Macedonia, Greece reach name deal

CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE::The deal still has obstacles to overcome, as it must be ratified in Macedonia’s legislature and officials on both sides have voiced opposition

AP, ATHENS

Thu, Jun 14, 2018 - Page 6

Greece and Macedonia on Tuesday reached an historic agreement to end a bitter 27-year name dispute that had kept the smaller and younger country out of international institutions such as NATO, the two prime ministers announced.

The former Yugoslav republic’s new name for both domestic and international purposes would be the Republic of North Macedonia, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said.

Macedonia would also amend its constitution to reflect the change as part of the deal.

The nationality of the nation’s citizens would be listed on official documents as “Macedonian/citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia,” Greek officials said.

NATO and EU officials welcomed the breakthrough, which NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said would help consolidate regional peace and stability.

Greece had long demanded that its northern neighbor 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 Alexander the Great.

The leaders’ attempts to end the dispute have faced dissent in both nations, leading to large protests by opponents of a compromise.

Zaev said the deal would be signed this weekend and a voter referendum would be held in the fall.

In a televised address, Tsipras said the 140 nations that had recognized the Balkan state as Macedonia would now recognize it as Republic of North Macedonia.

“This achieves a clear distinction between Greek Macedonia and our northern neighbors, and puts an end to the irredentism which their current constitutional name implies,” he said.

He added that Macedonia “cannot and will not be able in the future to claim any connection with the ancient Greek civilization of Macedonia.”

Zaev described the deal as the “historic agreement of the century.”

“We have been solving a two-and-a-half decade dispute ... that has been drowning the country,” he said, adding that the deal “will strengthen the Macedonian identity.”

On the timeline of the deal, Tsipras said that it would be first signed by the two nations’ foreign ministers and then ratified by Macedonia’s parliament. Greece would then back invitations for Macedonia to join NATO and start negotiations on joining the EU.

However, this would be contingent on Macedonia completing the constitutional changes, Tsipras said.

The deal was welcomed by EU officials.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted his “sincere congratulations” to Tsipras and Zaev, saying: “I am keeping my fingers crossed. Thanks to you, the impossible is becoming possible.”

EU High Representative of Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn issued a joint statement congratulating the prime ministers “in reaching this historic agreement between their countries, which contributes to the transformation of the entire region of southeast Europe.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the agreement as “a demonstration of leadership to the wider region and beyond” and hopes it would inspire others involved in drawn-out conflicts “to work toward negotiated settlements without further delay,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

However, both prime ministers faced dissent at home.

Greek Minister of National Defense Panos Kammenos said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote, meaning Tsipras would need to seek support from his political opponents.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said earlier in the day that he remained opposed to writing the new name into the constitution.

The main opposition party in Macedonia, the conservative VMRO-DPMNE, accused Zaev of “capitulating” to Greece.

“In essence, the [deal] is acceptance of all Greek positions,” VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski said.

In Athens, conservative main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged Tsipras not to go ahead with the agreement.

“This is a bad agreement that is in conflict with the majority of the Greek people,” he said.