well off the mark.
And can I say something else? I’ll set the opinion poll aside. I’ll accept that, in Northern Greece, in our Macedonia, there are issues with how people see this agreement. There is a hostile climate. But intelligent, thoughtful citizens, those who understand the country’s long-term rights and interests, understand that we have nothing to fear from neighbours like North Macedonia. They don’t even have airplanes with which to make a move. Yesterday, Zaev said – and this isn’t in most of the media either – that they love Greece; they want it only as a trade partner and tourism ‘goal’. They have no intention of asking for a border change or carrying out hostile acts or disputing our history.
In other words, here we have this amazing situation: Objectively, the hostility created in Northern Greece is due to Mr. Gruevski, to his ‘archaism’, to his effort to usurp ancient Greek heritage, our history, our tradition.
In the agreement, they agreed to give these things up. We’re finished with these things. And now that we’re finished with them, supporters of the party that helped create that atmosphere – because Mr. Gruevski’s party is a brother to Mr. Mitsotakis’ party – are rising up. These two parties took us to the era of irredentism, with blame certainly going to Mr. Gruevski – he was there boy – and today, too, they are fellow travellers with his party. They are saying exactly the same things.
A. SPANOU: Mr. Minister, wouldn’t things be easier if, from the beginning of the negotiations, the government had made more of an effort to create conditions of national consensus?
N. KOTZIAS: The government kept them informed from the outset. I remember very well, on returning with Mr. Tsipras from Davos, where the first meeting launching the negotiations was held – I remember very well the conduct of the leaders of the political parties who met with Mr. Tsipras. When the negotiations started, I asked to see the heads of the parties. In my opinion, I had excellent conversations with them. Mr. Mitsotakis did not agree to see us. What can we do? He is the one who ...
A. SPANOU: In other words, you reject the opposition’s criticism that you wanted to bring New Democracy’s internal conflicts to the fore.
V. SKOURIS: That you wanted to break it up?
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, okay. Ms. Spanou, that’s why they didn’t realise we were really going to resolve the issue. Greece has maximal interest in resolving its problems with its northern neighbours. This maximal interest is, first, because it will by a leading power among them. Second, because as soon as these people get past their conflicts and paradoxes, they will be with us. And third, because Greece has one problem, to the east.
So it is of great national interest to resolve these issues. Unfortunately, New Democracy doesn’t seem to discern our national interests and believed that the problem was a game theory problem within the country. And not just a problem within the country, but a game theory problem within their party.
And can I add something? Because I never think or deal in these terms, how were we to know that New Democracy would decide to leave the line of national understanding and national agreement and shift to the line of Popular Orthodox Rally and other extreme-right spaces? Because up until the moment we started the negotiations, we truly believed that New Democracy’s supported a compound name with a geographical qualifier, with the additional demand, as opposed to in the past, of the name’s being erga omnes – because New Democracy itself never pursued erga omnes except as being “for all international uses”, but not domestically and in the Constitution. But we had already put this into the negotiations. And the big question was: tell me who could have imagined, half a year ago, that New Democracy would adopt the position “no to Macedonia”; that it would take a stance in favour of a referendum. Who knew this? That Mr. Tzitzikostas would play the ‘Macedonian leader’, either because he wants to take over New Democracy or because he wants to create a new political party, a northern league, with others? I don’t know where he’s going with this.
But look at our texts. Look at your discussions where you were working at that time. Did you ever foresee that New Democracy would be against the line of Karamanlis, the elder Mitsotakis and Bakoyannis? One would have to be a prophet to predict that the younger Mitsotakis would fall in line with such extreme positions.
V. SKOURIS: Yesterday, Mr. Mitsotakis said Konstantinos Karamanlis would vote against this agreement because it includes language and citizenship.
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, Konstantinos Karamanlis accepted the language in 1977, so Mr. Mitsotakis can stop this farce. And not just in 1977. Konstantinos Karamanlis accepted the language in 1956-1958, and there are minutes to this effect. And what’s more, the deputy leader of the National Radical Union (ERE) at the time, Mr. Averoff, came out and talked about a “Macedonian language”. And now Mr. Mitsotakis is telling me what Mr. Karamanlis would say?
Mr. Mitsotakis is resorting to distortion of historical facts with regard to Konstantinos Karamanlis because he doesn’t want to tell us what his father, the elder Konstantinos Mitsotakis, would say about the policy he is following.
