Friday 22 June 2018

Mixed reaction over Greece-Macedonia name deal

Macedonia will change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

A modern bronze statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki (AP)
A modern bronze statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki (AP)

By Elena Becatoros and Jasmina Mironski

A historic deal ending a decades-long dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the latter’s name has met with mixed reactions in both countries.

Some have welcomed the agreement, while others were horrified at what they see as unacceptable concessions.

Under the deal reached between the two countries’ prime ministers, Macedonia will change its name to Republic of North Macedonia, and will amend its constitution. The agreement is expected to be signed this weekend.

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Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zeav (AP)

The name dispute has roused strong nationalist sentiments and poisoned the two countries’ relations since Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Greece argues that the term “Macedonia” implied a claim on the territory and ancient heritage of its own northern province of the same name.

The two prime ministers’ efforts to forge an agreement face strong dissent, with opponents staging large protests on both sides of the border.

The issue threatened to split Greece’s governing coalition, and provoked a rift between Macedonia’s prime minister Zoran Zaev and president Gjorge Ivanov.

New calls were circulating on social media for renewed street protests, with opponents on both sides arguing their prime ministers conceded too much to reach the deal.

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The issue has provoked strong nationalist sentiment (AP)

Mr Zaev, accompanied by foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov, visited Mr Ivanov Wednesday to brief him on the deal. But Mr Ivanov refused to discuss the issue and walked out of the meeting.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras also faces opposition at home.

His defence minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is the coalition partner in Mr Tsipras’ government, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote.

This would leave the left-wing prime minister dependent on support from political opponents to ratify the deal in parliament.

The head of Greece’s main opposition party described the agreement as “deeply problematic”. Conservative New Democracy party head Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on Greece’s president to intervene so the deal can be debated in parliament before it is signed, instead of after.

On the streets of both capitals, reactions were mixed.

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Alexis Tsipras ran into some opposition over the deal (AP)

“We lost the country, this is a disaster,” 45-year-old lawyer Mila Ivanovska said in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, and began to cry.

Greek opponents were equally angry.

Athenian resident Konstandinos Goutras said: “You, Slavs from Skopje through the centuries, you have never been true Macedonians.”

But for others the deal marks a welcome end to a protracted dispute.

“North Macedonia is acceptable for me,” said Svetlana Jancevska, a 55-year-old music teacher in Skopje, adding that it does “not damage my identity as Macedonian. The language remains Macedonian and that makes me happy. It was high time for the problem to be solved”.

The agreement should pave the way for the former Yugoslav republic to begin the process of acceding to Nato and the European Union, and was welcomed by international officials.

Press Association

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