Gjorge Ivanov for To Vima: Greece Encouraged Migrants to Use Illegal Passages

The migrant crisis offers many opportunities for the institutions in the two neighboring countries to start cooperating. Greek public should know that the closure of the Balkan corridor is not to the detriment of Greece, but on the contrary – to its benefit. The Republic of Macedonia, as a non-­EU country and not a final destination of asylum seekers, was never part of the decision to limit the movement of anyone. Athens being excluded from some initiatives was never our call and we never supported such a move, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov says in an interview with the Greek newspaper To Vima.

Greece allowed the establishment of improvised camps on the very border line with the Republic of Macedonia, which in turn encouraged migrants to use illegal crossings, thus directly jeopardizing our national security. A confirmation of this is the March 14 incident, when around 2500 persons were illegally ushered into Macedonian territory.

The tragedy is that we see this practice continuing. In spite of the closed corridor, every night we register over 100 attempts for illegal entry in the Republic of Macedonia. It appears that certain politicians in Greece fail to grasp the seriousness of security risks brought about by this crisis. There are indications already that part of the arrested and suspects for terrorist attacks used exactly the Balkan route, the Preisdent Gjorge Ivanov adds.

With the new Greek government it seemed that there is readiness to address the very essential necessity of establishing links that are very basic, although the process has a rather pompous name, given by the Greek side: “Confidence Building Measures.” Here we talk about cooperation among universities, on environmental issues, culture, border management, etc. If there was one “unilateral action” from our side in the past years, it was exactly this: doing everything possible to build bridges with Greek society even when the Greek government did everything possible to avoid and even undermine such cooperation.

And then, come all the many failed attempts to initiate a meeting with the current and the previous Greek President. It’s beyond any reason that the presidents of two neighboring countries, any two presidents now and in the past, have never had any meeting. When two countries have some disputes, those can be overcome only through dialogue and usually, the first steps are taken by the president or at least members of parliament, who should be above and beyond daily politicking. Amazingly, to this day, there was never a positive response from Athens that I meet the Greek president and we do not insist neither on the format, place and time of meeting or issues to be discussed. It would have been essential that we, as presidents, lead the way for the others in showing that through dialogue all differences can eventually be overcome. No problem has ever being resolved by ignoring it and avoiding communication. The migration crisis will not be resolved like this, nor the name issue. Egos and past aggressive policies should be buried for good and for the sake of the new generations and their prosperity we should address problems head ­on and not to run away from them. On March 25th, on the occasion of the Greek independence day celebration, for the second time I attended the diplomatic reception hosted by the Greek ambassador in Skopje. A reverse situation in Athens, it seems would be unthinkable for a long time. Actually, the next day, my Greek counterpart, the President Pavlopoulos, reacted “in kind” – by issuing yet another insulting statement on my country.

Asked about the reasons of the standstill in the negotiations on the name issue, the President Ivanov stated that he always was and will be ready for direct meetings with any Greek Politician.

"My meetings with the Prime Minister Tsipras have been encouraging. I am always ready, as I have been so far, to meet any politician or public figure from Greece. The imposed name difference has been burdening us all for two and a half decades. However, what has not been solved during all this time, cannot be solved overnight.

The thesis that Macedonia is now trying to use its role in the migration crisis to bargain its EU and NATO membership is ridiculous.

It is necessary to build trust and the right environment to resolve this issue. It is also necessary for all those involved in the resolution of this dispute to be realistic and dedicated to building trust. The reality is that the Republic of Macedonia is a sovereign and independent country, and that with imposed and unilateral solutions, it will be impossible to have a proper closure.

I only hope, and actually I am convinced, that most Greeks realize that the Republic of Macedonia is no enemy of their country, on the contrary, it’s a nation with which Greece shares much more, than it generally seems. I would argue, that when it comes to traditions, mentality, the zest for life of our citizens, perhaps makes us the closest two nations of all of our neighbors. If only enough politicians in Athens would have the courage to acknowledge this and couple it with the indisputable fact that a secure, stable, prosperous, country on its northern border, a member of NATO and the EU, is in Greece’s best strategic interests".

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