And how were we to imagine, Ms. Spanou, that Mr. Mitsotakis would commit ‘patricide’ and that both children would subjugate the party’s policy to the policy that brought down their father due to the Macedonia issue? How could we have guessed?
V. SKOURIS: Dora Bakoyannis doesn’t say that. Mrs. Bakoyannis favours a compound name. She may be the only one.
N. KOTZIAS: When was the last time she spoke in favour of a compound name?
V. SKOURIS: A month ago. I don’t remember. I don’t have it in front of me.
N. KOTZIAS: Tell me, did she say it after the debate in Parliament?
V. SKOURIS: We’ll invite her in a few days. We’ll ask her.
N. KOTZIAS: I hope so.
V. SKOURIS: But the opposition is accusing you, personally, of something else, too.
N. KOTZIAS: They accuse me of a lot of things.
V. SKOURIS: That you are brandishing the minutes from previous negotiations, threatening to make them public if they don’t agree.
N. KOTZIAS: Agree to what?
V. SKOURIS: If New Democracy doesn’t agree to the policy you are following. That’s what they are accusing you of.
N. KOTZIAS: Let me tell you something. New Democracy is acting innocent. New Democracy is not innocent. Just so we’re on the same page. It governed the country for decades. The last time negotiations were under way on the name of North Macedonia, New Democracy governed for ten years with seven Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and I submit a question: “What name do you propose?”
I read in Parliament that they proposed the name ‘North Macedonia’ as the best option. In other words, they proposed: plain ‘Macedonia’ and in the best case ‘North Macedonia’ – Mrs. Bakoyannis pursued ‘North Macedonia’, and she has my praise in this regard, but she couldn’t get it then. We got it.
Their parliamentary spokesperson and their spokesperson for foreign policy come out in Parliament and say, “the name North Macedonia is the most irredentist, the most traitorous and worst name.” Was I not to respond? Wait a second, calm down a little – this is the name you pursued but couldn’t get.
And I read this out in Parliament, if you saw the key document I read out. There were four documents in which Mrs. Bakoyannis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mr. Karamanlis, is asked: “Do you want North Macedonia?” And she says: “it’s the best of all the names.” Two months later: “Do you still want North Macedonia?” And she responds: “Yes, definitely, because it is not irredentist.” A question six months later, from Mr. Nimetz: “Is it worth my while to continue trying to get the name North Macedonia, on your behalf, from Skopje?” She responds: “Yes, it is worth your while.”
New Democracy, in its finest moment, cannot pursue the name ‘North Macedonia’, and then tell us that we sold the country out for a name that irredentist and treasonous.
And to reiterate, some people came out and said that “New Democracy never proposed the word ‘Macedonia’ in a compound name.” How am I to prove they are lying? Don’t I have the right to declassify the documents – because I don’t take documents from the Service that haven’t been declassified – in which New Democracy negotiated that, in any case, the term ‘Macedonia’ would be included in Skopje’s name?
And what’s amazing is that the best version they put forward is the name ‘North Macedonia’. The worst they put forward was plain ‘Macedonia’.
V. SKOURIS: Will you tell us who made the proposal?
N. KOTZIAS: The governments of New Democracy.
V. SKOURIS: Specifically?
N. KOTZIAS: I call on New Democracy to tell you. This is what it is afraid to say.
V. SKOURIS: After 2000, or before?
N. KOTZIAS: Before and after. Mr. Skouris, listen, if I accept plain ‘Macedonia’ as the internal name, am I not a hypocrite when I say that this agreement gave the language and citizenship – because it didn’t give nationality, it gave citizenship – to the Skopjans.
The big question is very, very simple: when a country is called just plain ‘Macedonia’, what will its citizens be called? They’re mocking us. They’re criticising us as if, as a government, we did not find accomplished facts.
Let me give you an example, beyond New Democracy. They say to me: “Oh, you set up a committee to look at brand names, so you conceded the brand names to North Macedonia,” and I say, “What has been going on for 30 years now? What brand names was this country using?”
I’ll tell you what it used: “product of Macedonia” and “Macedonian wine.” So what have we achieved now, through the agreement? They can’t say it is a “product of Macedonia”. It will say, “product of North Macedonia”. And I ask you: why was it better before, when it said “product of Macedonia”, than now, when it will be distinguished and say, “product of the state of North Macedonia” and not “product of Macedonia”? And second, the name of the wine will be considered by an international committee under the EU and the UN. We found and corrected what they are accusing us of. We found the name Macedonia for this state from their negotiations, from the recognition of this state under the name Macedonia by 140 countries.
