Sunday, 17 June, 2018

Greek PM says Macedonia's name change will be universal

Melinda Barton | 12 June, 2018, 21:57

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras [left] and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev [right] in Sofia in May.

Skopje and Athens announced they can resolve their long and bitter dispute by agreeing on the composite name "Republic of North Macedonia" for Macedonia - a deal expected to unlock Skopje's European Union and NATO bids.

Greece had long demanded that Macedonia change or modify its name to avoid any claim to the territory and heritage of the region, the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Greece and Macedonia have reached a historic accord to resolve a decades-old dispute over the name of the tiny Balkan nation, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said.

Greece argued that by calling itself Republic of Macedonia the neighboring country was stating a territorial claim of the Greek northern province, also called Macedonia.

"The chance is here and it must be seized, bravely, as this is the only patriotic way", Macedonian Prime Minisrter Zoran Zaev told a press conference in Skopje.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is Tsipras' governing coalition partner, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote, meaning the left-wing prime minister will need to seek support from political opponents. The new name will be used both domestically and internationally, with Macedonia making a relevant amendment to its Constitution, Zaev added.

A former republic of Yugoslavia, Macedonia broke away in 1991, and its name is recognized by the vast majority of countries around the world, including the U.S.

A resolution of the dispute would see Greece lift objection to Macedonia's accession to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

On the timeline of the deal, Tsipras said that it would be first signed by the two countries' foreign ministers and then ratified by Macedonia's parliament.

The proposed name change has been resisted by sections of the Macedonian public.

The dispute between the two neighbours had been an obstacle to Macedonia joining either the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation military alliance or the European Union. There were also rallies in Macedonia in spring, demanding the country's name to be left in place.