Zaev Pushes Stumbling FYROM Name Deal With Greece

FILE - FYROM's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski, FILE)

So far short of the two-thirds vote he’d need to get his Parliament to approve a name deal with Greece, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Premier Zoran Zaev said both countries would benefit if it goes through, urging approval as soon as possible.

Voters in a Sept. 30 referendum in FYROM approved the deal to change the country’s name to North Macedonia – keeping the name of an ancient abutting Greek province – and which would open the door to NATO and European Union accession talks.

While the yes vote was 91.5 percent, a turnout of only 36.9 percent made the vote invalid after critics had called for a boycott.

Still, Zaev said he had enough support to go forward but the biggest obstacle now is convincing enough rival party members in Parliament to ratify the deal, which would require changing the Constitution to drop irredentist claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.

Rival parties said the deal is dead and EU officials said if ratification fails and snap elections in FRYOM are called the two countries will likely lost their last best chance to settle a 27-year-long dispute that began after a New Democracy government in Greece allowed the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to use the name Macedonia in what was supposed to be a temporary acronym.

After successive FYROM governments kept claiming Greek lands, Greece used a veto to keep its neighbor out of NATO and starting EU talks but Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras lifted that, contingent on the deal being approved.

It would also need ratification from the Greek Parliament if it gets past the FYROM hurdle but Tsipras’ junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos are opposed.

Zaev told Euronews in an interview that he’s still hopeful. “There’s plenty of time, but we all agree that the sooner the deal is implemented, the better it will be for both countries, as the agreement offers many benefits,” he was quoted as saying.

“I am pleased with the success of this fully democratic process where all the determined voters cast their vote to say in what direction they want the country to go. Ninety-one percent sent a clea message to our politicians that deputies should go to Parliament and ratify it,” he added.

He said if all possible ways to achieve a majority fail, then general elections will be necessary. “But Macedonia doesn’t need elections,” he noted, continuing to call FYROM by Macedonia, which 140 other countries do as well.