Border. One of those things we can never imagine in a positive context. First comes the image of unpleasant bureaucracy, stamps, queueing, customs checks, security concerns … even fences.
For many Europeans borders belong to the past. Europe’s greatest achievement is to make them disappear. This is the essence of Europe whole, free and prosperous. It aspires mainly those left outside of Schengen.
For greek-macedonian relations – Border – meant a lot more over decades. From Athens, northern border was associated with mythological concern that the other side is conspiring to move the border down and claim Greek land. From Skopje, southern border was associated with unnecessary embargo and concern that a neighbour plots to create new borders and dismantle our country. Mistrust shaped our political relations.
However, businesses and people on both sides of the border seemed to overcome the troublesome political context. Companies moved to the north to invest in lucrative industries. Tourists moved to the south enjoying Greek hospitality, even in times of crisis.
The trend was set to undermine the borders until the massive migration crisis. Today, concerns from Ksios to Idomeni rise, as does the barrier at the border. A Greek friend puts it swiftly: ‘the only good thing about your fences is that we are all convinced you do not intend to dispute the border’. Ironically, he has a point. Why would one fence-off if one believes that this is not the right border?!
Our goal is a strategic alliance with Greece. We certainly are unsatisfied on EU and NATO. We clearly have opposed positions on the name issue and name issue alone. It goes down to a clash between a historical approach and human rights perspective. Still, whether Republic of Macedonia is in or outside the club our interests on pretty much everything else converge. Including on migration.
Legitimate question: why would you trust someone that spends money to potentially leave you with a mass of migrants?!
Self-preservation is an awkward instinct. Our nightmare is the same as yours: massive uncontrolled influx of migrants from the South and domino lock-up from the North. Hence, humanitarian crisis at home.
Many have an opinion on what we should do. Some believe is pay-back time and we should shut down the border with the same bluntness as Greece has done it over 20 years ago. Others suggest, it should be traded for progress on EU and NATO. Third suggest we should assist a Greek drop-off from Schengen.
Frankly, none of this is Macedonian interest. The first goes against a basic Christian principle, the second is naive and the third ruins our greatest European acquis. What’s in for us is a great opportunity to work together, bust trust and hope this investment in friendship will bring us ever closer.
Hard times are the best to test your relations. Take a chance.
Author: Nikola Poposki, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Macedonia
I Kathimerini (Greek: Η Καθημερινή, meaning “The Daily”) is a daily morning newspaper published in Athens.