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Macedonia step closer to NATO and EU integration after approved name change by Greece

On the 25th of January, Greece’s parliament approved the historic name change agreement with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, changing the name into Republic of North Macedonia. The agreement ended a 27-year dispute over Macedonia’s name and paves the way for country’s NATO and EU integration.

Name change

On 12th of June, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, SDSM) announced a name deal with the Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Zaev promised the deal would preserve the Macedonian identity, while making a clear distinction to meet Greek demands. On the 30th of September 2018 a referendum took place in Macedonia on the name deal. The turnout was low and did not meet the required 50% which the referendum required. Only 36.8% of the Macedonians voted in the referendum, but 91% of them voted in favour of a name change. The referendum caused mixed feelings, but Prime Minister Zaev of the Social Democratic Union Macedonia (SDSM), which had campaigned in favour of a name change, claimed the victory. Main opposition conservatives VMRO-DPMNE as argue dteh low turnout was a sign that a majority of Macedonians are against the name change. Zaev stressed the name change was the only way to start integrating with NATO and the EU and was determined to continue.

After the referendum, two options occurred: to hold early general elections, or change the constitution in order to change the name. Zaev chose the last option and on 8th of October the government adopted a motion to change the constitution. The ruling coalition of SDSMA and Albanian parties succeeded in getting the support of nine opposition MPs in order to obtain the required majority in the parliament for constitutional change.

Greek approval

The Greek parliament approved the deal with 153 votes against 146 on the 25th of January. “North Macedonia was born today,” said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. In Greece the deal faced fierce opposition. According to a poll, 60% of the Greeks are against the deal. Thousands of people protested on the 20th of January, in run-up to the vote in parliament. The protests turned violent when as protesters clashed with the riot police in front of the parliament. Tsipras not only witnessed protests from the citizens, but also within the government and the parliament. Members of ruling Syriza received dead threats. Besides the threats, many MPs expressed their dissatisfactions. Tsipras lost his coalition partner, Independent Greeks, due to the deal, nevertheless most MPs of Independent Greeks voted in favour. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of opposition party New Democray said that if is he is elected Prime Minister he would block Macedonia EU accession and Giorgos Koumoutsakos, MP of New Democracy, said the deal was a stab in the soul of the nation.

International response

Russia was not supporting the name change from the beginning as PresidentPutin argued this is a clear sign of Western meddling in the Balkans, questioning the legitimacy of the name change process. Western countries were very supportive of the deal, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After the Greek approval, EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn called it a historic breakthrough and congratulated both leaders. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg tweeted that he is looking forward to the future Republic of North Macedonia joining NATO and President Jean-Claude Juncker and High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini reacted in a joint statement. They expressed the support of the EU and calls this agreement an example of reconciliation for Europe as a whole and will give a further boost to the European perspective of the region.

What’s next?

Macedonia is the first state in modern times (expect for Austria after the first world war in 1919) who is being forced to change it names. However, only the name of the country will change. The language will still be referred as Macedonian and the citizens will still be called Macedonians. In Macedonian the name will be Severna Makedonija and Greeks will referrer it as Voria Makedonia.

It will take some time until the name is formally declared. The name will be formally used when Macedonia informs the UN. After that, Greece need to ratified the NATO accessions deal which is expected within a few weeks.

Sources: Balkan insight, BBC, BBC II, The Guardian, The Guardian II, Washington Post

Photo: Flickr