Vucic: I am prepared for difficult decisions, but they must be a compromise (RTS)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that he is not optimistic that there will be a final solution for Kosovo. The Republic of Palau is the 13th state that withdrew recognition of Kosovo’s independence and this republic’s President is visiting Belgrade, where he will meet with Vucic. The Serbian President says that it is difficult to establish the exact number of states that recognized independence of Kosovo because, he underlines, there had been various manipulations in the past period. “We are doing our job. I am afraid of the euphoria here and of the fact that we think that we have resolved all problems. Let us slowly resolve them. The result is that we are fighting and trying to achieve a better initial position for Serbia than what it was. We are doing our job responsibly and seriously. I ask citizens not to think that because of this the situation regarding Kosovo is much easier. You must also have in mind the interests of the Albanians and the interests of the great powers that are quite opposed,” Vucic said. Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said yesterday that exchange of territories is the best solution for progress towards the EU and NATO and that such plan has the support of the US, EU and Russia. Vucic points out that first it is necessary to resolve some more simple solutions. “It is not unknown that it is important to resolve the Kosovo issue in a compromise manner, because it is of crucial significance for the future of our nation, regardless of how loose it sounds and how much they use it for attacks on me. But, what are we talking about when we have taxes? That anti-civilizational measure. They are putting flags on shelves, so citizens would not be buying a Serbian product. For them ‘smoki’ has an ethnic affiliation, which is not happening in a single country in the world, but it is happening in a territory that is controlled by Pristina. That is why when we have good news such as the one by Palau, we need to be realistic, serious and responsible,” said Vucic. He says that he is prepared for difficult decisions, but that they need to be a compromise.
Dacic: Security Council to discuss Kosovo in February (TV Prva/Beta)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said on Sunday that the next session of the UN Security Council was scheduled to take place in February. Kosovo is on its agenda, Dacic told TV Prva.
He added that Equatorial Guinea would be chairing the session, expected to take place on 7 February. The foreign minister said that EU High Representative Federica Mogherini’s view was that any solution for Kosovo had to be presented to the Security Council. “What has been done so far does not need to be discussed before the Security Council, but any attempt at a durable solution will bring the matter back to the Council, as it is only logical to replace the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 with another in that case,” Dacic said. The Serbian minister repeated that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had written to Mogherini, asking her to inform him about the status of the talks, and that she did not respond right away, but later, saying that the EU respected Russia’s role in the process. “It is good to know that friendly states, too, Russia and China, will have important roles to play,” Dacic said. The minister explained it did not mean that the format of the Belgrade-Pristina talks would change, but if it turned out that it might have a positive effect, it was possible to involve everyone in terms of organization.
“The U.S. has been in since the beginning, but Russia has not; this is not good, and it is something we have been very critical of, but it was Serbia that asked for the dialog to be moved to Brussels. That was a bad decision, because friendly states are not participating,” Dacic said.
Republic of Palau suspends recognition of Kosovo (Tanjug/RTS)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said today that the Republic of Palau is the thirteenth country that has decided to suspend its decision on the recognition of the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo. At a joint press conference of Dacic and President of the Republic of Palau Thomas Remengesau Jr., a note was issued stating that the Republic of Palau believes that it should support the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina in the future, with EU mediation, rather than defining the status of Kosovo before the end of the dialogue. Dacic stated that Palau is the thirteenth country to review its position on accepting the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo, the third from the Pacific region, and added that we are close to the situation where less than half of the members of the United Nations recognize that independence.
The Minister said he thinks that it is possible that 101 countries recognized Kosovo, which is less than a half of the members of the UN, and not 116 countries, as Pristina is claiming. This is a help to end the dialogue with a compromise, Dacic said, and said that he wants the dialogue to continue, but that he also expects the taxes to be abolished. Remengesau Jr. said that his country knows little about the situation in this part of the world, but it is clear that the situation with Kosovo is seeking dialogue and understanding, because, as he explained, he does not want the same to happen in his country and region, on the islands.
