Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras during
the signing ceremony of the Prespa agreement, June 2018
The referendum in the Republic of North Macedonia on the approval of the Prespa Agreement, registered a strong majority of the YES, almost 94%, although this result was accompanied by a high percentage of abstention. In addition, what is happening in view of the debate in Parliament is indicative of the climate prevailing there and revealing of the factors that affect the whole process. The Agreement's content, in terms of naming and national identity, considered by some as unfavorable for the country, has created a negative reflection on a large part of its population, thus making it more vulnerable to nationalist propaganda. Respectively and inversely, the great abstention of the Albanian community from the referendum is indicative of ethnic polarization in the neighboring country and of a certain reluctance of the Albanian population to ratify the national identity by voting. Abstinence is ambiguous and composed of a variety of attitudes: indifference, underlying denial, underground negotiation.
On the other hand, the Greek people received the message that the heterogeneous nature of the agreement was in favor of Greece, which led to the diminishing and loss of mass in the rally of the "Macedonian guardsmen". The Agreement already had a positive impact on the struggle against the far-right, and now there are even more second thoughts as to the justification of extreme nationalist claims. A wider debate and fermentation of views on the agreement did not take place in Greece. A cautious approach has been observed, perhaps for reasons of non-interference within the other country, also showing a particular sense of mitigation, economy of moves and expectation. There has been some major turbulence in the governmental scheme after the resignation of Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, yet it does not seem to relate to the question of the Agreement. We are at a stage of recognizance.
The Prespa agreement was an important success because it solved a problem by common consensus, creating and facilitating good-neighborly relations and shared development in the European perspective, especially in our days of growing isolationism and the reinforcement of nationalist borders and fences. Although it was the final stage of a "lasting negotiation" starting with the 1995 Interim Agreement, however, as regards the method, it was an open process involving citizens, especially with regard to FYROM (agreeing to become North Macedonia), and it provided for several successive stages of approval and legal ratification. Suffice to fully comprehend and realize the right of citizens and peoples to express their dispositions and to assume their responsibilities at a certain point in the process. It is an accomplished process of democracy, a telic process, finalized in that it has a final purpose, a vision that permeates the modality at all times and is always already inspiring all its phases. The first obstacle does not put an end to them, and every one of them is of utmost importance. Nor is it contradictory for Zaev to move on to the next stage, considering that he has received the approval of active citizens in conditions of great abstention. Consequently, the process should recognize conveyed messages and meanings and integrate them into collective consultation.
Moreover, the balance of the solution is not due to an impossible power equation between the two states nor to an abstract application of the principles of international law. Balance lies in recognizing the obstinate and hard to resolve problem of identity conflict, at a time of "reversal of feelings" towards isolationism, national selfishness, elevation of frontiers and fences. An equilibrated agreement does not stimulate the crowds, and many movements nowadays are nationalistic. How many and which institutional guarantees can exist for a people or a community in order to trust their "adversary"? Which negotiating models can make up for decades of injuries in such a short time? The time of civilizations and the time of politics are different. Zaev managed to give space to the trans-national forces and Greece must continue with practical moves of further goodwill.