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Speech of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, at the scientific conference on the legal aspects of the Prespa Agreement (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 19 July 2018)
I would like to start by thanking the Scientific Council and all of the speakers. And I want to underscore the democratic nature of today’s debate, under the given leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The most disparate opinions were invited on an equal footing to take a stance –with or without passion– on the issues we were considering.
I would like to thank the History professors very much for pointing up the historical conflict between Bulgaria, the Serbs and Yugoslavia over determination of the space that is today fYROM; over the characteristics of the population living there. There is something I haven’t understood from many critics of the agreement: Would they prefer that they all be called Albanians? That they should all together return to Yugoslavia? That they should self-determine as Bulgarians? Is it perhaps in our interest that they don’t want to belong to any of those spaces? I haven’t understood yet.
I also want to thank all the legal experts, who, from different standpoints of legal science, shed light on many issues concerning a text that is a text of international relations.
But allow me to note that I don’t think it is scientifically honest – and I underscore the word honest, though it may be a little harsh – to suggest a discontinuity on the Greek political stage. To point to a 1992 decision that said ‘no’ to the name "Macedonia" and to the agreement made by today’s government, which accepted the name "Macedonia", without any reference to what happened in the meantime or to the accomplished facts we were faced with in this year’s negotiations.
Because the negotiations were not held with the 1992 decision as an accomplished fact. These negotiations had other points of reference. I’ll talk about this later on.
I also want to say I am surprised at the new theory – should I call it scientific, political? – on ranking of peoples. With the democratic sensibility and outlook I have, I neither recognize or feel threatened by any ranking of peoples. Ranking of peoples is an extreme-right outlook, or it was done in multiethnic empires where the elite had rights and others didn’t.
In other words, in my opinion, today – and I am finished with any comments on our debate here – a systematic effort was made to belittle the breadth and depth of Greece’s gains in these negotiations.
Greece certainly didn’t get everything its own way. I can describe much better agreements than those described by the opposition parties or their scientific institutes. Agreements that would have me waking up in the morning saying, “we got it all, we got it all.” But these are nice agreements with ourselves. These are nice agreements with our party. Such outlooks won’t do for inter-state agreements. Because when you conclude inter-state agreements, you give and take.
And the people who are criticizing the Prespa Agreement have yet to tell me exactly what we should have got. And I haven’t heard them say what we did get and what the balance is between what we should give and what we should get.
And they have yet to tell me this, as I said in Parliament: Were my friends in Skopje vanquished in a war, so that we can impose all our terms on them? Because I’m tired of hearing about what a better agreement would be – an agreement that no one, not the UN or the other side, would accept.
It’s nice to describe models. But that’s not how politics works. And this, when the political parties employing opposition tactics never saw agreements like this even in their dreams.
We made an agreement through which both sides win. We got what was the main thing for our country and they got the things of most interest to them, through a compromise. There are no international agreements without compromise.
Someone who wants to buy or rent a house would be very pleased if he didn’t have to pay a cent in rent. You can tell him he’s a fool for paying rent, because he could have made an agreement that didn’t involve paying rent. He could have made an agreement that said, thanks to the fact that he won’t be paying rent, in ten years the house would be his. And thanks to the agreement he has now made, he won’t be paying rent, the house will become his, and the owner will be obliged to re-plaster the walls every ten years. That would be great, wouldn’t it?
But does this sort of thing happen? Without anything in exchange? Without compromise? A free house, no rent, and obligations only for the owner? This sort of thing doesn’t happen, and that’s why I think the criticism is being made from an opposition standpoint.
But what did we get? Because what we did get was by and large forgotten in our public debate. We got a change in the name of our neighbouring country. Do country’s often change their names? I know of one instance in Europe: German-Austria. And when did German-Austria change? When it was defeated in a World War.
In this case, we haven’t had a war with anyone. This is a peaceful agreement between two sides. And what else did we do? This name is in general force. And how is this name in general force? It is in general force for inter-state and international relations, and for international organizations and domestically.