Brnabic: Serbia remains reliable partner to Brussels (Beta)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said that our country remains deeply committed to European integration and is a reliable partner to Brussels, regardless of the challenges that the EU is facing, this year, 3 billion Euros of foreign direct investments is expected. At the sixth plenary session of the National Convention on the EU, Brnabic estimated that these investments show that Serbia is perceived as a stable business environment and that they are a confirmation of the fact that the greatest results have been achieved in economic reforms. This year will be a year of enormous challenges for the EU, such as the issue of Brexit and the holding of elections, she said, adding that this would probably mean less interest in enlargement, but Serbia must nevertheless continue to insist on reforms and their implementation. She pointed out that the most important political issue of Serbia is the relationship with Pristina, which, as she said, must be solved for our own sake, and not because someone conditions us to do so. The Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi stressed that the community will have as a priority the accession of new members. I am encouraging Serbia to remain ambitious and dedicated to the European integration, and the EU will do its part, Fabrizi said. He assessed that the Balkans is moving towards the EU, adding that he expects this job to continue this year, but also noted that EU accession does not happen overnight, but the energy of the entire society is needed.
Serbian Minister for European Integration Jadranka Joksimovic pointed out that the latest public opinion survey in December shows stable EU support. Most citizens show a mature, rational approach to the EU and the accession process, Joksimovic assessed.
Bajatovic: TurkStream stretch to start operating by April 2020 (RTS)
Srbijagas CEO Dusan Bajatovic said Monday the construction of a Serbian stretch of the TurkStream gas pipeline should begin in March and that the works were expected to be completed on 15 December this year. The trunk pipeline will be fully operational by April 2020, Bajatovic told the RTS morning news. “If everything is all right, we will start working in the period between 15 and 31 March, and everything is ready for what Russian President Vladimir Putin requested, as well as for what Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic agreed and what the Energy Agency documentation says,” Bajatovic said. He said the Serbian stretch of the pipeline would be built by the Serbian-Russian joint stock company Gastrans. “Gastrans will build the gas interconnector pipeline from Bulgaria to Hungary with three exit points for the needs of the Serbian market and the needs of Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The entry point is at the Bulgarian border in the vicinity of Zajecar and the route is very similar to the South Stream route,” he said.
Komsic: Previous decisions on NATO integration must be respected; Vucic is undermining his previous calls for reconciliation and cooperation (Oslobodjenje)
Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Zeljko Komsic commented a visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Belgrade and his meeting with Chairman of the Presidency of B&H Milorad Dodik, and he told the daily that SNSD and Republika Srpska (RS) might have change their stance on the NATO integration process, but the rest of the country is not going to allow those decisions to be ignored just because someone changed their opinion. “What was signed previously must be respected. When we are talking about the RS political stances on NATO, in the context of previously adopted decisions signed by SNSD officials, I would simply say it is not Serb-like to break a promise” said Komsic. Asked why Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic felt compelled to thank Putin for Russian veto on UN Srebrenica Genocide Resolution, Komsic said he does not know if Vucic has better things to discuss with the Russian President, but he believes that such statement cancels many others in which he called for reconciliation and cooperation in the region. “Mister Vucic should apologize to the victims of genocide, but also to the Serb people in B&H he keeps calling genocidal on his own, because nobody serious in B&H does that,” he concluded.
NATO HQ in Brussels say B&H’s next moves on NATO path fall solely onto its officials (N1)
Chairman of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik attended a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Belgrade, during which he complained to Putin that Bosniak officials conditioned appointment of the Chairman of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) with Dodik’s approval of the Annual National Program (ANP) of B&H. This program is a precondition for activation of the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for NATO accession. Representatives of NATO Headquarters (HQ) in Brussels stated for N1 that this matter solely falls onto the officials in B&H and they should decide on what their next moves will be. Federation of B&H officials stated NATO and EU integration as their top foreign policy goals, while RS officials insist on this entity’s military neutrality. NATO HQ in Brussels called upon B&H officials on December 5, 2018 to submit the country’s ANP as soon as possible. Since then, ANP was sent to the B&H CoM in form of a draft, but was not considered yet. “Last December, foreign ministers of NATO Member States agreed that the Alliance is ready to accept submission of B&H’s ANP. This could include cooperation in activities which cover political, economic and reforms in sector of defense,” reads the statement issued by NATO HQ. Experts in B&H assessed that if MAP ought to be activated for B&H, and with B&H’s maximum effort, it would take at least six years for B&H to fulfill conditions for joining NATO. Registration of prospective military property onto the state still remains a priority for B&H officials and NATO representatives in B&H confirmed that this process must be concluded.
