Macedonia lawmakers start critical debate over name change

The move will open country's way to NATO and EU membership

Photo: EPA Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev

Macedonian lawmakers are poised to gather from Wednesday, 9 January, to hold a crucial debate about changing their country's name to settle a decades-long dispute with Greece and open the way to NATO and EU membership. But the switch to "the Republic of North Macedonia" is expected to be an uphill task involving 4 constitutional amendments and the support of two thirds of the 120-member parliament.

The Social Democrat-led ruling coalition, however, does not itself have those numbers so Prime Minister Zoran Zaev needs to garner support from members of the right-wing opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which is against the name change and boycotted the referendum. The fighting against the change would be nevertheless not only in parliament, but also at the street. Macedonian nationalists, who have called a big protest rally Wednesday, denouncing the name change as a surrender to Greek pressure.

Yet, if the change does go through, Athens has promised to lift its veto on Skopje's attempts to join NATO and the European Union.

As Europost reminds, in June, the Macedonian and Greek governments hammered out a deal under which Athens agreed to lift its objections to the former Yugoslav republic joining both NATO and the EU in exchange for the country changing its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

As a result Macedonia held a referendum on the change, which has been a political issue ever since the country gained independence in 1991.In that referendum, 90 percent of voters approved changing the name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Nevertheless, opponents have said the plebiscite was illegitimate since only a third of the electorate turned up - less than the required 50 percent turnout for the referendum to be declared valid. Despite that, PM Zoran Zaev vowed to keep pushing for a change to the Balkan nation’s name and amend the constitution as required by the deal with Greece. He also promised that if the amendments fail to pass in parliament, he would call early elections.

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