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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, to Euronews with journalist Nikoletta Kritikou (5 February 2018)
JOURNALIST: There was a big turnout for the rally. But rallies, apart from being, as you have said, “an expression of democracy,” they also produce political results. Will the government’s line in the negotiations be affected, or even the will within the government to reach an agreement?
N. KOTZIAS: I don’t think the rally was as big as its organizers expected it to be, bearing in mind that the entire centre-right, right, and extreme right opposition, along with the Church and other organizations have been there. Thus, it was a message that people don’t attach as much importance to the issue in the same way New Democracy does. I think this was disappointing for the latter. We estimate there were 120,000 to 140,000 people at the rally, a large gathering, an expression of democratic will, at least for the most people I think. The rally is something that must be taken into account but does not alter the government’s policy or the responsibility we have to resolve the problems. Because, as I often say, history must be a school, not a prison.
JOURNALIST: We see that the climate that has taken shape between Athens and Nimetz in recent hours has been encumbered. In your announcement, you pointed out to him that “it is not within his competence to talk about Athens’ policy” and that “the negotiations can only take place on the basis of what was agreed upon in Davos.” In Davos, was the issue of identity raised? Are language and ethnic identity on the table of negotiations?
N. KOTZIAS: In Davos, we agreed on one thing: that there will be a Pact and it was proposed by two Prime Ministers that it will be drafted by our side, under my responsibility. It appears there are some in Skopje, below the Prime Minister, who had second thoughts, which Mr. Nimetz considered important, and I had to remind him that what the two Prime Ministers agreed on is binding to everyone. Regarding identity, we will be the ones to announce our position on the matter. We will be the ones to express our views during the negotiations, and not the mediator. Those were two points I wanted to make.
JOURNALIST: So, language and ethnic identity are indeed under negotiation?
N. KOTZIAS: Everything is under negotiation.
JOURNALIST: The draft Pact is being drawn up and shall include seven sections on the whole range of use, and a special chapter on irredentism and the Constitution, which you will deliver to Mr. Dimitrov. Will this serve as the basis for the final agreement which will replace the Interim Accord of 1995?
N. KOTZIAS: I wouldn’t call it a final Agreement. I would rather call it a definitive Agreement, in contrast with the qualification “interim”. But the text we are drafting is a proposal for negotiations and discussion. It isn’t a “take it or leave it” type of thing.
JOURNALIST: Is there any possibility that the constitutional name will stay in effect until fYROM’s accession to the EU is considered? In other words, a staged approach in terms of the range of use?
N. KOTZIAS: In no case shall we do anything that is legally, historically, or politically “out of order” between two states that want to reach an understanding. I mean that the changes in the name will have to happen in a way which will facilitate our neighbouring friendly country’s accession to the organizations that it wishes to join. Neither is it us being in a rush, nor is this a main concern of ours. They want it, we support it. In order to do this, they must meet certain conditions. Every time we negotiate, we agree on this, and subsequently various circles say that perhaps it isn’t necessary, that perhaps we can find another process. These don’t represent serious views. This is why I said that we must stick to what we have agreed to. There is no point in a negotiation where we agree on A and then retract it in order to re-negotiate it. That amounts to negotiating just for the sake of negotiating. We want to resolve the problem, and, thus, everything that is agreed upon in the process of negotiations we consider it as a given.
JOURNALIST: Does changing the constitutional name constitute a red line for the Greek government?
N. KOTZIAS: Changing the constitutional name of the fYROM presents a fine opportunity for the fYROM to align its international agreements with the country’s Constitution; because other forces may come later on and accuse the current leadership of violating the Constitution by concluding an international Agreement with us.
JOURNALIST: Will the name also be included in the amendment of the Constitution?
N. KOTZIAS: I think it should.
JOURNALIST: The irredentist references in fYROM’s Constitution, in the preamble and certain articles -also taking into account the provisions applicable to the amendment procedure- make it clear that, even if an agreement is reached, its implementation is bound to be complicated. How can this happen given that a 2/3 majority in Parliament is required; a majority that Zaev doesn’t have?