I heard a speaker say this morning that we have had erga omnes since 2008. That is incorrect. First, because they didn’t get it and, second, because what all of the 'Pasok' and 'New Democracy' governments pursued was erga omnes for the international name. Not for the internal name. There is no text that pursues and insists on the notion of general use, universal use, which is erga omnes internally as well.
And to be frank here, what was it that was accepted by someone not asking for erga omnes to be extended to domestic use? And there are documents showing this. The name "Republic of Macedonia" internally. And I ask the philologists, legal experts, political scientists: if the name used internally was "Republic of Macedonia", with the consent of previous governments, what would be the derivatives for the language, the citizens and so on?
What did they do? They accepted – in general, they say – "Macedonia" as the "Republic of Macedonia" and didn’t talk about all the rest. This was the cunning they employed. Let’s be honest.
Second, what was the main issue? Irredentism. Marilena Koppa put it very succinctly: “To claim territory and to prepare or act to take that territory back.” Now, all of a sudden, the concept of irredentism has disappeared. And we baptise anything provided for by the agreement as so-called irredentism. We baptise anything in the agreement as irredentist, and then we say, “look at the irredentism you left behind” and “you’re dangerous.”
But what does the agreement actually say? The agreement says this excellent thing: “The parties hereby confirm their common existing frontier as an enduring and inviolable international border.” Isn’t this relinquishing of irredentism? Why don’t the critics of the agreement recognise this?
The agreement on irredentism also concerns smaller actions. In other words, symbols, statues, airports changing names, motorways changing names. In the negotiations carried out by previous governments – the documents exist – the first issue for negotiation was the change in the name of Skopje’s international airport, which was called "Alexander the Great" Airport. That was their top issue. And when the change was made, they said, “been there, done that.” This is not honest behaviour towards history.
Let me tell you something. What did Konstantinos Karamanlis, with the ‘tear of the Macedonian’ regard as the most important issues? What did Konstantinos Mitsotakis refer to as the most important issues? There were three.
One is the name. The name changed. It became "North Macedonia". The second was the inviolability of borders. The agreement has a whole chapter on the inviolability of borders. And the third is the matter of whether a minority exists in Greece.
The Skopje government agrees to change article 49 of its constitution. What does article 49 say? It was there when the Interim Accord was drawn up, and everyone just looked the other way and signed. It says there are Skopjan minorities in neighbouring countries and that Skopje must protect them.
And this change here – and Zaev said this too – which is in the agreement, will essentially say the same thing as article 108, if I’m not mistaken, of the Greek Constitution, which concerns Greeks Abroad. In other words, there are no longer minorities. They’ve been abolished. And I am shocked to hear, in this hall, that they are preparing to do horrible things.
Finally, a great distinction was achieved between Greek Macedonia and this country that has the term "Macedonia" in its compound name. Is this anything new in Europe? And if there is a region of Macedonia and a country with the name "Macedonia", are we facing wars and disasters?
We are experts in international relations, international law. We don’t know about the existence of the large province of Luxembourg in Belgium? That there is also a state called Luxembourg? Has the fact that they have the same name caused any wars between them? These are metaphysical outlooks.
And what’s more? In any case, the agreement contains article 7, which says that this state bears no relation to Hellenic civilization, history, culture, heritage or antiquity. They are unrelated.
What irredentist cultural and identity elements have we been talking about until today? Were we not talking precisely about Hellenism, the continuation of ancient Greek history? We got this too, and suddenly we don’t bear it in mind, we’re indifferent to it. “We are doing scientific work,” I heard today. The irredentism is gone.
And what else does it say? It says that “nothing in this agreement is intended to denigrate in any way, or to alter or affect, the usage by the citizens of either party.”
And what do I hear? I hear some people saying, “they’ll prohibit us [from using the word Macedonia/Macedonian].” Have we read the agreement? The "Macedonian" language, as heard today, thanks to the historians, has been established internationally since 1945. I thought it was later. And all of the people who didn’t react to this language existing in the UN, in ISO and in international agreements as "Macedonian", all of the people who played the fool for over 60 years are criticizing us for finding this as an accomplished fact. Because if they weren’t accomplished facts, we would have had another agreement. Let’s be frank.
