Macedonia approves name change

Macedonia approves name change

Macedonia’s parliament has approved a constitutional amendment to change the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev secured a narrow two-thirds majority, with 81 votes in the 120-seat chamber, needed in the vote amid a boycott by nationalist opposition VMRO-DPMNE parliamentarians.

Macedonia will start using the new name only after the Greek parliament also ratifies the deal.

Protesters outside parliament also denounced the deal as an act of “treason”.

The name change is aimed at ending a 27-year dispute with Greece, which has a region called Macedonia and prevents the former Yugoslav republic from joining the European Union and Nato.

A change of the Macedonian government in 2017 finally brought the start of serious talks with Athens, which led to the deal reached last summer.

Greece has said the choice of “Macedonia” implied territorial claims to the Greek province of the same name.

The Greeks vetoed Macedonia’s attempt to join Nato in 2008.

Greece’s objections to its northern neighbour’s name after it declared independence from Belgrade in 1991 forced the United Nations to cumbersomely refer to its new member as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

The implementation of the Prespa agreement, named after the border town where it was signed, is intended to end the war of words.

Greek MPs must now approve the agreement signed by Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Zaev in June.

After the vote in Skopje (pictured), Tsipras called Zaev to congratulate him, his office said.

“A new historical chapter in our statehood has been written this evening,” the Macedonian authorities announced.

“It makes absolutely plausible two of our biggest state interests: membership in Nato and EU.”

Present-day Macedonia and northern Greece were both part of a Roman province called Macedonia and both claim the earlier heritage of Alexander the Great.

“My sincerest congratulations to political actors and citizens of the hopefully soon to be North Macedonia on parliament’s vote on the constitutional changes,” tweeted Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for enlargement. He said he hoped the historic decision created a positive dynamic for reconciliation in the whole Western Balkan region.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg also praised the vote.

“Nato strongly supports the full implementation of the agreement, which is an important contribution to a stable and prosperous region,” he tweeted.

Skopje now dramatically claims its heritage from Alexander the Great with oversized modern statues, which offends many Greeks. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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