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Minister of Foreign Affairs N. Kotzias' statements following his meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, N. Dimitrov (Skopje, 31 August 2017)
N. KOTZIAS: In Thessaloniki, where I was, the weather was just as good as here in Skopje, which means that the same sun shines on both of us.
What I want to say is that I'm pleased to be here. I am pleased that your country is emerging from the crisis, has overcome its political crisis, just as we are emerging from our economic crisis. This shows how much we have in common and why Nikola and I must be optimistic.
I am pleased that, after almost exactly one year, I am again in this hall, where I had the honour of addressing your diplomats.
I am even more pleased to be talking again with Nikola and continuing the conversation that we initiated in Athens, in a series of telephone calls, and at every opportunity.
We are discussing the major issues we are facing, the common future of our two states. I am pleased at the very positive results we had on the Confidence-Building Measures at the meeting the day before yesterday, between the large delegations from both sides – 17 members in our delegation and 25 in yours – which shows that the relations between our two countries are developing more intensively than with almost any other neighbour. We will implement all the measures. New railway lines, new pipelines for natural gas. Cooperation between universities. Cooperation between Diplomatic Academies. We talked about the issues of energy, transport, research, police cooperation, and the security of the whole region.
And we'll talk again in two months, when we have the new meeting of the four Balkan countries – your country, our country, Bulgaria and Albania – where we will discuss issues of security and economic cooperation in our wider region.
I must say that I am also pleased, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, that our policy of non-interference in your country's domestic affairs was vindicated. You will have seen that, over the past two and a half years, Greece has not issued even a single announcement on the internal affairs of our friendly northern neighbour; that Greece supported and supports, with all of its power, the stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of our friendly northern neighbour.
Your stability also fuels our stability. Our growth fuels yours. There are a lot of investments, quite a lot of trade. We can develop this more.
And I was pleased to tell you, in retrospect, that Greece stood up against any thought of imposing sanctions on you in the past. We have experience of the senselessness of such issues. I want to underscore – allow me Nikola, you know this, but I will say it to the media of our two countries – Greece is unwaveringly in favour of the stability of our countries and of our relations. In favour of territorial integrity and the immutability of borders throughout the region. In favour of the sovereignty of each state in its space. And we are in favour of the Euroatlantic path of the whole of the Western Balkans.
We believe deeply that the accession of the countries of the Western Balkans, and in particular of our friendly northern neighbour, to the Euroatlantic structures will make our lives easier and contribute to the development of the whole region.
This path requires that we develop our relations, economic and social, and that we overcome the problems and any irredentism that exists and that creates non-existent geopolitical problems, because we do not have geopolitical problems between us, we do not have geostrategic problems. In fact, we have common interests. Irredentism often converts these common interests of ours into a struggle, a culture war, as we say in political science.
And that is why the education of all of the young people in all of the countries of the region, our legislation, our symbols are very important to us, and in this direction I want to underscore again that I am pleased that the government of your country, like our government, wants to develop the Confidence-Building Measures.
Why do we want these measures? First, to strengthen the relations between our two states. Second, to show our societies how close we are and why we need to develop our relations. But also for each side to come to trust the other even more.
Today we are not in the era we were when I took over as Minister of Foreign Affairs, when I found a situation in which many believed that your official state wanted to expand to Larisa, and that we wanted to break you up. That is, that we were heading for the fourth Balkan war. An extreme description of issues that we both want to resolve and that we will resolve, as we have agreed, because we are both peace-loving states. We believe in international agreements, in international law. We appreciate one another and believe it is good that we are neighbours.
And if we have problems once in a while, remember that there are much worse neighbours than you for us and us for you. In fact, we are lucky. Because any issues we have, we can and must resolve them with sincerity in the direction we mentioned.
We have read and are following the declarations of the new government with interest. We understand that these are not easy times and that it requires courage. What we often call social courage, in order for one to overcome the problems of the past.
You know my well-known and favourite phrase, and many people are using it now. That history must be a school, a guide to a positive future, and not a prison. And that's how Nikola and I see it. What's more, we share a name. You know, it is the ancient name Laonikos. 'Laos' is people, and 'niko' is the victor. The one who wins over the people. With the advent of Christianity, the name went from Laonikos to Nikolaos. And then, in Greece, we shortened it further. Nikos. So we share the same name. And that's a good sign. We agree. We see our dear northern neighbour's agreement with Bulgaria as a positive development, and we will follow it with interest. And we talked about this: Whether we can, with the same pace, resolve any issues that remain between us.
And I say this once more publicly, that Greece, too, wants to help with the experience it has. We have this experience because we joined the EU early, in 1981, and we joined NATO in the 1950s. We want to help, and we will respond to any request so that the already existing course for the rule of law, for the modernization and Europeanization of our northern neighbour can be completed.
We, too, will benefit. And it will bring us geographically closer to the other partners in the Euroatlantic system. I want to tell you something. An international actor asked me, 'Can you resolve your problems?' I responded that, in life, we have problems constantly, even though we know, and you know this from your personal life, that every solution to a problem may create another one, but it is more developed, progressive. It is more modern, more European, I would say in today's parlance.
This is not the issue. The issue is for us to put our hand on our heart and ask ourselves whether we want the problems to be resolved. We, the governments, the societies, the citizens? From my first day as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and, as I understand it, Nikola as well, we have put our hand on our heart and want to resolve the problems to the benefit of our peoples and our states.