But what country will give up a language that has been established as its own for 70 years? And what government could go home having given up something like that and not fall? And what government would agree. I don’t like their language being called that either. But it was established under other governments.
And the agreement says that this established and separate language ceases to be established and separate because, the agreement says, it belongs to a group. What group? The group of South Slavic languages. That is what the agreement says. It doesn’t say it is a "Macedonian language" in competition with Greek or any dialects in Greek Macedonia. It says it is a Slavic language.
And I ask: Are we disputing this Slavic language? Do we feel that Slavic languages are part of our heritage, and does this worry us?
Second, the agreement is a peaceful compromise. It is the result of a culture of compromise and consensus. And we have to state things clearly here. For any practitioner of international law and international relations, there are two paths – whether or not he forgets them – to solving problems: The violent path, war, and the path of international agreements, compromise and consensus.
There is no other way in international politics. It’s black and white. I would like those people who believe we shouldn’t have compromised to tell us that they believe we are in a position to start wars and should start wars in the region in order to impose absolute blueprints for what an agreement should be like.
What a lot of people are telling me is that the Prespes Agreement is bad because we negotiated with the other side. What many people mean is that we should impose our ideal solution on them. There certainly could be much better solutions, but one would have to impose them through violence, by force. In any way they think, in any case.
And what I’m seeing in the public debate of our critics is that, as latter-day Don Quixotes, they are competing to see who can put forward the most absolute model of what we could impose on the other side.
Has no one learned from history? When you impose a treaty, when you impose it through violence or force, you are sowing the seeds of revisionism. And when you sow revisionism, historical revisionism, what else are you sowing? The next war. Look at Germany after World War I, with the unfair treaty it made under the boot of its defeat. This led to World War II.
We didn’t want to impose our will. We want everyone to win and the Balkans to develop. We want Macedonia, the Greek hinterland, to win; we want Thessaloniki to become the real capital of the Balkans. As it always has been, in one way or another.
Our critics are also ignoring the fact that there is give and take in international treaties. And, as we say in negotiation theory, give and take agreements mean a package. What do you want and need the most? And what do I want.
We wanted a change in the name. We wanted this name to be in force erga omnes. And for it to really be in force, they agreed to change their constitution. And you should carefully count the difficulties involved in the Skopje government’s changing the country’s name, saying that the country’s name has to change internally and making constitutional changes in agreement with a third country.
And if you consider that, you have to consider whether we could relinquish gains that were made 70 years ago by other governments.
Overall, I want to say that what we were pursuing in our negotiations is not and was not for either of the two sides concluding the agreement to be vanquished.
I see two policies in Greek politics. One likes there to be problems, likes to perpetuate problems and find problems where there aren’t any. I’m not that kind of person. And the other wants to find solutions. Welcome to our political mindset.
We are a government, and I am a person and a Minister of Foreign Affairs, that wants to solve problems. And I don’t make up nightmares to deter solutions. This is the case regarding foreign policy and my friends and family.
What we want to do is solve problems. Perpetuating and propagating problems is not part of my world view.
So let’s take "North Macedonia" as an example. According to New Democracy – as we saw in Parliament, when, in its finest moments, New Democracy didn’t want to give plain "Macedonia" as the name – this was the best solution. And in their finest moments, they did not succeed in getting this as a solution. We succeeded.
We got it precisely because we made an agreement with perspective. Ask me if I like the name "North Macedonia’" I don’t. I would like it to be called "North Alaska". Is there anyone here who believes that, of all the names I can theoretically choose as a scientist and as a citizen, I would choose "North Macedonia"? But the thing is, when we started the negotiations, a compound name containing the term "Macedonia" had already been agreed upon.
The term "Macedonia" – on its own or as part of a compound name – had existed for decades in the negotiations. And I consider it unethical that the people who gave the term then – the one’s who created the accomplished facts we found ourselves facing – are playing the Quixotic supporters of a name that would certainly be much better and not contain the term "Macedonia". I don't question that. I agree, as I said.
