Macedonians leave their fate in the hands of politicians

PM Zaev faces a crucial battle in parliament as the name referendum was marred by low turnout

Photo: EPA “I am determined to take Macedonia into the EU and NATO,” PM Zoran Zaev said on 30 September.

Macedonian citizens, which were called to vote in a historic referendum for the country's European path last Sunday left the politicians to decide on the new name of the former Yugoslav Republic. So the end of the decades-long spat with Greece are moving away and with it the Macedonia's membership of NATO and the EU.

The non-binding referendum on 30 September was marred by low turnout and could not be considered as valid. Only a third (36,9%) of the 1.8 million-strong electorate voted. Although some 91.46% of votes favoured the name changing to North Macedonia, compared to 5.65% opposed. The question on the referendum ballot read: “Are you for NATO and EU membership with acceptance of the agreement with Greece”.

The name issue arose in 1991, when the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia seceded from Yugoslavia and declared its independence under the name “Republic of Macedonia”. But for Greece

the term “Macedonia” is a Greek word and refers to the Kingdom and culture of the ancient Macedonians, who belong to the Hellenic nation and are unquestionably part of Greek historical and cultural heritage.

Following UN-mediated negotiations for years, the governments of Greece and FYROM ( the UN officially recognized name of Macedonia) reached a deal this June at Prespes Lake to put an end to the name row which had started in 1991. Under the agreement, FYROM's new name will be "Republic of North Macedonia". The name row was the main obstacle Skopje had to overcome to make progress towards EU and NATO integration.

Despite the referendum outcome the Prespes deal as a rule needs some constitutional changed to pass in Macedonia's parliament by a two-thirds majority. The pro-EU PM Zoran Zaev and his coalition partners from the ethnic Albanian minority will need at least a dozen MPs from the opposition to back the move. Zaev said last Monday that if he failed to obtain the required majority in parliament, he would call early elections, two years after the last ones. He declared the referendum a success, saying he would not resign despite the low turnout of voters. “I am determined to take Macedonia into the European Union and NATO,” Zaev said at a press conference after first referendum results.

The main nationalist opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which led the No campaign, holds 49 seats in the 120-seat parliament, enough to block the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution. “The citizens said a loud No to the agreement with Greece...The citizens clearly sent a message that Zaev has no legitimacy to push through this deal,” VMRO-DPMNE said in a statement on Monday. “It is clear that the agreement with Greece has not received the green light from the people,” the party leader Hristiajn Mickoski told journalists. The VMRO-DPMNE, which only deepened the impasse with Greece during 11 years in power that ended in 2017, opposed the deal but decided not to call for a boycott of the referendum. The chief proponent of a boycott was Macedonia’s president Gjorge Ivanov, an ally of theVMRO-DPMNE. He described the name deal as “historical suicide” and the referendum as “a noose around our necks”.

Next weeks will be crucial for Macedonia's political leaders, which bring historic responsibility for the future not only for their country, but for the European path of Western Balkans region at whole.


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