Heated debate delays Greek vote on Macedonian name-change deal

Monday, 28 Jan, 2019

The Greek Parliament has approved the agreement for the Overcoming of the name dispute to Macedonia's name.

Failure to find an appropriate name meant that Greece frustrated Macedonia's drive to join both North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union. "The Balkans, Europe and the world have received a new model for building friendships and co-operation between nations and states", it said.

Macedonia's parliament approved constitutional changes to rename the country North Macedonia on January 11. Long live the Prespa Agreement!

Greece rejects the name Macedonia, adopted by the country at its independence from the former Yugoslavia 27 years ago, as it is also that of a large Greek region that evokes national pride as the cradle of Alexander the Great's ancient empire.

If Greece does approve the deal, Macedonia is expected to be swiftly accepted into North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. "For eternal peace and progress of the Balkans and in Europe!" he wrote. The agreement does contain recognition of the difference between Macedonian citizens and the cultural and historical context of Macedonia, so hopefully as the agreement is implemented its opponents will see that fears of cultural appropriation won't come true.

The right-wing opposition leader, ahead in the polls, says he'll still veto North Macedonia's European Union accession when it comes to it - though by the time the small Balkan country is ready to join, passions may have calmed and Greeks will no doubt have other nationalist fish to fry.

In summer 2018, the easing of relations led to a joint declaration by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev that the name dispute was finally over.

Tsipras said that the previous failures to solve the long-standing dispute had deprived Greece of precious diplomatic capital, and he accused the conservative opposition New Democracy party, which opposed the agreement, of being hypocritical.

"Macedonia will become North Macedonia in about two weeks", a Macedonian foreign ministry official who asked to remain anonymous told AFP Saturday. The vote was also a blow to Russian Federation, which had allegedly tried to stoke opposition to the name deal with a disinformation campaign and by offering money and bribes.

Geographically, the province itself also shares the border with its northern friend, the country with its namesake. Police responded with tear gas to disperse the crowds.

The Greek parliament delayed the expected approval of the U.N-brokered deal by a day due to an increased number of lawmakers who wanted to have a say over it.

In one incident, a group of protesters spray-painted "Macedonia is a Greek Land" outside the home of US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in Athens, the police said.

The Macedonian parliament already approved the constitutional changes for the new name.

But Tsipras, a leftist firebrand who swept to power an anti-austerity platform as Greece was deep in financial crisis in 2015, made a point of pursuing a deal.

Torrential rain and driving wind kept many protesters away on the final day of the debate. "They proved that the future of their country and good neighbourly relations are more important than short-term gains in polls", he added. The motion receives the required two-thirds majority by just one vote.