The opponents of the agreement who don’t recognise what was gained have what is essentially a specific political culture that is foreign to me. I’ll be frank. What does this culture say? That compromise is by definition defeat, and that what we need to find is precisely where we made a compromise and were thus defeated.
They don’t understand that, in an international treaty and in an international compromise, what is being pursued is the greatest possible gains for each side, with the consensus of each side. We’re not carrying out an exercise as to what the best solution is. We are seeking the best possible solution negotiated with the other side, based on accomplished facts.
So it has to be made clear that we are solving problems and refuse to perpetuate them. This problem of maximalism, as we say in international relations – that ‘I will not compromise’ – is being fuelled by those who made unprincipled concessions and are now playing the tough guy.
I want someone to show me when previous governments asked for erga omnes with constitutional amendments. In other words, erga omnes internally, as well, and with changes to the constitution. When did we first hear this? When they found out we were going to conduct negotiations.
And what did they do after every stage in the negotiations? They increased the demands of the negotiations. And suddenly the language – which they had conceded in 1945 – became the bogeyman they could not accept.
Let me be clear. The worst thing certain circles are doing is making false accusations against us. In other words, they accepted exclusive internal use of the name "Republic of Macedonia" years ago.
Now they are criticizing us because the passports will say "North Macedonia" and "Macedonia" for citizenship or nationality.
I ask: let’s not make the agreement, but how do the citizens of this country travel abroad? With "Macedonian" passports. How are these citizens recognized internationally? As "Macedonians". And I ask you, with what passports do 1.5 million tourist from this country enter Greece every year? Tell me.
Do they not enter Greece with passports that say just "Macedonia"? In other words, the agreement creates accomplished facts and there were previously no accomplished facts? We corrected this situation. We made them "citizens of North Macedonia". Those of you who are criticizing the government have, over the past 30 years, accepted their entering the country with passports that say "Republic of Macedonia". Isn’t that the case? Or is it the case that those who don’t want to hear about "North Macedonia" and are playing the hard-line patriot aren’t the same people who await tourists and customers with passports that say "Republic of Macedonia" to spend money in their shops?
And why hasn't this bothered them over the past four decades? They don’t mind "Republic of Macedonia". They mind "Republic of North Macedonia" because it contains the term "Macedonia". Absurdity squared!
And I come to the topic of nationality. Haris Pamboukis solved the problem. In other words, there are times, as in mathematics, when a problem in social sciences and legal thought is solved by a brief text. I thank you personally [addressing Mr. Pamboukis].
Nash discovered the game theory – you may have seen the very good film ‘A Beautiful Mind’ – and won the Nobel Prize in mathematics. How long was the paper in which he set out the game theory? Five pages and a two-page bibliography. A very short text solved the matter.
So, what was solved? The matter that, since the Peace of Westphalia, we have been dealing with states or remains of empires that function as state entities.
And that nationality, like the German 'Staatsangehörigkeit', is not translated as 'εθνικότητα'. The German is much farther away; the German word that corresponds to nationality. It is state citizenship; belonging to a state.
So there is no such issue. But I have two questions to submit today. The critics of the agreement say that if you give citizenship, it automatically means ethnicity. Thus, as I hear it, they are saying they are equivalent. If you give nationality, you have given ethnicity. That these two things are necessarily the same.
Question: What do we call the Greek minority that is native to Albania? Do we call them Greek? What passports, what identity and what citizenship do they have? Tell me. What are the Greek Albanian MPs in Albania’s parliament called? What citizenship do they have? Albanian, to be frank. Otherwise, they could not be Albanian MPs. What ethnicity do they have?
If I hear the opposition correctly, I cannot say they are Greeks or of Greek origin. I should say that, since their citizenship is Albanian, since they sit in the Albanian parliament or vote in Albanian parliamentary elections, since they have Albanian citizenship, they are not Greeks.
In the name of a supposed great patriotism – that you great patriots supposedly conceded ethnicity through citizenship – do you know what you are doing? You are undermining Greek foreign policy’s ability to defend the Greek National Minority in Albania.
