Macedonia in deal with Greece for a new name

Riot police use tear gas during a protest of opponents of the deal between Greece and Macedonia on the latter country's new name
Riot police use tear gas during a protest of opponents of the deal between Greece and Macedonia on the latter country’s new name “North Macedonia”, outside the parliament in Skopje, Macedonia. Photo: AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski

Greece and Macedonia signed an agreement yesterday to bring to an end one of Europe’s longest-running international disputes.

At Lake Prespa, on the border between the two countries, the Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers signed a deal they hope will end 27 years of enmity over who are the true heirs of Alexander the Great.

However, hundreds of Greek nationalists voiced their opposition to the deal yesterday as they clashed with riot police near the village of Pisoderi, 25km away from the ceremony.

A woman was hit on the head by a rock and a man was being treated for breathing trouble, health officials said, as about 500 demonstrators waving Greek flags tried to approach the signature ceremony.

Under the agreement, Macedonia is to be renamed Northern Macedonia. In return, Greece will drop its long-standing block on its northern neighbour joining Nato and the EU, and end objection to the use of the Macedonia name.

“This is a brave, historic, and necessary step for our peoples,” Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, said as he watched the lakeside ceremony.

Zoran Zaev, the Macedonian prime minister, called on Greeks and Macedonians to “step out of the past and look to the future”. The signing was a personal triumph for the two leaders, despite opposition in both countries. Mr Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote over the deal on Saturday, while Gjorge Ivanov, the Macedonian president, has threatened to veto the name change. Mr Ivanov’s veto cannot prevent the change, but only delay it.

But the agreement has to be put to the Macedonian public in a referendum and ratified by both countries’ parliaments. Macedonia joining Nato could also anger Russia.

“Moscow has noticeably refused to endorse the agreement,” said Prof James Ker-Lindsay of St Mary’s University in London. “There will be fears that Russia may try to somehow influence the vote.”

If ratified, the deal will end the compromise under which Macedonia had to be referred to as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the UN and other bodies.

The dispute dates back to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. When Macedonia declared its independence in 1991, there was already a Greek region of the same name. Greece objected to the new country’s use of the name.

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