Greek lawmakers to vote on Macedonia name change

Saul Bowman
January 28, 2019

Matthew Nimetz, the United Nations envoy who brokered a Greece-Macedonia deal on their disputes over the latter's name, welcomed Friday Greek lawmakers' ratification of the accord.

As the Greek parliament debated the deal on January 24, demonstrators gathered outside to protest, some of them chanting "traitors".

The ratification of the so-called Prespa Agreement, which was signed in Skopje last June, paves the way for Macedonia to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

"Nationalism in the Balkans has led to disasters", Tsipras said.

In broad terms, the deal stipulates Macedonia officially changes its name to North Macedonia and uses its new name both domestically and internationally.

Bullmann added that the Prespa Agreement was proof that progressive political forces are "able to solve long-standing disagreements and make hard compromises which nationalists or conservatives had not been able to do in nearly three decades". Greece, before this vote, referred to its northern neighbor as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM.

The name dispute smoldered, since Macedonia in 1991, as the former Republic of Yugoslavia became independent. The name change agreement faced opposition from the public, with polls showing that more than 60% of Greeks oppose the deal. "For eternal peace and progress of the Balkans and in Europe!" he wrote.

The president of Albania, Ilir Meta has issued a message of congratulations today following the ratification of the Prespes agreement by the Greek parliament.

The name deal was hammered out by Tsipras with his Macedonian counterpart previous year, secured the parliamentary majority needed to get the accord approved with support from independent and opposition lawmakers.

Greece also demands that Macedonia drop from its flag the golden sun of Vergina, claiming it as an ancient Greek symbol, as well as certain articles from its constitution.

Macedonia's parliament backed the constitutional amendment to change its name, but for the deal to be complete, the changes must also be passed by Greece's parliament.

Many of the Greeks feared, according to surveys, the neighboring country can make territorial claims on the Northern Greek Region of Macedonia. The agreement, which Greek lawmakers are expected to ratify on Thursday, has stirred angry protests in both countries. "Macedonian" is what those living in Greece's province of the same name call themselves.

Anti-Tsipras daily Ta Nea on Friday said the deal was the result of a "painful compromise" and was full of "pitfalls".

Torrential rain and driving wind kept many protesters away on the final day of the debate.

"North Macedonia was born today. They proved that the future of their country and good neighbourly relations are more important than short-term gains in polls", he added.

The Greek region, which includes the birthplace of Alexander the Great, is considered an intrinsic part of Greek heritage. One lawmaker abstained from voting.

A flare thrown by opponents of Prespa Agreement, attending a rally outside the Greek Parliament, burns in front of police officers in riot gear guarding one of its entrances in Athens, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

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