And I’ll ask a second question: What condition do you have to satisfy to become the Patriarch of Constantinople? You have to have Turkish citizenship. So as soon as the Patriarch takes Turkish citizenship he becomes a member of the Turkish nation and a Muslim? Or is there a difference between Turkish citizenship and what they call the ‘Genos’ [Group of common descent. In this case, the Greeks of Istanbul.].
Have you never heard the Patriarch talk about the Genos? What does the Genos of his citizenship mean? His passport, his identity?
The second accusation of betrayal: In the Prespes Agreement, they say, we recognized the "Macedonian" language. I knew of the UN agreement of 1977. I know a philologist who is trying to hide behind the sins of that time. [But the language] is on the UN’s official table of languages.
Open any book from 1977 on and it has the language "Macedonian" for our northern neighbours in the table of languages of Yugoslavia. Why did you not protest for so many years?
Mr. Papakonstantinos, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, raises a wonderful question in his book on the Skopje issue. Why, he asks, did we in Greece not protest on the grounds of irredentism, etc. against Yugoslavia, when it had a population of 22 or 23 million, a very strong army and designs on Greek Macedonia? Why were all of the people responsible at the time silent, only discovering the problem when it concerned a state that currently has a population of 1.6 million, has no army, and is signing to the effect that it has no territorial designs on Greece? Why didn’t they discover the problem back then?
The second argument I’m hearing regarding the language is that language equals nation. The most extreme Stalinists of the old Left said this. The most extreme said that language equals nation.
And I ask you: Are the American and British nations the same? The English, to limit the scope of the example. Are the New Zealand and Australian nations the same because they speak English?
And are the Scots and the Welsh other nations; the Welsh in particular, who have gained the right, through devolution, to have their own language? The Welsh do not speak English as an official language, as their first language. It isn’t their mother tongue. Their mother tongue is Welsh.
The New Zealanders speak English. Question: who belongs to the nation of Great Britain? New Zealand or the Welsh? If the relationship between language and nation is so absolute?
And I’ll tell you something else. What is the largest nation in history – with the longest continuous history? The seven Chinese kingdoms, which became six in the course of history. China, today the People’s Republic of China. What language do they speak in China? Chinese? No. Mandarin or Cantonese. They have a single writing system. Their calligraphic language.
And who else uses the same writing system as the Chinese? Everyone in the wider cultural circle of China. The Japanese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese.
So? It’s not that cut and dried. It is by no means absolute that language equals nation.
The next question. If you listen to what they are saying about the agreement, you get a very surprising impression regarding the names of products: What is this impression? That, until now, the products of our northern neighbour circulated under the name North Alaska, and now, through the agreement, we risk seeing products of "North Macedonia", of "Macedonia".
In other words, we are hearing fabrications that have nothing to do with the historical reality.
The products of our northern neighbour circulated not only under the commercial name "Macedonia", but also as "Made in Macedonia", "Product of Macedonia". And this is stopping.
With regard to where the products are from, starting on the day after the implementation of the agreement – if you read the agreement carefully – it says that all institutions and such things will have "North Macedonia" in front of them.
And suddenly, the people who weren’t bothered by the circulation of "Macedonian" products will be bothered because it will say "North Macedonia" – or I don’t know what language it will say it in.
And second, we raised the other issues in order to resolve them.
We had the pleasure of working with serious people and professors from northern Greece, and we took inventory of the companies: there were 3,500 companies. If we didn’t want a solution, we could say what I am hearing: Let’s first resolve the issue regarding companies. How long would we need for each company? Two months? Six months? A year? 3,500 companies. For how many centuries would we have this problem?
Or we can say that the European Union and the UN, together with the experts from the two states, will settle the problem. It’s as if we have something to fear from European law. Aren't we the ones with better knowledge of European law? In international relations, this is called structural power, which we have in this case.
They also say we gave them NATO and the European Union. Let me explain. They want to join NATO and the European Union, and we capitalized on this mechanism to make a good agreement.
Were we to give them nothing until the end of the whole process of ratifying the agreement? A wonderful idea, just like our calling them "North Alaska". I agree with you completely.