And can I tell you something? I was in Luxembourg the day before yesterday, on Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday we discussed the Skopje issue. Apart from one Minister, the Dutch Minister – who did so for other reasons – no one else called Skopje ‘Macedonia’, as they had done for the previous 25 years. They all called it ‘North Macedonia’.
And I ask you: when 27 of the 28 representatives of the member states of the European Union called it ‘Macedonia’ and today they call it ‘North Macedonia’, did we win or lose the name?
Or go to any major site in the world; BBC, CNN. What will you see? They used to call Skopje ‘Macedonia’, plain ‘Macedonia’, and they showed no Macedonia in Greece. Now they call Skopje ‘North Macedonia’ and underscore the name of Northern Greece as ‘Macedonia’.
And I ask: was it better for Macedonia not to be used at all in reference to Greece and for it to be used solely to refer to Skopje than what we have achieved today, with the whole world learning that plain Macedonia is Greek and the country to our north is called North Macedonia and that they should call it ‘North Macedonia’? In other words, in what way did we lose the name?
We took back the reality of the situation. This is the truth, beyond the propaganda, stereotypes and cursing.
A. SPANOU: Mr. Minister, in any case, New Democracy is holding together in the stance it is maintaining on the Macedonia issue. Whereas, in contrast, your partners in the government, the Independent Greeks (ANEL), are falling apart. Doesn’t this concern you?
N. KOTZIAS: ANEL’s internal issues are one thing, but I don’t think New Democracy is holding together. From what I’ve seen, they have taken a number of MPs off their list. But we don’t see a lot about that in the news media. And yesterday they expelled their person with the most mass appeal, a popular person with extensive contacts with the whole of Greece’s middle class. What is that? Is that cohesion? Why is that cohesion?
A. SPANOU: Anyway, ANEL is probably in worse condition, with two MPs already having left. Isn’t that right?
N. KOTZIAS: I think Syriza is in the best shape of all the parties. I am not a member of Syriza, as you know, but it is deeply unified.
V. SKOURIS: Before you got here, Angeliki was wondering who will be going to the NATO summit. You or Mr. Kammenos? And can a Minister who disagrees substantially represent Greece, the government?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, Mr. Kammenos does not disagree substantially with the government’s work. He disagrees on one issue.
V. SKOURIS: No, but on this specific issue.
N. KOTZIAS: Did you see how Boris Johnson criticised Mrs. May a few days ago regarding Brexit? Regarding the biggest issue the United Kingdom has faced in the past century? Did anyone tell him he had to leave the government? Did anyone say, “How can there be a front-line Conservative who openly disagrees with his prime minister?”. This is just – what can I say? It is reminiscent of Stalinism. That it is bad for any disagreement to exist in a democracy.
Second, I said this in Parliament, and I still wonder: New Democracy is well aware, because it has governed, that the Defence Minister deals with technical defence issues in NATO. The Minister of Foreign Affairs deals with political issues in NATO, including accession; in other words, North Macedonia’s joining NATO.
But this is not among the issues dealt with by the Defence Minister in NATO. It is an issue for NATO’s political Committee; that is, for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs or, if it goes further up, for the Prime Ministers. Accession is not approved by the Defence Ministers, because it is a political issue that requires a political decision.
A. SPANOU: So both of you will go.
N. KOTZIAS: Both I and Mr. Kammenos accompany the Prime Minister to NATO Summit Meetings. But when the Summit Meeting convenes, it is the Minister of Foreign Affairs who accompanies the Prime Minister, and we also have separate sessions for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence. The Ministers of Defence will look at their defence issues. We, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, will have meetings with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of third countries; this time, with Ministers from the Middle East.
V. SKOURIS: A couple of days ago, when she was on Serafim Kotrotsos’ show, Angeliki commented on ...
N. KOTZIAS: It was a success for Serafim to join you.
V. SKOURIS: Yes, I think we’re building a strong radio station. You’ll see this in the coming time.
N. KOTZIAS: A very strong team. You’re as strong as South Korea, which defeated Germany yesterday.
V. SKOURIS: Football is not, after all, a sport where two teams play and Germany wins.
N. KOTZIAS: New Democracy should bear this in mind.
V. SKOURIS: Why New Democracy?
N. KOTZIAS: Because New Democracy and the Conservatives don’t always win.
V. SKOURIS: Take that, New Democracy! My colleagues were commenting on the silence of Mr. Simitis, the former prime minister. And, according to what we were told, we came very close to reaching an agreement when he was prime minister.
