With the United States backing a deal Greece made to let the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia be called North Macedonia, a survey shows citizens there are in favor of a Sept. 30 referendum to approve the agreement.
An opinion poll Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC) in FYROM showed 41.5 percent in favor compared to 35.1 percent opposed, including the country’s President Gjorge Ivanov and rival parties of Premier Zoran Zaev.
Support for the deal was stronger among the country’s ethnic Albanian minority, with 88 percent in favor, whereas approval among the majority Slav-FRYOMians was at 27.4 percent. A majority of 66.4 percent said they would take part in the vote.
The referendum question will be “Are you in favor of EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?” using the name FYROM calls itself, that of an ancient abutting Greek province.
Earlier, a US State Department official told residents to get out and vote for the deal. Visiting FYROM’s Capital, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer voiced support for the deal struck in June with Greece’s anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ government – apart from his junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who opposes giving away the name of Macedonia an abutting ancient Greek province.
Zaev is hoping for a big turnout for the referendum, which, if approved would open the door for entry into NATO and allowing European Union accession hopes to begin in 2019.
Evn if approved in FYROM the agreement would still need ratification from the Greek Parliament but Tsipras, who struck the deal to end a 27-year-long name feud between the countries, has barred a referendum after surveys showed 62-68 percent of Greeks opposed.
Zaev, who is staking his office on the vote – he said he would resign if the referendum rejects the deal – said it was a chance for people to make an “historic decision” and move on, although there is opposition from other parties as some 140 countries already call FYROM as Macedonia.
Zaev urged FYROM residents to approve the referendum and the deal that would also let them identify as Macedonians and with a Macedonian language and culture although he hasn’t yet moved, as promised, to change his country’s Constitution to remove claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.
The deal was brokered with the help of United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who failed for two decades to find a solution to a problem that began in 1991 when a New Democracy government allowed the country breaking away from the collapsing Yugoslavia to use the name Macedonia in the FYROM acronym, which was supposed to be temporary.
But after successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, Athens used a veto to keep its neighbor out of NATO and the EU.
Nimetz had suspended talks for three years before resuming them this year amid speculation the US wanted to get FYROM into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans. NATO has extended an invitation but said it’s dependent on both countries ratifying the deal.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)