Radoncic: Information about SDA reaching agreement with SDP and DF is true; SBB B&H will end talks on formation of authorities and leave ruling coalition (Face TV)
SBB B&H leader Fahrudin Radoncic spoke about the formation of cantonal authorities, as well as the formation of B&H and the Federation of B&H authorities. He also spoke about B&H’s path to join NATO. Asked to comment on the formation of the authorities in B&H, Radoncic said that after successful formation of the authorities in Sarajevo Canton (SC) and Una-Sana Canton (USC), SDP and DF as the two strongest parties in ‘BH Bloc’ started moving towards SDA. He dismissed allegations that SBB B&H is trying to undermine ‘BH Bloc’ and move HDZ B&H away from SDA with intentions to form a coalition between SBB B&H and SDA. He reminded that SBB B&H rejected any possibility of cooperation with SDA after the 2018 general elections due to bad experience in the past, adding that the formation of the authorities in Tuzla Canton (TC) and Zenica-Doboj Canton (ZDC) where SDP has assumed the leadership in talks is in a standstill while recent information about SDA reaching an agreement with SDP and DF is “absolutely true”. He claims that he rejected offers to join such coalition with SDA, SDP and DF and stated: “As responsible people who do not want to cheat our constituency, I gratefully rejected (those offers). I think this is normal and we should not cause any drama if SDA, SDP and DF want to form a strong coalition which will lead the country in the next four years,” He explained that both SDA and SDP made direct and indirect offers to SBB B&H but SBB B&H does not want to be used as a leverage in talks between SDA and SDP, meaning that SDA should not threaten to form a coalition with SBB B&H if SDP does not meet SDA’s demands and vice versa. He underlined that SBB B&H is too strong to be abused in such manner and B&H and the Federation of B&H should not be left without strong opposition parties. He deems that SDA and its leader Bakir Izetbegovic have been in charge of alleged pro-B&H bloc for eight years but B&H has failed to make progress on the path to join the EU and NATO within the country are increasing. He expressed expectations that the Federation of B&H government will be formed by the end of February and said out that outgoing ministers from SBB B&H will step down as soon as the agreement on the formation of the new Federation of B&H Government is reached. He stressed that he is sincerely in favor of SDA, HDZ B&H, SDP and DF reaching an agreement and forming the Federation of B&H government by the end of February. Radoncic claims that DF has no reason not to support and join a coalition with SDA and SDP, especially because SDA played a key role in DF leader Zeljko Komsic’s victory in the elections for Croat member of the Presidency of B&H. According to Radoncic, he is unsure about success and longevity of the new Federation of B&H Government because SBB B&H and other parties, including SDP and DF, have bad experience from cooperation with SDA. He went on about how SDA urged SBB B&H to join the ruling coalition after DF left in 2014 with promises of efforts to make progress only for him to be put on a trial with rigged indictment shortly after. He dismissed allegations coming from SDA about SBB B&H joining the ruling coalition in 2014 in order to prevent his prosecution and said that such allegations appeared valid until he was acquitted of all charges.
According to Radoncic, ‘BH Bloc’, SBB B&H and HDZ B&H do not have sufficient support in the Federation of B&H Parliament to form the Federation of B&H Government without SDA. However, he stated that SDA, HDZ B&H, SBB B&H, PDA and A-SDA can easily secure support of parliamentary majority. He pointed out that he is not particularly interested in the post of the Minister of Security of B&H, namely because he already occupied this post and he does not want to cooperate with SDA again. Radoncic argued that the formation of cantonal authorities was supposed to be the confirmation of legitimacy of both SBB B&H and ‘BH Bloc’ but SBB B&H has no reason to join a coalition with ‘BH Bloc’ in cantons if SDP and DF already agreed to cooperate with SDA at higher levels of the authorities. He stated that SBB B&H will end talks on the formation of the authorities, leave the ruling coalition in SC and start acting as an opposition party immediately after SDA, SDP and DF officially announce their coalition. He stressed that SBB B&H will act as “constructive opposition” and support everything that is in the best interest of the citizens. According to Radoncic, Izetbegovic and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik appear to be involved in huge dispute but this is not the case in reality and Izetbegovic and Dodik continue to hold meetings, the latest of which took place recently in Istocno Sarajevo and they discussed the formation of the authorities at B&H. Commenting on B&H’s path to join NATO, Radoncic reminded that SBB B&H gave full support to Komsic and Bosniak member of the Presidency of B&H Sefik Dzaferovic in their refusal to approve the appointment of SNSD’s Zoran Tegeltija as the Chair-designate of the Council of Ministers of B&H (CoM) until B&H submits its first National Annual Program as a part of NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP). He stated that he does not care if these conditions represent a blackmail because NATO helped stop genocide against Bosniaks and war in B&H and the Federation of B&H must not stop moving forward on the path to join the EU and NATO.
