“We agreed to change the name of the country to the Republic of Northern Macedonia, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, solemnly announced on Tuesday. He had previously talked with his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, on the phone, to refine the agreement that should be signed, according to the Greek press, this weekend at Lake Prespa, on the border between the two countries.
A quarter of a century after the break-up of Yugoslavia and the independence of the small Balkan country, Athens finally allows Skopje to bear the name of “Macedonia” albeit with a geographical reference. “This is a good agreement, which covers all the conditions posed by Greece,” said Alexis Tsipras. The text specifies the existence of a “Macedonian language”, it allows the use of the expression “Northern Macedonian citizen” on passports, but make no reference to Alexander the Great.
“In the agreement found, our neighbors to the North can not claim, neither now nor in the future, the cultural heritage of ancient Greek Macedonia,” said Alexis Tsipras. The latter faces, since the beginning of negotiations on the subject, a virulent opposition from a segment of the population, which mobilised en masse in February and to a lesser extent last week. “The most important thing is that our neighbors have agreed to make a constitutional reform by removing all territorial claims,” Alexis Tsipras added.
Athens and Skopje wanted to resolve this conflict before the European summit on 28 June and the NATO summit on 11-12 July, which will discuss the accession of the “Republic of Northern Macedonia” to these two international organisations. Until now, Athens was blocking these processes. But Athens and Skopje must now convince their respective parliaments to ratify the agreement reached.
On Tuesday morning, even before the official announcement of the name found by both sides, Alexis Tsipras’s government ally, Panos Kammenos, Greek defense minister and leader of the nationalist independent Greeks, had declared their opposition to the agreement and called on people to vote against it. The right-wing opposition, New Democracy, likewise denounced it as a “bad deal”. Tsipras can still count on the voices of center-left deputies to obtain a majority.
For Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, the task is more difficult. He does not hold in Parliament the two-thirds majority required to pass the constitutional reform, while the president and the opposition on the right are fiercely opposed. Above all, Zoran Zaev must consult his fellow citizens on this agreement in a referendum in the autumn.
“Greece can become a leader in the Balkans, bring stability to a region torn by nationalism for years, we are actors of change and can be proud,” Tsipras said Tuesday night.
“I have no doubt that this agreement will open a period of strengthened relations between the two countries and between their peoples,” said UN envoy on this issue, Matthew Nimetz. Representatives from NATO and the EU welcomed the agreement, as did European Council President Donald Tusk, who tweeted: “My sincere congratulations to Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev. Fingers crossed. Thanks to you the impossible becomes possible.”