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