Mitsotakis Says New Democracy Will Vote Against North Macedonia Name

FILE - New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses lawmakers during a parliamentary session where he submitted a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in Athens, on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – Main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his party will not back a recently signed deal allowing the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to be called North Macedonia.

The agreement pushed by anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader ended a 27-year name feud that began ironically when Mitsotakis’ father, the late former Premier Constantinos Mitsotakis in 1991 allowed the new country breaking away from the collapsing Yugoslavia to use the name Macedonia, an abutting ancient Greek province, in what was supposed to be a temporary acronym.

But when successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, successive Greek governments used a veto to bar its Balkan neighbor from getting into NATO or opening European Union accession hopes.

Mitsotakis voiced his objections while touring the real Macedonia on FYROM’s border, the business newspaper Naftemporiki said. That’s a region where more than 90 percent of residents objected to the deal as did 68 percent of Greeks overall, which Tsipras ignored.

FYROM’s Parliament has already ratified the deal but it faces a referendum there in the autumn, when the Greek Parliament is expected to take up the decision whether to go along. Tsipras’ junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos are allegedly opposed and he said he will oust any of his remaining seven lawmakers if they vote for it.

He had ordered them to vote against a no-confidence measure against Tsipras, who brought it, which was brought by New Democracy.

Mitsotakis, who still hasn’t said whether he supports giving away the name Macedonia as did his father, said his main objection was the deal allows residents of what would be North Macedonia to be called Macedonians and claim a Macedonian language and identity.

Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias admitted he had to make that concession to get FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev to call his country North Macedonia domestically as well as internationally, and not just as Macedonia as is now done, the name recognized by 140 countries.

The deal also removes the Greek veto on FYROM getting into NATO and starting EU accession talks and could be irreversible if Greece’s neighbor gets into the defense alliance even if Greece’s Parliament rejects the deal later.

Thousands of people protested outside FYROM’s Parliament building in the capital of Skopje on June 23 against the deal.

The protest, organized by the student organization Youth for Macedonia, had as its motto: Never North, always Macedonia.

Protesters demanded the resignation of the leftist government and chanted “Traitors!” at politicians who voted earlier this week to rename FYROM as North Macedonia. The protest ended peacefully.

The main opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE party boycotted the vote and FYROM’s President said he will not sign it, which would require a second ratification vote that, if succcessful, he would by law be required to consent to.