N. KOTZIAS: I think Simitis would have thrown a party if he had got even half of what we got in our agreement.
V. SKOURIS: So why isn’t he talking now?
N. KOTZIAS: I am surprised that a former prime minister who wants to be seen as self-possessed and strong, under pressure from the political space he belongs to, isn’t expressing his opinion on one of Greece’s biggest issues.
V. SKOURIS: Did you expect a clearer position from George Papandreou? He took this position as the President of the Socialist International. As a former prime minister here, he hasn’t taken a stance.
N. KOTZIAS: I think that George Papandreou and the majority of the Movement for Change took a stance. I think it is worth the trouble to consider the fact that in the six-member presidium of the Movement for Change, five people agreed to the Prespa agreement. One, Ms. Gennimata, rejected it.
Tell me about the democratic functioning I have always heard about – as a long-time leftist – in the parties of the democratic arc. What kind of democratic functioning is this, when one person tells the other five to fall in line with her decisions? In other words, whom does this serve? The future of this party or someone else?
V. SKOURIS: We’ll come back to this issue, because the Political Council is essentially not an elected body, with the President being the only elected member.
N. KOTZIAS: No one is elected to that Council.
V. SKOURIS: The President is elected by the party base.
N. KOTZIAS: Not even their Central Committee is elected, and nor is the Conference elected.
V. SKOURIS: But the President is.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, but the others are elected by the various Movements they participate in, apart from Mr. Androulakis, but, if I remember correctly, he has 40% of the voters who elected Ms. Gennimatas.
And in any case, can I tell you something, Mr. Skouris? I don’t decide whether this six-member committee meets. I just wonder why they don’t respect it. Nothing else.
V. SKOURIS: Commercials and we’ll be back.
V. SKOURIS: Nikos Kotzias on ‘Power Games’. We have 26 minutes left in which to ‘interrogate’ the Minister of Foreign Affairs. ‘Interrogate’ in inverted commas, Mr. Minister.
N. KOTZIAS: As for ‘power games’, when I’m here, that is in inverted commas too, because, as you know, I neither play games nor have any obsession with power. But it’s a good title.
V. SKOURIS: It’s what the show is called.
A. SPANOU: Mr. Minister, based on what you have said so far, you don’t consider it to be a problem that your partner in the government disagrees on an issue of such central importance.
N. KOTZIAS: A partner in the government has the right to disagree. Obviously, I would be pleased if they agreed. And of course there are ANEL MPs who support the agreement.
A. SPANOU: Aren’t you anxious about what’s going to happen in the Hellenic Parliament when the time comes for a vote? Because Syriza has 145 MPs.
N. KOTZIAS: Right now my concern is that democracy – the country’s democratic course and democratic culture of debate – not be undermined. Because what is happening with the climate of hate speech undermines democracy, and this is much more important than any worries a Minister might have – as you rightly asked – about an agreement he has concluded.
V. SKOURIS: What will it mean for Greece is if the agreement is passed by fYROM and voted down by the Hellenic Parliament?
N. KOTZIAS: That’s not going to happen. The Hellenic Parliament is going to pass it, and everyone knows that.
V. SKOURIS: Are you in favour of the 180 majority, as proposed by Mr. Kammenos and left open by the government spokesperson?
N. KOTZIAS: I explained, personally, to Mr. Kammenos, and I will continue to hold my view, that the Constitution provides for 180 votes to pass agreements conceding national sovereignty. We aren’t conceding national sovereignty. We have made an agreement to change the name and Constitution of a third country.
V. SKOURIS: Yes, but politically he can raise it as an example. If you remember, there was some debate over this regarding the country’s entry into the Memorandums.
N. KOTZIAS: In the Memorandums, however, the country conceded sovereignty, and I have written a whole book on this, Mr. Skouris.
V. SKOURIS: That’s true.
N. KOTZIAS: We aren't conceding sovereignty here, and in fact, Mr. Tzitzikostas, in my opinion, is wrong in pushing for a referendum in Greece, because he apparently has not taken into account that Greece is changing neither its name nor its Constitution.
A. SPANOU: You do seem certain that the agreement will be passed by the Hellenic Parliament, even though the numbers aren’t borne out by public statements. In other words, Mr. Danellis has said he will support the agreement, for example. But we haven’t heard from anyone else.