How was Zaev to win his referendum? Saying what? That he bought a ‘pig in a poke’ from Greece? He’ll change the country’s name, hold a referendum on the name change, change the constitution – as we requested – and then we look at him sweetly and say, “we’ll see what we’re going to do with you.”
In other words, if you were Zaev, would you agree to such a negotiation? I also say this for my friend Angelos Syrigos.
Conversely, we introduced what we call, when making an agreement in international relations, a choreography. What we’ll take and what we’ll give. We gave them the invitation to join NATO, and we set a condition. Behold the condition that has our critics worried that, in the end, our northern neighbour will join NATO under some other name – I don’t know which one; fYROM.
The condition is that they have to make the application under the name given by the agreement. In other words, "North Macedonia". Listen carefully: The country is called fYROM internationally. They call themselves "Republic of Macedonia" and the application to NATO is under the name "North Macedonia".
This means cancellation of the application they made in 2008 to join under their provisional name, as fYROM. That application was voided. It doesn’t exist. There is the current application. And they cannot join NATO unless they make the constitutional changes. Why? Because they will accede to NATO under the name "North Macedonia" There is yesterday’s letter from the Prime Minister of our neighbouring country to the Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Stoltenberg, regarding the implementation of one of the elements of the agreement, which says they will join under the name provided for in article 1, such and such a paragraph, of the agreement. In other words, "North Macedonia".
What fabrications are these – destructive fabrications – regarding what will happen to us? If they don’t change the name, the previous application has been voided and the current application is not valid, because they have said they will join under the name "North Macedonia" before we even ratify this agreement.
Can you see how much more pressing and difficult the issues they're talking about are?
I want to highlight one more point. I have a concern as Minister of Foreign Affairs. The opposition often seems not to understand what the country’s real geopolitical problems are. They act like the country is on its way down, heading for a civil war.
Today I heard about terrible, nightmarish scenes that will be played out in Macedonia, as if our country were at risk from an honest compromise with a small state that is not running into Turkey’s embrace. In other words, are we not running a risk if Turkey surrounds us like a pincer? Are we not at risk with Turkey training the armies of all our northern neighbours and opening military bases to our north?
Conversely, are we at risk if we have good relations with our neighbours? Because our having good relations means that we aren’t going to go to war with them, we aren’t going to encroach upon them, we don’t want to break them up.
It seems this isn’t being understood: that there are two major risks to our north in this neighbourhood. One is our north’s coming under Turkish control. A friend of mine, a very good pollster, wrote to me the other day that “I travelled from southern Serbia to the Greek border, and what I saw depressed me. I saw the Turkish projects and the Turkish imams who have ensconced themselves in the minarets all along the route.” Doesn’t this concern us?
I apologize to Ahmeti for saying this publicly. Ahmeti is a major leader in our northern neighbour and he said to me, “Nikos, don’t put it off any longer. An attempt is being made by various sides – through the purchasing of newspapers, minarets, TV channels, people, websites – to convert low-intensity Albanian nationalism in our country into Muslim fundamentalism.”
Do you think history marches in place, waiting for some people to realise that we have to resolve our problems through a good compromise? Do you think Greece has anything to gain from this state’s being taken over by fanatical Islamists? Or have you not noticed what is happening in the region? Or have you not realised that we are facing changes if we let things develop without intervening and influencing developments in a peaceful direction that will stop this kind of fundamentalism from developing.
And I want to tell you something else. Emerging from the crisis – which was not the current government’s fault – Greece needs to have an environment it can draw with it onto a course of growth.
And unfortunately, to the south we have wars in Libya. On the other side we have a difficult neighbourhood – this isn’t the time for me to go into this. We have Turkey. We have the wars in the Middle East. And the only natural space of growth for us is the Balkans.
Do we want growth? Do we want to emerge from the situation we are in? Do we want Greek Macedonia and Thessaloniki to become the centre of this whole system of growth, or not?
There is another accusation being levelled. Many people are accusing Greece of rushing to resolve the issue. I heard the head of the main opposition party say, "Let it go for two or three years, and we’ll see". We’ve been saying “we’ll see” since 1992.
