Greek Parliament ratifies North Macedonia name, ending a 28 year old dispute with its northern neighbor

Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev
Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev

Athens, Greece | 25 Jan 2019 (Tirana Echo) – The Greek Parliament has voted today in favor of an historic agreement between Greece and Macedonia, under which the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will be renamed to Republic of North Macedonia, ending a 28 year old bitter dispute between the two neighboring countries and pacing the way for the Euro-Atlantic integration of the tiny Balkan nation.  

Following months of fierce debates and several angry protests, Greece’s Parliament has ratified the Prespa Agreement by 153 votes out of 300 total MPs, under which FYROM agrees to abandon its constitutional name of Republic of Macedonia, used since it gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Instead, the country will call itself North Macedonia ending a bitter feud with Greece, whose northern region is called Macedonia. The ratified agreement in Athens was earlier approved by the Macedonian Parliam ent and paves the way for Greece to lift its veto for Skopje’s membership into NATO and the European Union.

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The issue has been keeping bilateral relations between Athens and Skopje under constant deadlock since 1991, only to be shaken by both Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras last year when the two agreed in Prespa to turn the page for both Balkan countries.

Despite a failed referendum last year, social democratic PM Zaev managed to approve the deal in Parliament thanks to 8 defected MPs from the nationalist opposition party VMRO-DPMNE as well as its ethnic Albanian allies in government.

In Athens, the ongoing debate since last year has provoked two no-confidence motions on Tsipras’ government as well as several massive protests by Green nationalists angry that the name ‘Macedonia’ has still been kept by their northern neighbors. The vote marks another victory for Tsipras’s Syriza party while the opposition New Democracy party as well as the extreme right wing Golden Dawn were strongly against the deal.

Following the debate and vote in parliament, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that future generations in both countries will owe gratitude to those MPs who courageously and boldly laid the foundations for a future of peace, solidarity and harmonious coexistence between the two peoples.

The northern Macedonia that was born today will be a friendly country, ally and supporter of Greece in its efforts for security, stability and co-development in the region.” Wrote Tsipras on Twitter.

According to the bilateral agreement, now ratified by both parliaments, Greece agrees to recognize Macedonia (FYROM) under the new name of ‘Republic of North Macedonia or “Severna Makedonija”, its language as Macedonian and its citizens Macedonians or Citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia, thus opening the door to a new era of cooperation between the two neighboring countries.

Commenting immediately after the vote, Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations my friend @tsipras_eu, together with our peoples we reached a historical victory. Long live the Prespa Agreement! For eternal peace and progress of the Balkans and in Europe!”

Skopje and Athens have been under intense UN mediated negotiations to resolve the name dispute, which dates back to 1991 when Macedonia peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia. Greece has since vetoed its NATO and EU integration until a new name acceptable to Athens was agreed.

Last year, the European Commission recommended opening accession talks for Macedonia to join the EU, a scenario which looks more feasible following the landmark agreement between Athens and Skopje.

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