Dodik: At upcoming meeting with EU leaders in Brussels, B&H Presidency will be under burden of question as to why authorities at B&H level have not been formed yet (ATV)
Chairman of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik was quoted as saying on Sunday that it is yet to be seen what kind of plans the EU has. “The EU is an important factor, but I think it should be more and more excluded from the process of making political decisions in B&H,” Dodik said. He added that the upcoming visit to Brussels will be burdened by the failure to form new authorities at the level of B&H. According to Dodik, a new convocation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) could have been formed a long time ago. However, Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic and Croat member of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic did not want this issue to be put on the agenda, which violates the law despite the fact that they keep referring to some other laws, he explained. “The Bosniak political bloc in the Federation of B&H has not solved its situation and now they are conducting some kind of negotiations in order to form new authorities in the Federation of B&H and then at the level of the joint institutions as well. It is all very slow but it could have been faster” Dodik said. He added that he is aware of the fact that the failure to form new authorities represents an obstacle to serious talks with high-ranking officials of the EU. “We will have to explain things so we will not be able to ask for much. We will have to explain why there are no new authorities, what kind of relations we have, why the economic situation is like this, why the Presidency failed to abide by the law. Nevertheless, I will try to build partnership over there,” Dodik said.
Cvijanovic: Komsic’s statement on mandate of B&H CoM is unbelievable, CoM in technical mandate has no legitimacy, credibility or authority (TV1)
RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic told media in Banja Luka on Sunday that, after conducting the general elections, it is not normal not to implement the election results. Cvijanovic commented on the fact that Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina-based politicians are setting conditions for formation of the Council of Ministers (CoM) of B&H, particularly the statement of Croat member of B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic who said he has nothing against it if the current convocation of the CoM stays the same for another four years. In this regard, Cvijanovic assessed that Komsic’s such statement is unbelievable, adding that such CoM in technical mandate has no legitimacy, credibility or authority. Cvijanovic stressed that topics related to the European path of B&H will be discussed at the meeting in Brussels which will be held at the end of January, adding that it is implied that certain obligations should be fulfilled and that EU officials on several occasions stressed that they expect authorities at the B&H level to be formed soon, i.e. for the B&H CoM to be formed. “That CoM does not have any legitimacy, credibility, authority. I earlier said that it cannot assume any obligation and to have anyone in B&H and outside B&H believe that there is legitimacy there and that this is something that can be implemented. It is not normal to delay formation of authorities indefinitely. People sitting there know that they will go to other positions and I do not believe neither in their good intention nor in their good will to carry out or coordinate their activities with other authority levels,” Cvijanovic underlined.
Pejcinovic Buric rejects MOST’s claims that she is working in Serbia’s interests (HRT)
The opposition MOST Party have accused the Croatian government, specifically the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign and European Affairs Minister, of working to the benefit of Serbia. On Friday Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric responded to accusations from MOST MP Nikola Grmoja, that together with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, she is working in Serbia’s interests. She noted that this kind of rhetoric was indicative of a complete lack of understanding as to how Croatian and EU institutions work. “These are truly harsh words, uncalled for words, especially in the context of what the Croatian Government and Foreign and European Affairs Ministry are doing with regard to monitoring negotiations with Serbia as well as with developing good relations with all of our neighbors, including Serbia. We are a government that is aware of the unresolved issues and their weight, but we are also aware that they must be resolved, through various forums, in Croatia’s interests,” Minister Pejcinovic Buric said. She concluded that with regard to relations with Serbia Croatia’s position was clear, Zagreb would be strict but fair, insisting that Belgrade meet all of the criteria. Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic strongly rejected Grmoja’s claims; “As it is Serbia is not making any serious progress towards membership, in fact, they are basically at a standstill. And for us now to further put ourselves on the line, and expose ourselves to criticism and possible sanctions, such as those that Slovenia received when it blocked Croatia … only a political moron or someone who has no understanding of the situation could opt for this tactic. Either that or they have malicious intent.”
Zaev: Citizens won’t allow another authoritarianism (Nezavisen vesnik)
Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in an interview for Civil Media said that he believed in reconciliation, sharing his optimism regarding the outcome of current political processes.