N. KOTZIAS: Mr. Theodorakis, too, has said he will support an agreement after studying it.
A. SPANOU: So that’s two.
N. KOTZIAS: No. Mr. Theodorakis is the head of a political party. It’s not just two votes.
A. SPANOU: He heads a party, but two MPs from that party have clearly stated they won’t support the agreement.
V. SKOURIS: Mr. Psarianos and Mr. Amyras.
N. KOTZIAS: Correct. And I don’t know where those two MPs will find themselves by December. That’s their problem. It doesn’t concern me. I’m saying that Mr. Theodorakis is the head of a party that doesn’t consist of just those two MPs.
A. SPANOU: No, but with all four MPs, if we assume all of them vote in favour, that’s still not 151 votes.
N. KOTZIAS: We’ll see. I have said since December 2017, when I was first asked this question – when we said we were going to Davos and were going to start this discussion, Mr. Kammenos was the first to come out and say he wouldn't agree to the name North Macedonia, to the inclusion of the term ‘Macedonia’. That’s a choice that is different from the one he made in the past, when he voted for Mr. Karamanlis’ platform papers, which included a compound name.
Just as there was a compound name in the Samaras-Venizelos government’s platform papers. Now everyone has discovered they disagree. Would you like to hear my opinion? First, this past December I said there would be a majority of MPs, and they attacked me for talking about a majority of MPs over a party majority. I explained it to them.
V. SKOURIS: On ERT, on Serafim Kotrotsos’ show. I was there.
N. KOTZIAS: You were there. And I explained that Parliament is Parliament, and parties are parties.
V. SKOURIS: Manolis Kottakis was there, too.
N. KOTZIAS: With very good questions, as always, from you and Mr. Kottakis and everyone who was there, and I thank you.
We had something of a prophetic discussion at that time: that there wouldn’t be a party majority for the agreement, but that there would be a majority of MPs. I continue to hold this opinion, and I am convinced. Nothing new has convinced me otherwise. When we held that discussion, in December 2017, Mr. Kammenos had already expressed his complete disagreement on this issue.
V. SKOURIS: Now Mr. Mitsotakis says that if he comes to power and the agreement hasn’t yet been ratified, he won’t ratify it.
N. KOTZIAS: I think Mr. Mitsotakis knows he won’t be in government and is talking about something that won’t happen.
V. SKOURIS: But all of the opinion polls have his party in first place.
N. KOTZIAS: If we went with the ‘Proto Thema’ and University of Macedonia surveys, we would already have another government and the results of the referendum three years ago would have been different.
V. SKOURIS: Okay, but now I see that Mr. Marantzidis is supporting you.
N. KOTZIAS: Mr. Marantzidis is more reasonable than many other people. And it is no coincidence. Look, it amazed me that the people who know the Macedonia issue better than anyone else – who are the best informed on Slavic history in all of its aspects at the University of Macedonia, like Professor Sfetas, for example, or Mr. Michailidis, who have large teams of students, PhD candidates who know and speak the languages of the region and know better than any of us the historical events, who in 1992, together with Mr. Mertzos, were very active on the Macedonia issue – that these people today believe that the agreement we made is the best possible agreement.
This is important. The strongest fighters on the Macedonia issue in the 1990’s, the top experts on the Macedonia issue, agree with us. And can I point something else out? With two exceptions, both of who are firmly in the New Democracy camp, all of the experts on international relations and international law, strategy and policy of international law, agree, as far as I know, with this agreement. Is that a coincidence?
Now I see the President of the Bar Association coming out against the agreement. And I said to him: Do you know better than the experts on international law?
I’ll give you an example. If you open any dictionary, the word ‘nationality’ is translated in greek as “εθνικότητα”. In other words, it is similar to ‘ethnicity’. But the words ‘ethnicity’ and ‘nationality’ are different in international law, and when we sign an international agreement we don’t use everyday dictionaries or the ways some student or graduate of some school translate certain words. We use the senses in international law. In international law, because it is an agreement under international law, the word ‘nationality’ is translated as "ιθαγένεια" (citizenship), and citizenship is different from nationality.
I’ll give you an example. What citizenship does an Englishman hold today? British. What is his original ethnicity? English. The Scots want to get up and leave. But they have ‘British citizenship’. Scottish nationality.
These things are different and shouldn’t be confused. And they are confused because the dictionaries used by the general public are not as precise as the scientific dictionaries that concern and refer to international law.
But what can I do now? Change international law and the dictionaries of international law to bring them into line with dictionaries that are for general use? They are two different things.
