Macedonia name deal opens doors to Western expansion

Geraldine Edwards
June 13, 2018

The name dispute has poisoned relations between the two countries since Macedonia's independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and has prevented Macedonia from joining worldwide institutions such as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

The prime ministers of Greece and Macedonia say they have agreed on "Republic of Northern Macedonia" as the new name for the Balkan country, ending a bitter 27-year dispute that had prevented the former Yugoslav republic from joining worldwide institutions such as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Greece had long demanded that its northern neighbour change or modify its name to avoid any claim to the territory and ancient heritage of the region in northern Greece named Macedonia - birthplace of ancient warrior king Alexander the Great.

It is now known formally at the United Nations under the interim name "Former Yugoslav Republic of 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 Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaks during a televised address to the nation in Athens after Greece and Macedonia reached an agreement Tuesday to end a bitter 27-year name dispute that had kept the smaller and younger country out of international
Macedonia and Greece reach agreement in name dispute

In televised comments, 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".

But the breakthrough is now likely to see European Union leaders open accession talks with Macedonia at a summit in June and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation invite Macedonia to join the military alliance at a summit in 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", said Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Matthew Nimetz said in a statement Tuesday he has "no doubt this agreement will lead to a period of enhanced relations between the two neighboring countries and especially between their people".

"The European Union perspective of the Western Balkans ... remains the most powerful stabilising force for the region", they added.

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The deal still needs to be approved by the Macedonian and Greek parliaments. The short explanation is that it has something to do with ending a bitter 27-year dispute with Greece, but bear with us if you can.

Mr Tsipras said the deal met the concerns of Greece that a revised name for Macedonia be a "compound" name with a geographical qualifier.

"Today is a hard day for the Republic of Macedonia".

It will use its official new name in all internal documents and events and in all worldwide forums.

"Thanks to you the impossible is becoming possible", EU Council president Donald Tusk said. Tsipras and Zaev spoke on the phone yesterday for an hour, and said they would continue their conversation today.

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Bulgaria, which also shares a border with Greece and Macedonia, said the new name should not be used for territorial or claims concerning language, culture, history or identity.

"I am keeping my fingers crossed", he said.

Skopje also needs to revise its constitution, Tsipras said, before Greece ratifies the deal.

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