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What’s in a name? Macedonia, Greece strike 'historic' deal

World2018-06-13

"We have a deal," Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced on Tuesday following months of talks with Macedonia to end a nearly three-decade-long dispute over the country's name.So why was the name an issue and what does this mean for the EU and NATO?Macedonia and... MacedoniaWho has the right to the name “Macedonia”: a northern Greek province or a country that gained independence 27 years ago? That question has been at the center of tensions between Greece and its northern neighbor since the early 1990s.Demonstrators urge the government not to compromise in a long-standing name row with neighboring Macedonia at Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, February 4, 2018. /VCG PhotoWhen the former Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, one region declared independence under the name "Republic of Macedonia." Most countries have since recognized it under this name, but Greece has resolutely fought back, fearing its neighbor might make territorial claims over its own northern province.The two countries share a 234-kilometer border and for many in Greece, ancient Macedonia –the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire – is a key part of their cultural heritage.As a compromise, international organizations like the UN have used the name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" or FYROM.People walk along a bridge in front of the monument of King Alexander the Great in Skopje, Macedonia, June 10, 2018. /VCG PhotoBackground InformationRepublic of Macedonia:independent state, formally known as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)Capital: SkopjePopulation: 2.1 millionTerritory: 25,700 sqkmMacedonia:province of GreeceCapital: ThessalonikiPopulation: 2.77 millionTerritory: 42,400 sqkmThe dealUnder Tuesday’s deal, the country will now be known as "Republic of Northern Macedonia," Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced on Tuesday."There is an agreement. We have a historic solution after two and a half decades. Our agreement includes Republic of North Macedonia for overall use," he told a news conference after speaking with Tsipras on the phone.Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (L) shake hands at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 17, 2018. /VCG PhotoTsipras, in a separate televised address, said the deal was "a great diplomatic victory and a great historic opportunity" for the region to have "friendship, cooperation and co-development"."I'm happy because we have a good deal which covers all the preconditions set by the Greek side.""According to this accord... our northern neighbors don't have, and cannot assert, any link to the ancient Greek culture of Macedonia," he said.EU, NATO membershipThe historic agreement is especially significant for Skopje, whose attempts to join the European Union and NATO have been blocked by Athens over the name dispute.Zaev said Tuesday the deal opened the way for renewed membership bids."By solving the name question, we are becoming a member of NATO," he said hopefully.National Macedonian flags flutter in front of the government building in Skopje, Macedonia, June 12, 2018. /VCG PhotoTalks between Athens and Skopje were relaunched in January and a concerted push was made to strike a deal ahead of an EU meeting later this month and a NATO summit in July.If the name is finalized before then, Macedonia hopes it can formally start EU accession talks and be invited to join the military alliance soon.International reactionsNATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was among those who greeted news of the deal on Tuesday."This historic agreement is testament to many years of patient diplomacy and to the willingness of these two leaders to solve a dispute which has affected the region for too long," he said in a statement."This will set Skopje on its path to NATO membership. And it will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans," he added.Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (R) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg pose during a press conference in Skopje, Macedonia, January 18, 2018. / VCG PhotoEuropean Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: "Thanks to you the impossible is becoming possible." "I am keeping my fingers crossed," he added.Bulgaria, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency and is also a neighbor of both Greece and Macedonia, said accession talks were now on the horizon thanks to the deal.It noted however that the new name should not be used for claims over territory, language or culture.‘Capitulation’Not everyone was happy.Hristijan Mickoski, president of the Macedonian opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, described it as "a hard day for the Republic of Macedonia.""The government signed a capitulation," he said, arguing that Zaev "accepted every request made by Greece."Protesters wave flags during a demonstration against the use of the term 'Macedonia' in any solution to a dispute between Athens and Skopje over the former Yugoslav republic's name, in Pella, Greece, June 6, 2018. /VCG PhotoOn the other side of the border too, opposition parties and even Tsipras’s coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, said they would not agree to a deal that allows Skopje to use the name “Macedonia” in any form."The acceptance of the Macedonian language and nationality is an unacceptable national retreat," said opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.Is this the final word?Zaev and Tsipras are still due to meet to finalise the deal they agreed on Tuesday.The accord must then be ratified by both the Greek and Macedonian parliaments, as well as survive a referendum in Macedonia. Skopje must also amend its constitutionto include the change.But Zaev, who vowed to push for a solution to the name dispute after his election last year, was adamant on Tuesday: "There is no way back."(CGTN)

"We have a deal," Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced on Tuesday following months of talks with Macedonia to end a nearly three-decade-long dispute over the country's name.