V. SKOURIS: Before we go on to other issues, I’ll read some messages. Nikos from Peristeri says: ‘at long last, a plain-spoken politician who tells it like it is. Thomas Liapis says good morning. “I would like to ask you to update us on what is happening with your station and your news platform.” You can see it all there. “I also want to inform you that, as I know from my close friends, there are still listeners and readers who appreciate independent journalistic voices that are interested in the good of all our compatriots and do not give in to various special or corporate interests. We appreciate your efforts and your persistence.”
N. KOTZIAS: Journalists with listeners like that are fortunate.
V. SKOURIS: And we thank Elena for her message. We don’t have time to read it out, because we still have a little time with the minister, and, Angeliki, we have to talk about Turkey.
A. SPANOU: Just one last question on Skopje.
You said you think the agreement will be passed by a majority of MPs. That it will come before Parliament by the end of the year, if I understood correctly.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes. According to the agreement we have made, the changes to our friendly country’s constitution will have to be made by the end of the year. Right after that, the agreement will come before the Hellenic Parliament.
A. SPANOU: So, before the elections.
N. KOTZIAS: What elections? Ours?
A. SPANOU: Our national elections.
N. KOTZIAS: Of course. Long before.
A. SPANOU: Does the new political situation in Turkey, which is rather old, create a new state of affairs in dealing with the huge issue of the two Greek officers who are being held in Turkish prisons?
N. KOTZIAS: We'll see. I am very cautious with Turkey. Turkey really is the major issue in Greek foreign policy, and, as you know, I always want to be very cautious in my assessment.
We will see who is in the cabinet. From what I know from my colleague Cavusoglu, he will continue to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I hope he keeps his position. I wish him the best of luck and a successful journey in this position.
We’ll see who is in the cabinet; what their intentions are. In general, we’ll see how they behave towards Greece. And from there we can draw conclusions.
I am exploring a very specific choice that will be very interesting if I’m right. But I’m still exploring it.
V. SKOURIS: That? What choice?
N. KOTZIAS: Based on international law, I am exploring certain choices.
V. SKOURIS: That the Turkish government will opt for?
N. KOTZIAS: No. That we will opt for.
V. SKOURIS: From what I understand, you are making an advance announcement of something.
N. KOTZIAS: We'll see.
V. SKOURIS: Wait, now you’ve got me going. Anything to do with The Hague?
N. KOTZIAS: No, no. I won’t discuss it. I gave you some information. That’s enough for today.
V. SKOURIS: Manolis Kottakis is signalling me from outside. He’s my ‘help from the audience’, but I still don’t understand.
N. KOTZIAS: Let him come in and ask a question himself. I assume he has lots of questions to ask. I see him.
V. SKOURIS: 12 miles?
N. KOTZIAS: No, nothing to do with 12 miles. We will start with the 12 miles in the region where we neighbour on Albania, to facilitate agreements on EEZs.
V. SKOURIS: Let’s look at that. First, let me ask: Do you think that, following his re-election, Erdogan’s stance will be closer to the West? Further from the West? What is Greek diplomacy’s assessment of the situation?
N. KOTZIAS: We'll see. We'll see.
Before the elections, I made the following assessments. I don’t see the opposition winning, I said. We have an issue: that the Turkish opposition is not a good alternative for us, because it is the opposition that has been ranting about the sovereignty of the Greek islands.
In fact, some members of the Turkish opposition say we have seized the islands over the past 10 or 15 years. I have something interesting to tell you. A piece of news. Listen to this: we have found visa applications from members of this party who wanted to visit the islands they later alleged we supposedly seized.
So they were very well aware, well before they made their allegations, that these are Greek islands.
V. SKOURIS: Manolis is asking: The Hague for ‘arbitration’?
N. KOTZIAS: No. Not at all. Bad guess.
V. SKOURIS: We’re playing twenty questions. No success so far.
The Albania issue. The agreement with Albania. First question. Let’s go into detail. Is there a ‘Cham’ issue?
N. KOTZIAS: We never discussed, and I never agreed to discuss, the “Cham issue” in this package agreement. To be clear.
V. SKOURIS: There is no such thing, neither property nor other issue.
N. KOTZIAS: To be clear. Sequestrated property is one thing, ‘Cham property’ is another.
The sequestrated property is as follows: with the declaration of war by the Italian-Albanian monarchy – because, as you know, Albania was included in the Italian declaration under the sovereignty of the Italian monarch. With the declaration of war, our country proceeded to sequestrate the property of the Albanian state and Albanian private citizens.
When the state of war is ended, this property, following court rulings, may or may not be returned.
