Macedonia Lawmakers Set Again To Debate Name Change Amid Uncertainty

Lamar Ellis
January 14, 2019

Macedonia's parliament backed all four of the government-proposed amendments on changing the country's constitution on Friday night, allowing the country's name to be changed to the Republic of North Macedonia.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation formally invited Macedonia to join the military alliance in 2008, but Greece vetoed the move, claiming that Macedonia's name implies territorial aspirations toward Greece's northern province with the same name as well as appropriating Greece's historical heritage.

Opponents to the proposal say they are defending Macedonia's name, identity, and history, as well as the traditions of the Macedonian people, against what they call "the greatest national treachery".

Macedonia's worldwide recognition was finalized in April 1993, when the country was unanimously adopted as a member of the UN General Assembly, but was admitted as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) due to pressure by Greece. Greece had previously referred to Macedonia as Skopje, after its capital, or Fyrom, an acronym for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Despite the dispute between Athens and Skopje, many countries, including Turkey, recognize the country as Macedonia.

In 1994, Greece imposed an economic embargo on Macedonia and prevented it from using the Greek port at Thessaloniki, Skopje's main trading post. Greece believes it is the only country entitled to lay claim to the ancient culture.

The implementation of the agreement, named after the bordering town of Prespa where it was signed, is meant to end the dispute.

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"We have taken ownership of our destiny", The Republic of Macedonia's foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov, said after the vote.

In his address, prime minister Zoran Zaev said that this was an important decision: "Yes, it's true that I've changed my position regarding the country's name, but changes in position bring progress, even if I have to pay with my political career", he said.

Negotiations were restarted in January 2018 under United Nations auspices, despite strong opposition from nationalists in both countries.

The historic deal was originally reached in June, but Macedonia will not adopt its new name until it has also been ratified by Greece's parliament. That was the object of a tension-reducing agreement between the Greek and Macedonian prime ministers last summer.

Two questions were put before voters in the referendum.

Macedonia's conservative opposition leader has accused the government of securing parliamentary approval for a constitutional amendment changing the country's name by "blackmailing" lawmakers.

No one voted against or abstained, ' reads the message.

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