We are two states whose relations can and must be based on our both winning, on a win-win situation. And I say this from the heart – and this is the direction I worked in – and I am talking about the solution of the problems and the promotion of the Confidence-Building Measures, the cross-border cooperation, the cooperation between all of our institutions.
And in this framework, within the European Union itself, we insist on the promotion, for all of us, of a culture of compromise and consensus. This is a phrase that, to my satisfaction, has now also been adopted in European documents. It is a culture that concerns the European Union itself, the relations between states and the relations between the states within the European Union itself.
I also want to say something else from my heart. Greece went through a major crisis, probably the longest post-war crisis in the world. We endured. And in spite of the crisis, Greece continues to be the most powerful country in the region. I don't say this as something good for us, but as a responsibility.
The richest party has the most capacities and capabilities, and it has to meet the responsibilities deriving from this. Power is not a privilege or a right. In the world we live in, our power comes with responsibility, and from this perspective we want all of the problems to be resolved, for our good neighbour to have a course towards NATO and the European Union.
We want to support your country. We will do whatever we can, because we, too, are a medium-sized country in Europe and a small country in the world. We don't have huge capacities, but we want to use the capacities we have to the benefit of our neighbours as well. Our European experience and the experience we have with security issues. And we also have things to learn.
The people of the country I am in today – and I thank you for the invitation – are a proud people. A people shaping their characteristics, a people who, whatever we may say in our day-to-day lives, also love our country. Each resident of this country comes to Greece an average of two and a half times a year, comes to Greece for holidays.
And this is why I will say something that we discussed once in a public debate here in the Balkans. We have a little craziness and a little absurdity. There are countries that awaken to the music of the other country, we move to this music a little, trying to wake up, and then we curse this country.
Then we leave our homes, we eat something, like breakfast, from this country, and then we say, "Wow, what a great country this is!". Then we go to work, we go out for a meal in the afternoon, and afterwards we say, "we are the good guys, we are older, we have this and that ...". Crazy and absurd! This is normal in life.
Because in personal life or in the life of states, is there not absurdity and craziness? But deep in our hearts, if we want to be honest, we love each other and we like going to the Greek islands or to Halkidiki. I hope the road gets finished – a Greek company is also to blame – and that all of these people coming from northern Europe come to you as well as to us.
Deep in our hearts, we sometimes love. Love is also a little difficult, and we are tyrannized without reason.
So, to create even more trust, to resolve our problems creatively, to strike down any irredentism, which, rather than dancing in the morning to our common music and enjoying the many cultural elements we share – food and so on – grumbles and complains. It isn't just a political expression, it is an expression of life.
And so as not to take that path, I will take the path of thanking Nikola for the invitation, and I also thank him for the good talks we are having and for the good talks we will have in the future. I thank him for the hospitality, and I thank all of you for the great interest you always show in how my country thinks as well, how we discuss things with your country.
I think that the future belongs to our cooperation, and we have to have the courage and boldness to overcome whatever absurdity or grumbling is holding us back and let our love find expression. It is good for peoples to love each other and resolve their problems and not be inhibited.
What I want to say is, irredentism is not the only thing in life. There are also beautiful sentiments, and in day-to-day life there are beautiful sentiments between our peoples. We have to foster these sentiments and strike down irredentism. Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: You said that Greece is interested in stability in the Balkans, and you asked the government in Skopje to show courage. Is there courage in Greece for supporting fYROM's accession to NATO, or for moving ahead on the resolution of the name issue?
N. KOTZIAS: Thank you for the question. Greece supports the Euroatlantic path of the whole of the Balkans. The countries of the Balkans became candidate countries at the Thessaloniki Summit. For a number of countries in the region that are NATO members, this happened under the Greek Presidency. So we don't need to prove our courage.
And I say that we don't need to prove our courage because this is part of our policy, and we don't do it just for others. We do it because we believe it is the right thing for Europe and we believe it is the right thing for the future of our country.
For decades, we were the only NATO and EU member state in the region. This wasn't in our interest either, because it set us apart, cut us off from the other countries.
As regards our neighbour's European path, we want to support it with the experts we have and, if and when it is requested of us, pass on and transfer our experience and expertise.
Our experience and knowledge concern not just positive things. They also concerns our weaknesses: things we do that others shouldn't do.
With regard to NATO, there are the Bucharest decisions, and through these decisions and their implementation, this country will become a NATO member. How these NATO decisions are implemented is not up to us. It is up to those who must decide.
We want this dear northern neighbour to be in both NATO and the European Union. But we want this based on the rules and conditions of the European Union and NATO. And as I realise that there are sometimes highly charged feelings on such issues, at the last informal meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the European Union, in Malta, we talked extensively about Turkey, with the Europeans vacillating as to whether or not they want Turkey, and I said one thing:
Turkey will decide whether or not it wants to be European. If Turkey wants to be European, it will become a member state of the European Union. If Turkey doesn't want to be European, what can we do? It's Turkey's decision. This holds true for every country.
I think that in this country, where I am today, there is a European leadership and a European will, and, by extension, a European perspective. But part of the European perspective is respect for the rules and conditions and decisions of NATO and the European Union. It's not up to me.