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Historic deal on Macedonian name not done yet

Greece and Macedonia agreed on Sunday to end its long-standing dispute on the name of Macedonia and signed a deal on the new name of the country: The Republic of Northern Macedonia. The deal has been hailed as historic but still needs to be ratified by the parliaments in the two countries. The signature ceremony in the presence of EU and UN dignitaries took place in the Greek fishing village Psarades on the southern bank of Lake Prespas which serves as a border between the countries. After the ceremony Alexis Tsipras reportedly became the first Greek Prime Minister to visit the neigbouring country.

No-one could doubt the joy and satisfication of those present at the ceremony that a seemingly obvious solution which had defied negotiators for almost 25 years finally was achieved. During all those years proposals on how Greece and Macedonia could share the name by adding geographic or other identifiers were floated but without resulting in any agreement.

EU looked at the name issue as a bilateral issue which needed to be solved by the two countries concerned with some mediation by United Nations. Although the issue concerned an EU member state and a candidate country, the Commission stayed mainly outside the dispute, not using its leverage.

“We lost a generation because of the name issue,” said Macedonian minister of foreign affairs, Nikola Dimitrov, during a visit in Brussels in May. “It’s not rational since it’s about different narratives, identities and emotions. The fact that the accession process was blocked meant also less leverage for EU to promote sustainable reforms in our country.”

“This is a brave, historic and necessary step for our peoples,” said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the ceremony. “Our two countries should step out of the past and look to the future,” his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev said.

But there are still hurdles ahead. The Macedonian president opposes the agreement and plans to use his veto against it.

Any agreement will have to be adopted by the parliaments in Northern Macedonia and Greece. “It won’t be easy but it’s possible. It’s a matter of political will,“ Nicola Dimitrov told The Brussels Times last May.

The Macedonian constitution must reportedly also be revised by the end of the year before the parliament of Greece, where the opposition parties are denouncing the deal, will be called to ratify it.

A spokesperson for the European External Action Service (EEAS) confirmed at a press briefing yesterday (18 June) that the EU will continue to use the old awkward name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or Fyrom in short. “A number of steps needs to be taken before the EU will use the new name,” she said.

But by and large the deal was received as irreversibel. In an op-ed today (19 June) in The New York Times, Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros and his son Alexander, known for their Open Society Foundation, welcomed the deal as historic and an achievement which will help stabilize Western Balkans and contribute to Europe’s security.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times