N. KOTZIAS: Mr. Zaev has large enough a majority to ratify an international Agreement. The constitutional changes will be made in due course.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Zaev is preparing the ground to hold a referendum. Does the Greek government continue to rule out holding a referendum here in Greece?
N. KOTZIAS: The Greek government took the responsibility to publicly state that it wants the name changed, that the new name will be a compound one, and for all uses, with a specific qualifier, and we came out publicly and said that this name will include in some form the term “Macedonia”. In other words, we did our part. I am still waiting for Skopje, at long last, to publicly state which qualifier this name will contain in front of the noun, and to describe it to their people. We are preparing our public opinion, with all the difficulties you can clearly see this entails. I don’t see the other side making the same preparations, and this is a matter of great concern to me today, even as we hold this interview.
The second thing I want to say is that I notice something absurd in Greece: for 25 years now, everyone has accepted the inclusion of the term “Macedonia” in a compound name. Even the name “fYROM”, which is “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, if we define it in strict legal terms, is a compound designation that includes the term “Macedonia” with a temporal qualifier, the word “former”. And everyone is acting as if the name “Macedonia” didn’t even exist and that we are just now introducing it, as if this country were called the “Central Balkan Republic” and we, the “bad guys”, are insisting on the name “Macedonia”. It bothers me a great deal that the same people who have agreed to the use of the name “Macedonia” in the past, and who even proposed the name “Macedonia” for domestic use – instead of a compound name – are pointing fingers and criticising us for incorporating a term that was already there. Or, to put it otherwise, we aren’t baptising a new-born child here, giving it a name for the first time. Rather, we are at the marriage stage. We are seeking to reach an agreement with a country which has been recognised by 130-140 countries under a name containing the term “Macedonia”. We are entering a process, we have agreed since the Interim Accord to include the term “Macedonia”; we must be realistic and look at how both sides can gain as much as possible.
JOURNALIST: Does the Greek side favour “Gorna Makedonija”?
N. KOTZIAS: The Greek side is considering a number of compound names. Among these, we prefer those that have a Slavic ring to them, but what we will agree upon in the end will depend on the negotiations. And, for some options, it is also a matter, if, later on, we agree on the criteria of the Skopje government itself.
JOURNALIST: How do you respond to those who argue that Mr. Kammenos is counting on the foundering of the negotiations so that the matter does not need to go before Parliament? And apropos of that, Mr. Kammenos, commenting on the rally, wrote that “it was the soul of the Greeks, which no one could fail to respect.”
N. KOTZIAS: Everyone respects the soul of the Greeks. Whether the soul of the Greeks was at one rally or another is something that is up for discussion. What I know is that, within the government, there is a majority that decides. There is the Prime Minister who has the responsibility, together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is possible for some other minister, including one who belongs to a party other than Syriza for that matter, – to which I do not belong either – to have a different opinion. I wonder why this is even an issue. Let me give you a specific example: take the Brexit and the Conservative party in Britain. There are differing views on a “hard” exit or a “soft” exit. Boris Johnson, does he not disagree with Ms. May? Is it not natural for differing opinions to exist in a government? And if it is indeed natural for differing opinions to exist in a one-party government, it is even more so natural that this is the case among a multi-party government; I remind you that in Greece, in 1991-1992-1993 we had a one party government, New Democracy, the party of Konstantinos Mitsotakis, and it included Mr. Samaras, with differing opinions – who left, you will retort – but there was also Evert, Kanellopoulos and Dimas in the party, who also had differing opinions. And that is why Mr. Mitsotakis didn’t dare to bear the political cost and lead the country to an agreement with our neighbours to the North. In contrast, and despite the difficulties, we will see this historical duty through to the very end, as long as the other side reciprocate until the very end. Because this ensures the strongest economic growth for the region. It ensures peace and stability in the region and will enable us to develop our economic relations.