Mace­do­nia PM: Ap­prove name-change or face a fu­ture of ‘iso­la­tion’

The Star Malaysia - - World -

KICEVO ( Mace­do­nia): Mace­do­nians must choose be­tween a new name or a fu­ture of iso­la­tion and in­sta­bil­ity, Prime Min­is­ter Zo­ran Zaev said ahead of a Sept 30 ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue.

The pro­posed change, which would re­name the coun­try the Repub­lic of North Mace­do­nia, is Zaev’s ef­fort to end a 27-year-old dis­pute with Greece and usher his Balkan na­tion into Nato and the Euro­pean Union.

Long seen as one of Europe’s most stub­born dead­locks, the name row is a tus­sle over his­tory, iden­tity and land.

Athens has blocked the for­mer Yu­goslav repub­lic from join­ing Nato and the EU since 1991 be­cause it con­sid­ers the coun­try’s name an en­croach­ment on its own prov­ince called Mace­do­nia.

But there was a break­through be­tween Zaev and Greek coun­ter­part Alexis Tsipras in July – a rare de­tente in a re­gion tan­gled in com­plex dis­agree­ments.

Zaev must now con­vince the coun­try of 2.1 mil­lion peo­ple to ac­cept the new name de­spite a wide­spread feel­ing that they have been bul­lied by Greece.

He has framed the name-change as a painful but his­toric op­por­tu­nity for Mace­do­nia to link arms with the West.

If the deal un­rav­els, it will mean “hope­less­ness, to­tal iso­la­tion of the coun­try, prob­a­bly an­other chap­ter of in­se­cu­rity and in­sta­bil­ity in the whole re­gion”, he af­ter a cam­paign speech in the western city of Kicevo.

Al­ter­na­tively, a “yes” vote could make the ac­cord a model for other re­gional dis­putes, said Zaev.

“Other types of iden­tity prob­lems can be solved through deals like this,” he said.

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