So why was the name an issue and what does this mean for the EU and NATO?

Macedonia and... Macedonia

Who has the right to the name “Macedonia”: a northern Greek province or a country that gained independence 27 years ago? That question has been at the center of tensions between Greece and its northern neighbor since the early 1990s.

Demonstrators urge the government not to compromise in a long-standing name row with neighboring Macedonia at Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, February 4, 2018. /VCG Photo

When the former Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, one region declared independence under the name "Republic of Macedonia." Most countries have since recognized it under this name, but Greece has resolutely fought back, fearing its neighbor might make territorial claims over its own northern province.

The two countries share a 234-kilometer border and for many in Greece, ancient Macedonia –the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire – is a key part of their cultural heritage.

As a compromise, international organizations like the UN have used the name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" or FYROM.

People walk along a bridge in front of the monument of King Alexander the Great in Skopje, Macedonia, June 10, 2018. /VCG Photo

Background Information

Republic of Macedonia:independent state, formally known as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)

Capital: Skopje

Population: 2.1 million

Territory: 25,700 sqkm

Macedonia:province of Greece

Capital: Thessaloniki

Population: 2.77 million

Territory: 42,400 sqkm

The deal

Under Tuesday’s deal, the country will now be known as "Republic of Northern Macedonia," Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced on Tuesday.

"There is an agreement. We have a historic solution after two and a half decades. Our agreement includes Republic of North Macedonia for overall use," he told a news conference after speaking with Tsipras on the phone.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (L) shake hands at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 17, 2018. /VCG Photo

Tsipras, in a separate televised address, said the deal was "a great diplomatic victory and a great historic opportunity" for the region to have "friendship, cooperation and co-development".

"I'm happy because we have a good deal which covers all the preconditions set by the Greek side."

"According to this accord... our northern neighbors don't have, and cannot assert, any link to the ancient Greek culture of Macedonia," he said.

EU, NATO membership

The historic agreement is especially significant for Skopje, whose attempts to join the European Union and NATO have been blocked by Athens over the name dispute.

Zaev said Tuesday the deal opened the way for renewed membership bids.

"By solving the name question, we are becoming a member of NATO," he said hopefully.

National Macedonian flags flutter in front of the government building in Skopje, Macedonia, June 12, 2018. /VCG Photo

Talks between Athens and Skopje were relaunched in January and a concerted push was made to strike a deal ahead of an EU meeting later this month and a NATO summit in July.

If the name is finalized before then, Macedonia hopes it can formally start EU accession talks and be invited to join the military alliance soon.

International reactions

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was among those who greeted news of the deal on Tuesday.

"This historic agreement is testament to many years of patient diplomacy and to the willingness of these two leaders to solve a dispute which has affected the region for too long," he said in a statement.

"This will set Skopje on its path to NATO membership. And it will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans," he added.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (R) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg pose during a press conference in Skopje, Macedonia, January 18, 2018. / VCG Photo

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: "Thanks to you the impossible is becoming possible." "I am keeping my fingers crossed," he added.

Bulgaria, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency and is also a neighbor of both Greece and Macedonia, said accession talks were now on the horizon thanks to the deal.

It noted however that the new name should not be used for claims over territory, language or culture.

‘Capitulation’

Not everyone was happy.

Hristijan Mickoski, president of the Macedonian opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, described it as "a hard day for the Republic of Macedonia."

"The government signed a capitulation," he said, arguing that Zaev "accepted every request made by Greece."

Protesters wave flags during a demonstration against the use of the term 'Macedonia' in any solution to a dispute between Athens and Skopje over the former Yugoslav republic's name, in Pella, Greece, June 6, 2018. /VCG Photo

On the other side of the border too, opposition parties and even Tsipras’s coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, said they would not agree to a deal that allows Skopje to use the name “Macedonia” in any form.

"The acceptance of the Macedonian language and nationality is an unacceptable national retreat," said opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Is this the final word?

Zaev and Tsipras are still due to meet to finalise the deal they agreed on Tuesday.

The accord must then be ratified by both the Greek and Macedonian parliaments, as well as survive a referendum in Macedonia. Skopje must also amend its constitutionto include the change.

But Zaev, who vowed to push for a solution to the name dispute after his election last year, was adamant on Tuesday: "There is no way back."

(CGTN)

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