This is property that was put under the control of the Greek state provisionally, transitionally, in view of the war. Before the war. The day war was declared.
The ‘Cham property’ is property that concerns the end of the war and regarding which there are irrevocable court rulings. These are completely different things, but many people confuse them or want to confuse them.
It is one thing for the Greek state to say, “because we are at war, this Albanian property is being sequestrated by the Greek state and can’t be used by the enemy, and if the war ends, we’ll see what will or will not be returned to the enemy.” And property that was confiscated due to collaboration with the enemy – with German Nazism and Italian fascism – from the leading group of ‘Chams’, mainly in Thesprotia, is quite another thing.
V. SKOURIS: And the EEZ?
N. KOTZIAS: Sorry, just so you can understand. The MPs from Epirus say these incredible things to me. Officials – mid-level, I hope; not higher – of New Democracy are putting it about that, in the agreement we are making with the Albanians, we are going to give up Thesprotia so it can become ‘Chameria’, etc. This is absurd. This is absurd hate speech. And certain people have to stop saying these things. Because it doesn’t serve the country’s interests. It only serves their stupid narrow interests.
V. SKOURIS: Regarding the Exclusive Economic Zone?
N. KOTZIAS: There were past negotiations. There is a ruling from Albania’s Constitutional Court on incorrect implementation of international law. There were some technical issues and we are nearing the end of these negotiations.
V. SKOURIS: What are we pursuing, Mr. Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: In what regard?
V. SKOURIS: On the EEZ issue.
N. KOTZIAS: We want to have 100% (full) effect of the islands, especially those above Corfu; above all Othonoi. I say this because – take note of this – we got 100% effect in the agreement reached in 2009. The Albanian Constitutional Court made an observation: That in the 1977 agreement Konstantinos Karmanlis made with Italy on the continental shelf, the effect given to Othonoi by Karamanlis himself was 70%. So there is a legal difficulty there, but I think we will overcome it and settle things as best we can.
A. SPANOU: From what I understand, 12 miles is the base for delimitation of our maritime zones with Albania.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, we mean the baseline for territorial waters. Because, you know, the EEZ doesn’t give us sovereign rights. It isn’t sovereignty. It isn’t like land, while territorial waters are like land territory: you have sovereign rights over it; it is an extension of Greece. And the extension of Greece is something we will do and it will be the first time in decades Greece has expanded its territorial space.
V. SKOURIS: This extension covers some thousands of kilometres, if I remember correctly. Do you remember the number, Mr. Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: What are you referring to, specifically?
V. SKOURIS: In the Adriatic region.
N. KOTZIAS: The extension of territorial waters is the doubling of territorial waters; in other words, the maritime space under our sovereignty is doubled.
V. SKOURIS: How many square kilometres?
N. KOTZIAS: I won’t say, because the extension will take place in stages, so it would give away how we are doing it.
A. SPANOU: Could this somehow impact our approach to Greek-Turkish issues?
N. KOTZIAS: We’ll start with Albania, where we have delimited the EEZ, and I hope we won’t have any misunderstandings from the Turkish side, because we will move ahead with it gradually.
V. SKOURIS: Twelve miles with Southern Crete? The chief is asking.
N. KOTZIAS: If he wants, we can do him the favour.
V. SKOURIS: Are you discussing it? Is it in the immediate plans?
N. KOTZIAS: We have plans on everything. I think we are a very, very serious government that, following three years of preparations, is in a position to resolve all of the pending issues and focus on our main foreign policy problem in the region.
A. SPANOU: Should we expect an initiative on the Cyprus issue soon?
N. KOTZIAS: I don't think so. The UN Secretary-General has appointed one of his representatives as interim negotiator. She is a woman. We have accepted her, following the Cypriot government’s lead. The Turkish government hasn’t responded yet. I think the logical thing, on which there was agreement in past discussions, was that we shouldn’t go to an international conference until we have substantially explored how to abolish the system of guarantees and the so-called alliance agreement.
V. SKOURIS: The Communist Party (KKE) is now saying the government has rendered the country NATO’s vanguard in the region; that the country has never been so dependent on NATO. In other words, they’re saying we are the vanguard in a region, as opposed to the slogans you used when in the opposition, which initially included slogans saying we should leave NATO.
N. KOTZIAS: We are not dependent on anyone. This is the first time NATO and the Americans are showing respect to us in this way.