While saying it’s a good thing that President Gjorge Ivanov’s term is ending because Macedonia needs a president who supports the country on its way to prosperity, Zaev pledged that SDSM’s candidate to run for office will be a highly responsible person working towards Euro-Atlantic integration. Describing the Prespa Agreement as historic, he pointed out that Macedonia has managed to leave behind a decade of irresponsible rule and corruption permeating all its segments. “From a ‘captured state’,” PM Zaev noted, “the country has made a leap that the entire Western world has recognized; implemented reforms to revitalize democracy and restore people’s trust in institutions and laid the groundwork for economic growth and development.”
The country has been responsible in recognizing its geostrategic position, as well, and made a commitment to contribute to regional stability. “This is a point of no return,” Zaev said. “Any attempt to stop these processes and impede the country’s progress will be unsuccessful because citizens won’t let authoritarianism happen ever again. “We should also bear in mind we’re in a region of fragile stability.” Commenting on laws published in the Official Gazette without the signature of President Ivanov, Zaev said it was fully constitutional, an act of responsibility and necessity that removed the President’s obstructions to parliamentary democracy. “As Article 51 of the Constitution states,” Zaev said, “everyone is equal before the Constitution and the laws, including the President of the country.” “Publishing the laws put an end to a tendency that a ceremonial act by the President could block the entire system. The President is not a legislative body or a Constitutional Court,” Zaev noted in the interview.
Macedonian remains the only official language throughout the whole territory (Meta)
The Law on Languages promotes the rights of all minority communities and does not foresee new employment. The Macedonian language with the Cyrillic alphabet remains the only official language throughout the whole territory of the Republic of Macedonia and its international relations, said the Government in today’s statement regarding fake news and untruths about the application of the Law on the Use of Languages. Therefore, they point out that the alleged additional burden to the budget and new employment are false and baseless and are just excuses and obstructions made from the opposition. “The truth is that the Agency for the Use of Languages and the Inspectorate for the Use of Languages, as stipulated by the Law and as defined by the political agreement for its adoption, will be staffed by existing human resources in ministries, agencies and secretariats. There will be no need for new employment,” reads a press release from the government’s press service. The implementation of the legal provisions, as the government points out, is an obligation of all the institutions. “It is a manipulative and wrong to claim that the Agency for the Use of Languages, spoken by at least 20% of the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia with legal representatives will raise the Albanian language above all other languages in the Republic of Macedonia. The truth is something completely different, that is, the work of the Agency will apply in all languages,” the government said. The agency, the government explains, will serve the municipalities and other institutions in those settlements where the majority of citizens are Macedonians. In cases where a citizen is Albanian, Roma, Bosniak, Serbian, Turkish, Roma or from another ethnic community and needs a certain document in another language, in addition to the Macedonian language, then the Central Agency will meet those citizens and provide a service in their mother tongue that they understand.
There is no “Pact against Serbia” even though Serbian tabloid says there is (Meta)
Serbian tabloid Alo, announced the start of the Central European Initiative Summit in Zagreb and said that discussions concerning the establishment of a pact would take place, which became the main topic in the Balkan media, following statements by Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Enver Hoxhaj for the Croatian newspaper Vecernji List. This comes only one day after Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, summoned by MP Ivan Stojiljkovic, categorically denied that there were any talks in which he was involved, for a pact between Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia and Kosovo against Serbia. In the article by Alo under the headline “They are preparing to do us evil, Edi Rama goes to Zagreb and signs a document that threatens to destroy Serbia,” the tabloid refers to the Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji List. It says that according to speculation, on the sidelines of the summit, one of the topics between the prime ministers of Croatia and Macedonia, was a pact against Serbia. The topic was raised by Enver Hoxhaj via Croatian newspaper Vecernji List. However, on Thursday on Montenegrin TV Antenna 5 he denied that he mentioned the formation of a pact against Serbia at all. “I have never said anything about creating a regional pact against Serbia” Hoxhaj said. He said he stood behind everything else he said in Vecernji list, such as Serbia’s interference in undermining the statehood of Kosovo and internal issues of Montenegro and Macedonia. Answering questions from journalists’ Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said at a press conference on Sunday that the issue opened by Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Enver Hoxhaj and talks on a pact against Serbia in Macedonia, Croatia, Kosovo and Montenegro had been answered by him and that he was cutting himself out of these talks, because they did not exist. “I want to cut myself out from these conversations, they never happened. None of us asked for something like this, nor did we discuss such a matter. I only urge both Kosovo and Serbia to build friendship through dialogue,” said Zaev. However, despite the denials on Sunday, which Montenegrin foreign ministry joined in on, Serbian tabloid Alo in a short article reiterated the agreement, and the signing of a pact, even though main figures said that they had never discussed such a thing. The article in Jutarnji List, which Alo refers to, is not from that newspaper, but was published by the Croatian news agency Hina, as stated in Jutarnji.
