One year ago, the government of Alexis Tsipras, with the support of Panos Kammenos, signed the controversial Prespa agreement, giving the small Balkan country north of Greece the name “North Macedonia” despite the strenuous objections of the vast majority of Greek people.
“The agreement sets the foundations for a new era,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had stated at the time, while he ignored the will of the overwhelming majority of the Greek people who protested in every corner of Greece. Protests against the name change even occurred in foreign cities across the globe where diaspora Greeks live.
It was not only the majority of Greeks who Tsipras had ignored. He and foreign minister Nikos Kotzias took it upon themselves to forge a deal with Skopje, completely disregarding all opposition parties, which were against the secret negotiations between the two sides from day one.
In a move seen as dictatorial by some, Tsipras did not discuss the crucial national issue with party leaders, as any democratic head of state would be expected to have done. Instead, his foreign minister negotiated for months with his Skopje counterpart without the consent of party leaders and the Greek people who simply desired to protect the Hellenistic heritage of the Macedonia region.
What Tsipras and his cabinet were accused of most often was not only giving away the name, but more importantly giving recognition to the so-called “Macedonian language,” a Slavic language which is for the most part a Bulgarian dialect.
In addition to this, the official recognizance of what Zaev called the “Macedonian nationality” opened up a can of worms, giving the Balkan country the right to claim the existence of a “Macedonian minority” in Greece’s ancient region of Macedonia.
The “North” that is left out
Although the Prespa Agreement dictates specifically that the name North Macedonia will be used erga omnes — inside and outside the country — beginning with the signing of the deal, top North Macedonian officials in practice have usually omitted the “North” part of the name.
Furthermore, merchants and growers of Macedonian products who have established a strong name brand recognition on the international market for decades, now have unfair competition from Macedonian-branded products coming from Greece’s northern neighbor.
Unsurprisingly, there already has been a case in which Chinese importers returned a large shipment of Macedonian wines, believing that they came from North Macedonia.
In addition, a food fair held in Germany in the Spring of 2019 even saw North Macedonians presenting such iconic Greek foods as moussaka as “Macedonian.” At the same time, the new country’s official tourism agency is running a campaign it calls “Timeless Macedonia.”
The Tsipras government has never once raised the issue with North Macedonian authorities since these violations of the name agreement were reported. And the first signs of irredentism appeared soon after the deal was signed, with a northern Greek NGO offering what they called “Macedonian language lessons to North Macedonian residents in Greece.”
Tsipras and Kammenos punished by the Greek people for Prespa
Although Tsipras bragged about the deal with Skopje, calling it a great national victory, many patriotic Greeks never stopped feeling betrayed by him and his junior coalition partner Kammenos. In January, when the agreement came up for ratification in the Greek parliament, Kammenos resigned from the post of defense minister.
However, the move meant nothing at the time, because it came far too late.
The Independent Greeks Party (ANEL) chief and defense minister who repeatedly threatened that he would overthrow the government over the Macedonia issue since January of 2018, chose to remain in his post for a few more months instead of taking his MPs and pulling out of the coalition.
Then, when a motion of censure against the government came before the parliament, Kammenos gave Tsipras his vote of trust, thus signaling the death of his political career.
The Prespa Agreement was passed by Greek Parliament with a slim majority: The 146 Syriza MPs voted in favor of it, and with the help of seven more votes from ANEL and Potami, the Agreement garnered 153 votes in the 300-seat House. A total of 146 lawmakers voted to oppose the deal, while while one simply voted “Present.”
The inevitable punishment for both politicians came almost one year later: In the May 26, 2019 European Parliament and local government elections, Syriza lost one million votes compared to the September 2015 national elections.
The ANEL Party only attracted 0.8 percent of the total vote, with Kammenos deciding a few days later to even decline to run in the July 7 national elections. The Prespa Agreement seems to have put an end to Kammenos’ political career.
Tsipras, the youngest prime minster Greece had ever had, also suffered a great loss. For him, it seemed to come as something totally unexpected. Perhaps he was thinking that Greeks would have forgotten the deal with Skopje, and by giving pensioners a bonus a couple of days before the elections, he’d come first in the polls.
He was wrong. Northern Greece, and Thessaloniki in particular, showed their discontent by giving the New Democracy Party a clear victory by almost 9.5 percentage points.
As for Nikos Kotzias, whom Tsipras praised as the architect of the agreement, he announced that he would not run in the 2019 national elections, claiming that he would like to concentrate on his academic career.
On the first anniversary of the Prespa Agreement, countless comments on social media show that a large number of Greeks view Alexis Tsipras as a traitor who sold out the ancient Greek region of Macedonia.
And as Greece’s northern neighbor continues to violate articles of the deal, it is very unlikely that these people are ever going to forget what they believe was a betrayal of their country.