V. SKOURIS: You’re saying it’s a matter of respect and equal relations.
N. KOTZIAS: Certainly. We don’t have relations of dependency. No one is pressuring us, and nor would pressure be tolerated. I must say, KKE has shocked me with its position on the Skopje issue. Because, as history tells us, the Macedonia issue was raised by the bourgeoisie in the region in the late 19th century. It was raised forcefully in the Balkan Wars, and then it was raised by the Communist International, which hoped that the centre of the revolution – which had failed to be Germany or the Council Republics of Munich and Hungary – would be the geographical space of Macedonia, as it had been divided up in the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest.
I am really surprised that KKE doesn't agree with the agreement we made; an agreement that resolves these problems created by the Communist International and the problems of the Cold War.
V. SKOURIS: What do you attribute this to? Why do you think they are reacting in this way?
N. KOTZIAS: I think there is a lack of clarity within KKE as to its relationship with historical figures like Zachariadis, with the Communist International’s stances on the Macedonia issue. I don’t want to get into their internal issues. You know that I have avoided criticizing them publicly for 30 years. Right now I will just say I am amazed they don’t agree. They will say, “Don’t be amazed, Kotzias. We have this, that and the other.”
But they should admit that I know the history, including of how the Communist International raised the issue following 1922 and the conflict between Dimitrov and Tito, particularly during the four years between 1932 and 1936, and the choices that were made at that time. I think it would be good for the heirs to this huge and important history of the communist movement – based on this history – to have a different stance on the Skopje name issue.
V. SKOURIS: Are you concerned about the unity of Europe?
N. KOTZIAS: When I went to the EU Council of Ministers for the first time, in January 2015, I was amazed by two things. First, the strong anti-Russian sentiment that existed from nine member states. And second, the lack of a carefully-thought-out strategic plan on the part of Europe and European security architecture for the region and the whole of Europe.
I think Europe’s problem is that it doesn’t look ahead. It doesn’t sense the direction events in its environs are taking, and it doesn’t have a strategic plan and vision for itself. The Europe that limited itself to imposing embargoes, sanctions and memorandums is a Europe with a negative agenda that lacks perspective.
V. SKOURIS: You are the head of the ‘PRATTO’ (I Take Action) Political Movement. Will you continue your collaboration with Syriza? Will you stand for Parliament in the coming elections?
N. KOTZIAS: As ‘PRATTO’, we have very good collaboration with Syriza and the whole government. I don’t want to say whether or not I will stand for election, because my personal inclination is not that of a politician. I am a political being, and I have to say that there is something that bothers me a great deal in politics.
What bothers me in politics is that no one will criticize you if you sit on your hands and don’t do anything. If you are proactive, like our foreign policy is, you are harshly criticized. That doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that certain people can denigrate you in any way they want. They can attack your dignity and that of your family without facing any consequences.
I want to serve the country, but at the same time I really don’t want to open myself up to attacks on my dignity by people with second-rate minds and low morals. And you know that the denigration I’ve come in for is unprecedented for a Minister of Foreign Affairs. Things like this have never been said before, and this is a big problem. I don’t want to do them the favour of leaving politics, but this kind of policy from a political being who is not a career politician is being denigrated in this shabby manner, without protection from anywhere. And this is a problem of political culture in this country.
V. SKOURIS: Could this make you back down and quit?
N. KOTZIAS: No, I’m not backing down. It’s just that sometimes I don’t see the point of politics. In other words, the people who handed over Cyprus – people who represent the political forces that betrayed Cyprus – come out and comment on my patriotism. These are people who carried out negotiations on the Cyprus problem and accepted the Turkish army’s remaining there, and they denigrate me for the way I negotiate.
These are people who accepted plain ‘Macedonia’ without erga omnes, and they denigrate us when we get the name that they saw as the best name they could hope to get. There is a lack of morals, a lack of the culture of dialogue, and this is a very serious issue.
In other words, this madness and these stereotypes in Greek politics do harm. And they do harm in the sense of who will deign to get involved. My best students say, “Mr. Kotzias, we are learning about foreign policy. If we try to do something to the benefit of the country, will we have all of these people denigrating us because their personal interests differ from the country’s interests?”
This isn’t a good image for the country. And as you know, I have never called anyone names, and the only thing I say is that this hate speech is shoddy. But I’m talking about hate speech, without referring to the individuals who use it.
V. SKOURIS: I think this was a very interesting interview. Lot’s of news – explicit and more oblique. And it was an interview that will fuel our discussions in the coming time. We’ll see what is hidden behind the words on certain issues, Mr. Minister. Thank you very much.
N. KOTZIAS: Thank you.