Do you know what I think? Honestly, I think there are forces in Greece who thrive on the non-solution of problems; who thrive politically on problems. Do you know what they remind me of? Someone saying, let the house burn down so I can accuse my neighbours of arson. But I won’t let my house burn down, even if it means I can’t blame anyone.
And do you know what else they remind me of when we exercise a proactive foreign policy and solve problems? They are like people who, their house having been saved from flames, blame the fire service for getting water in their house. That’s what they are saying to us. Don’t put out the fire, because it will ruin the parquet floors. That’s not how it works.
First of all, it is nonsense to think that we were hasty in solving the problem. All of the necessary actions were taken soberly and calmly.
If they think it is sober and calm to put off solving the problem, they are essentially against any solution, and it isn’t this solution, per se, that bothers them. They don’t want solutions in general, because they thrive on unsolved problems.
And the longer Greece does not solve its problems with its northern neighbours, the longer it will be allowing others to intervene and shift power relations and pressure our country. And these others are forces more powerful than fYROM; forces with other plans for the region.
Taking the Prespes Agreement as part of a more general framework, shouldn’t they tell us what kind of foreign policy they want? Should it be a proactive foreign policy, like ours, or passive, like the one they want: inactive and on standby? Should it be peaceful and democratic, or should it make battle cries.
And what is their outlook on Greece’s role in today’s world? Is it a role with an agenda of our own – an autonomous and independent role that respects history and our people – or is it a policy that is interested only in intra-party problems?
Is it a courageous and bold policy, or a fearful and cowardly policy? Including through various announcements in recent days, I have shown that I will have nothing to do with fearful and cowardly foreign policies. As long as I believe in our country’s greatness and capabilities, I have no fear.
Therefore, should foreign policy take initiatives, as we believe, or be subject to the choices of third parties?
And allow me to make a clarification regarding the battle cries I mentioned. Someone said to me, we don’t have irredentism like they do. At no demonstration in Skopje did I hear the chants I heard at some demonstrations in Greece. Isn't “bring the guns so we can take Skopje” irredentist? Doesn’t it target specific territory and say you mean to claim it via aggression?
There were normal, everyday people at the protests, and they had every right to express their concerns. But why weren’t these irredentist chants condemned by the other political forces? Because these forces were supporting them?
Imagine a demonstration taking place in Turkey, in Istanbul, and the crowd chanting, “bring us the guns so we can take Thessaloniki.” What would we say to that? The Turks are a peaceful people; they have no designs on Greek territory, no irredentism. The Turks don’t say things like this. But Greeks did – just so we’re clear.
I know personally that often in life, but with great intensity in foreign policy, if you do nothing – inertia – you have a very good chance of not making any enemies or opening any new fronts.
A foreign policy that does nothing is popular with outsiders and tolerated within the country. So of course I’m not surprised and don’t complain when, if you are active, when you want progressive frameworks in foreign policy, you irritate those who have something to gain from our country’s being inactive; from a situation that doesn’t change.
It is equally apparent that when you solve problems, you irritate those people who only know how to create problems and who thrive on them.
So I say again, in the politics of this land, with regard to foreign policy, there are two schools of thought on the Skopje issue. That of propagation and perpetuation of problems and the inertia that leaves everyone else free to act to the detriment of our country, as long as they themselves aren’t bothered. These are the people who want us to be prisoners of history; defeated without a battle.
On the other hand, there are those among whom I include myself and the government: We who want to resolve problems creatively and positively; who endeavour to overcome negative situations and inertia; who learn creatively from history and have our eyes on the future.
We don’t want to win at anyone’s cost. We want to win in the future. Some people specialize in creating and perpetuating problems in life. We specialize in solving problems. They wash their hands of situations, leading the country – as we have seen – into misery, scorn, crises.
We take matters into our hands. Cutting the Gordian knots that are holding our country prisoner. Opening roads in Greece. To me, they are frightened cowards. We are historically responsible and optimistic.
And, as I often say, history is a school, not a prison. I will not go back to prison. I want to see the future.
Thank you very much.