Macedonia makes ‘his­toric’ name deal with Greece

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Catherine Boitard

MACEDONIA and Greece on Tues­day re­solved a nearly three-decade row by agree­ing to call it the Repub­lic of North Macedonia, as Skopje hailed a “his­toric so­lu­tion” to a dis­pute which had blocked its bid to join the EU and NATO.

Mace­do­nian Prime Min­is­ter Zo­ran Zaev said the two sides agreed to the re­name the former Yu­goslav repub­lic af­ter months of in­ten­sive diplo­macy.

“There is an agree­ment. We have a his­toric so­lu­tion af­ter two and a half decades. Our agree­ment in­cludes Repub­lic of North Macedonia for over­all use,” Zaev said.

Greece has long ob­jected to its north­ern neigh­bour be­ing called Macedonia be­cause it has its own north­ern prov­ince of the same name.

Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras de­clared the deal “a great diplo­matic vic­tory and a great his­toric op­por­tu­nity” for the re­gion to have “friend­ship, co­op­er­a­tion and co-de­vel­op­ment”.

Macedonia hopes that re­solv­ing the name dis­pute will help clear the way for it to join the EU and NATO.

But the deal still needs to be ap­proved by the Mace­do­nian par­lia­ment and pass a ref­er­en­dum there, as well as rat­i­fi­ca­tion in the Greek par­lia­ment.

Tsipras in­sisted the Mace­do­nian gov­ern­ment needed to get par­lia­men­tary ap­proval oth­er­wise “NATO’s in­vi­ta­tion is can­celled and ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EU will not move”.

Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk tweeted his sup­port for the agree­ment: “Thanks to you the im­pos­si­ble is be­com­ing pos­si­ble. I am keep­ing my fin­gers crossed.”

Hard­lin­ers crit­i­cal

Greek of­fi­cials ear­lier said the list of po­ten­tial names in­cluded “New Macedonia” and “Up­per Macedonia”, but af­ter months of dis­cus­sions “North Macedonia” was cho­sen.

Greek For­eign Min­is­ter Nikos Kotzias had pre­pared a 20-page draft agree­ment af­ter re­peated talks with his Mace­do­nian coun­ter­part Nikola Dim­itrov.

Tsipras said the agree­ment would spec­ify that Macedonia’s lan­guage is of Slavic ori­gin.

Both gov­ern­ments have faced crit­i­cism ahead of the com­pro­mise and on Tues­day Macedonia’s Pres­i­dent Gjorge Ivanov sig­nalled his con­cern.

“There is a need for a wider na­tional con­sen­sus to find a so­lu­tion that won’t hurt the dig­nity of the Mace­do­nian peo­ple and cit­i­zens,” said Ivanov.

He is close to the na­tion­al­ist VMRODPMNE party which was de­feated by Zaev in elec­tions last year. The party’s leader Hris­ti­jan Mick­oski said he would not sup­port changes to the “con­sti­tu­tional name” of Macedonia.

“The gov­ern­ment signed a ca­pit­u­la­tion be­cause of his [the prime min­is­ter’s] in­com­pe­tence to lead the ne­go­ti­a­tions and he ac­cepted ev­ery re­quest made by Greece,” said Mick­oski.

This year there have been sev­eral protests against an agree­ment in Skopje, as well as in Athens and Greece’s sec­ond city of Thes­sa­loniki in the north.

In Greece, Tsipras’ con­ser­va­tive ri­val Kyr­i­akos Mit­so­takis also de­nounced the deal as a “bad agree­ment”.

“The ac­cep­tance of the Mace­do­nian lan­guage and na­tion­al­ity is an un­ac­cept­able na­tional re­treat,” he said.

Greek De­fence Min­is­ter Panos Kam­menos, a hard­line ju­nior coali­tion part­ner in Tsipras’s gov­ern­ment, ear­lier said there was “no chance” Zaev could get the deal ap­proved.

Skopje hopes to se­cure a date to be­gin Euro­pean Union ac­ces­sion talks at an EU sum­mit in late June, and an in­vi­ta­tion to join NATO in mid-July.

“This his­toric agree­ment is tes­ta­ment to many years of pa­tient diplo­macy, and to the will­ing­ness of these two lead­ers to solve a dis­pute which has af­fected the re­gion for too long,” NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg said in a state­ment.

“This will set Skopje on its path to NATO mem­ber­ship. And it will help to con­sol­i­date peace and sta­bil­ity across the wider Western Balkans.”

The EU’s diplo­matic chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini said the deal “con­trib­utes to the trans­for­ma­tion of the en­tire re­gion of south­east Europe”.

Athens has long ob­jected to its neigh­bour’s con­sti­tu­tional name – the Repub­lic of Macedonia – be­cause it fears it could im­ply ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions.

An­cient Macedonia was the cra­dle of Alexan­der the Great’s em­pire, a point of pride to Greeks to­day.

But un­der the Ro­mans, the prov­ince of Macedonia was ex­panded to in­clude ter­ri­tory in mod­ern-day Greece, Macedonia, Bul­garia and Al­ba­nia.

LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP

Peo­ple demon­strate to urge the Greek gov­ern­ment not to com­pro­mise in the fes­ter­ing name row with Macedonia, in Athens, in Fe­bru­ary.

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