Macedonia to be the North one

Historic name deal tables hopes that a 27-year-old dispute may be finally resolved, opening way to Europe and NATO

Photo: Ivailo Tsvetkov

After months of long and exhausting negotiations, Greece and Macedonia announced last Tuesday that they have finally reached a deal on the bitter 27-year-old name dispute. At a press conference in Skopje, Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev said that the two sides have agreed on the composite name 'Republic of North Macedonia'. “The chance is here and it must be seized, bravely, as this is the only patriotic way,” he said, adding that “with this solution we are strengthening Macedonian ethnic and cultural identity, once and for all”. In Athens, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras called the deal “historic”. “We have a good agreement that covers all the preconditions the Greek side had set,” he said, adding that the deal “secures the historic heritage of ancient Greek Macedonia”. Greece will ratify the deal in parliament only after Macedonia has made the necessary changes to its constitution, Tsipras said.

After months of long and exhausting negotiations, Greece and Macedonia announced last Tuesday that they have finally reached a deal on the bitter 27-year-old name dispute. At a press conference in Skopje, Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev said that the two sides have agreed on the composite name 'Republic of North Macedonia'. “The chance is here and it must be seized, bravely, as this is the only patriotic way,” he said, adding that “with this solution we are strengthening Macedonian ethnic and cultural identity, once and for all”.
In Athens, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras called the deal “historic”. “We have a good agreement that covers all the preconditions the Greek side had set,” he said, adding that the deal “secures the historic heritage of ancient Greek Macedonia”. Greece will ratify the deal in parliament only after Macedonia has made the necessary changes to its constitution, Tsipras said. The two PMs are expected to sign the agreement over the weekend, but the procedure for it to be fully ratified will take several months.
Under the deal, the name Republic of North Macedonia will be used internationally and domestically, and can be translated as well. Macedonia will need to amend its constitution. The inhabitants of the country will be referred as 'Macedonians / Citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia'. According to Zaev, the definition of the country's language will remain 'Macedonian', as Skopje has insisted during the talks. The breakthrough came after the two sides stepped up the UN-sponsored name talks at the start of this year, after Zaev's party came to power in 2017.
By solving the protracted dispute, Macedonia will remove the biggest obstacle on its path towards EU and NATO accession. Skopje hopes that with a solution in hand, NATO will extend an invitation to join and the EU will allow the start of Macedonian accession talks as early as this summer.
But reaching an agreement is just a first, although rather important step, on a long way towards a final solution. In Macedonia, the agreement will be put to a referendum in the autumn. Before that, it will be put to parliament for ratification in order to allow Greece to lift its blockade on Macedonia's potential membership of the EU and NATO, ahead of late June and July summits.
The agreement was met with praise and enthusiasm abroad, and with cold and anger by opposition parties at home. “We wholeheartedly congratulate PMs Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev for their determination and leadership in reaching this historic agreement between their countries, which contributes to the transformation of the entire region of South-East Europe,” Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a joint statement. According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the agreement will set Skopje on its path to NATO membership.
Bulgaria also welcomed the deal noting that it “opens the road of the Euro-Atlantic integration of our neighbour” and gives “a real chance that by the end of Bulgaria's EU Presidency, there is progress and a horizon given by the EU to start accession negotiations”. Sofia added that the change of name should not be interpreted as grounds for claiming a change in the territory, language, culture, history and identity of either of the two neighbours.
The name compromise, however, faced dissent in both countries, threatening to split Greece's governing coalition and provoke a rift between Macedonia's PM and president. Social media in both countries were last Wednesday full of calls for renewed street protests, with opponents on both sides arguing their prime ministers conceded too much to reach the deal.
Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is Tsipras' governing coalition partner, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote, meaning the left-wing PM will need to seek support from political opponents. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, main opposition New Democracy party head, described the agreement as “deeply problematic”. In his words, any agreement to the “Macedonian language” and “Macedonian ethnicity” was unacceptable.
In Skopje, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said that he remained opposed to a constitutional change included in the deal. Zaev, accompanied by Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, visited Ivanov last Wednesday to brief him on the deal, but Ivanov refused to discuss the issue. Hristijan Mickovski, VMRO DPMNE opposition party head, called the agreement a “capitulation”.

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