Major clashes during Macedonia name rally in Athens (Republika)
Tens of thousands of Greek protesters descended to downtown Athens today to rally against the name deal for Macedonia which Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras negotiated with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Protesters attempted to push through the police lines and enter the Parliament building, while the police responded with unprecedented amounts of tear gas. At least a dozen people were injured in the fighting which ensued. Several journalists covering the protest were also injured, allegedly attacked by nationalist Greek protesters from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. Even the rain did not disperse the crowd, which, fought with the police for several hours. It’s estimated that 60.000 people attended the rally, with hundreds of buses bringing protesters from across the country. The proposal to ratify the agreement is expected to be put before the full Parliament late next week. Tsipras already narrowly survived a vote of no confidence and he hopes to ratify the agreement by a similar majority of 1 to 2 votes. Afterwards, the Parliament will also have to ratify Macedonia’s membership into NATO, a move which Greece has refused to do since 2008. Greece was opposed to Macedonia’s independence and insists that the small nation represents a threat to its territorial integrity.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Prespes: The rally, the raw numbers, and the day after (ekathimerini.com, by Tom Ellis, 21 January 2019)
As Greece gets ready for a political showdown this week over the Prespes agreement, we are witnessing a relentless, often cynical, maneuvering between parties, their leaders and even individual deputies. What is at stake is not only the ratification of the deal between Athens and Skopje, but also the potential redrawing of the domestic political map. Greek society and the country’s political world are deeply divided. The public is clearly against the deal, with up to 70% opposed to it. The tens of thousands that demonstrated in Sunday’s rally in Athens, showed once more that sentiments run high. The violence, which the Prime Minister blamed on extremists, while the opposition leader criticized the extended use of tear gas and called for an investigation to find out who was responsible, is indicative of the slippery slope the country is facing in the months leading to the national elections. Despite the voices of reason calling for a minimum of cooperation and looking for common ground, Alexis Tsipras and Kyriakos Mitsotakis are in an all out war. The leftist Prime Minister is attempting to use the Prespes agreement to create a broad “progressive” coalition that extends well beyond SYRIZA, while the conservative opposition leader, who is leading in the polls, is trying to keep his party united (on the name issue there are differing approaches) and win the next elections with an absolute majority. With respect to the Prespes deal itself, the rare confluence of shrewd political considerations with deeply held feelings about one’s history, makes for an explosive mix and ensures a heated debate in parliament. As for the raw numbers, despite the public opposition, the passage of the Prespes agreement in the 300 member Greek Parliament should be considered a done deal. In the most plausible senario 153 deputies will support the deal in the vote expected later in the week. The governing SYRIZA has 145 deputies, and one should add to those the positive votes of Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, centrist To Potami deputies Stavros Theodorakis, Spyros Lykoudis and Giorgos Mavrotas, former To Potami MP Spiros Danellis, and ANEL MP Thanasis Papachristopoulos. This leads to a majority of 151. Last night one more positive vote was announced, that of Thanasis Theocharopoulos, leader of Democratic Left which untill now was part of the Movement for Change coalition, from which he was ejected as a result of his decision to support the deal. Finally, Citizens Security Deputy Minister Katerina Papacosta, a former member of New Democracy, is expected to also vote for the agreement, but has not officially said so. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Prespes agreement is expected to pass, with 152 or 153 votes. Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who is not a member of parliament and who has worked tirelessly on the issue, both as foreign minister and PM, has gone public in support of the deal. Despite the discomfort this move created in the leadership of the Movement for Change, doing otherwise would have made him look inconsistent. As he is not voting, the damage is seen as limited, although the symbolism does not help the Movement for Change approach. To the extent that Greece’s transatlantic partners and allies want to see the agreement implemented, they should feel relief. Of course, nothing is done until the “fat lady sings”, but one can clearly hear her whispering the notes in the corridors of the Greek Parliament. Still, for the astute observer of Greek politics and the foreign officials and analysts who value the crucial role of Greece as an anchor of stability in the Balkans – being by far the strongest country in this region, both militarily and economically, despite the crisis of the last eight years – the deep divisions the issue has created in the society and the political world, are a cause for concern and could spell trouble in the future. Dealing with such a volatile landscape calls for delicate moves by all.