Twenty-five years ago, Greece had an opportunity to resolve the problem of its relations with the newfangled state of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Emotional and narrowly partisan motivations averted a solution and created an oddly lingering problem, which most people believe did not benefit Greece.
Much has transpired on both sides since then. Our neighbouring state went through hell and high water. It confronted numerous crises and civil strife, and fell victim to nationalist crises, which were problematic and alienating even for the country’s population.
In recent years, precisely because the Gruevski regime failed to make good on promises of stability and prosperity, there was a mass population flight from the country.
Diplomatic sources say that over the past five years, 500,000 Slavic speakers – the most cultivated and educated of the generation – fled the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – and this threatens to upset demographic and social balances.
Until recently, the Albanian speakers were the majority only near Tetovo. Now, Slavic speakers are becoming a minority in the South as well.
This explains the rush of Skopje and international players for a rapid solution, and for Skopje’s admission to Nato and the EU.
It is a common conviction that FYROM, without the backing of international organisations, will fall into civil strife, be threatened with partition, and perhaps provide fertile ground for new clashes in the troubled Balkans, with all that this entails for Europe and Greece.
In one view, if FYROM becomes the black hole of the Balkans, parts of it will be claimed by Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania, and a large percentage of the Slavic-speakers in the south will seek refuge in Greece, creating a reverse refugee crisis from the north.
All who are familiar with events in FYROM say that in the South, from Monastir to Veles, residents have their gaze set on Greece, and insist that Greek is the best degree to make a career in the region.
Greece has many reasons to support the survival of the state of FYROM, instead of it being partitioned between neighbours who have longstanding irredentist aspirations.
This is all the more true now that there is in power an apparently moderate leadership group, which understands the dangers that threaten the cohesion and the very existence of FYROM, and which came to power by clashing with the nationalist and irredentist climate which Gruevski had imposed.
Greece now has an opportunity to solve, on good terms, the dispute with its neighbor.
Perhaps because the circumstances are particular, Greece can set its terms and demand that FYROM disavow its irredentist sentiments and all elements that express a territorial or other claim against Greece. Everything is a matter of negotiation and understanding the circumstances and balances, domestic and international.