FYROM Contradictory New Name Referendum Brings New Schism

(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, FILE)

Uncertainty reigned after 91.4 percent of voters in a Sept. 30 referendum agreed with a deal with Greece to change the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and open the door to NATO and European Union hopes as critics said it was invalid because of a low turnout of only 36.9 percent.

The country’s Constitution requires a 50 percent turnout to make a referendum binding but Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who staked his career on winning, said so many people who did vote were in support that he would forge ahead anyway, seeking a two-thirds majority in the 120-member Parliament for required constitutional amendments to remove irredentist claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia, an ancient abutting Greek province, and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.

If the amendments do not pass, Social-Democrat Zaev said he would have no choice but to call an early election, ending hopes to change FYROM’s name to North Macedonia and getting into NATO and the EU.

Opponents of the deal with Greece, arguing that it undermined national interests, had advocated a voter boycott of the referendum and also claimed victory, pointing to the paltry turnout.

In a televised address, President Gjorge Ivanov, a conservative opponent of Zaev’s, described the referendum as a failure and insisted the country deserved to join NATO, and ultimately the European Union, without changing its name.

“Do not try to change this reality. Do not underestimate the sovereign will of the Macedonian people,” Ivanov said. “And the reality is that the referendum is unsuccessful.”

International observers, headed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said fundamental freedoms were “respected throughout the campaign” for the referendum.