Protests condemn Macedonia name deal
The foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia have signed a deal that looks set to resolve a long-running dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic. Opponents of the agreement protested in Greece and Macedonia against the new name, the Republic of North Macedonia.
Since 1991, Greece has objected to its neighbour being called Macedonia because it has its own larger, northern province of the same name which in Hellenic times was the centre of Alexander the Great’s empire.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his counterpart from Skopje, Nikola Dimitrov, signed the deal on Sunday in the Greek village of Psarades, on the shores of Great Prespa Lake (pictured), which marks the border.
In Psarades, priests tolled the church bell in a sign of mourning.
The deal opens the door for Macedonia to join Nato and the European Union.
Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, and the EU’s foreign affairs commissioner, Federica Mogherini, also attended the signing.
Tsipras said the agreement would heal wounds. The anti-establishment prime minister said: “This is a brave, historic and necessary step for our peoples.
“We are here to heal the wounds of time, to open a path for peace, fraternisation and growth for our countries, the Balkans and Europe.”
Tsipras narrowly survived a vote of no confidence this weekend tabled by the opposition New Democracy party, claiming he had made too many concessions to secure the agreement. It was rejected by 153 votes to 127.
Zaev was equally positive at the signing ceremony: “Our two countries should step out of the past and look to the future.
“Our peoples want peace… we will be partners and allies.”
The deal must now be ratified by both parliaments, and by a referendum in Macedonia in September or October, which will ask if voters are happy to alter the constitution in order to change its name. The Greek side demanded the plebiscite be included in the agreement.
Macedonia President Gjorge Ivanov has refused to sign the agreement and has the power to temporarily veto it, which would lead to it being sent back to MPs for a second vote.
Psarades was closed off to protests but in the neighbouring village of Pissoderi about 4,000 protesters held banners saying “There is only one Macedonia and it is Greek” and other nationalist messages.
Some threw rocks and there were injuries as police used tear gas.
The Macedonian media reported that 3,000 people demonstrated across the border in the southern city of Bitola.
In Skopje last night (Sunday), grenades and tear gas were used by police to disperse a demonstration outside the parliament involving several hundred people.
Protesters reportedly chanted “Macedonia, Macedonia we will give our lives for Macedonia.”
Great Prespa Lake. Picture credit: Flickr