Zaev fights on despite Macedonia name-change blow
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (pictured) says he will continue fighting to change the Balkan country’s name despite failing to secure the required 50-per-cent turnout at yesterday’s referendum.
The proposal was to adopt the name North Macedonia, as part of a deal with Greece in June that would pave the way for Nato and possibly European Union membership.
Although 91 per cent of voters favoured the name change and just 5.7 per cent opposed the move, only a third of the 1.8 million-strong electorate voted.
Opponents who called for a boycott celebrated outside the Skopje parliament when the turnout was announced.
Zaev said the vote was a success and that he would seek to secure the required two-thirds majority of the 120-seat parliament next week for constitutional changes.
Zaev and his coalition partners from the ethnic Albanian minority will need at least 12 MPs from the opposition to back the move to change to North Macedonia.
If this failed, a general election would need to be held, Zaev added.
“The people made a great choice and said ‘yes’ to our future. It is time for lawmakers to follow the voice of the people and to provide support,” the prime minister said.
“There will be no better agreement with Greece, nor an alternative for Nato and the EU.”
The Greek foreign ministry noted the “contradictory” result and said careful moves were needed to “preserve the positive potential of the deal”.
Until the accord in June, Greece had vowed to block its neighbour’s accession to both the EU and Nato, saying that without a geographical qualifier the name amounted to appropriation of its cultural heritage and territorial integrity.
The referendum was held against a backdrop of polarisation and with Russia reportedly stepping up clandestine efforts to block Macedonia’s moves towards the west and Nato.
Working with extreme nationalists – many of whom claim Greek territory and who demanded a boycott of the vote – Moscow condemned the June deal with Greece.
Hopes had been pinned on a “yes” vote being clinched with the help of Macedonia’s ethnic-Albanian minority, which makes up about a quarter of the population.
“We don’t have the emotional baggage of Slav Macedonians over the name issue,” said Petrit Sanagini, an ethnic Albanian. “This is a compromise we feel we have to make to move our country forward towards a future of prosperity and security. It’s a historic day, a very special day. Our hope is that everyone will vote.”
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Picture credit: Wikimedia