SKOPJE, FYROM – Lawmakers in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s Parliament committee began debate Oct. 10 on a critical deal with Greece to change their country’s name and the Constitution, to remove claims on Greek lands, with two-thirds needed.
The deal made with Greece’s anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras would let citizens of what would be called North Macedonia if both countries ratify the agreement be called Macedonias, have a Macedonian language and identity and keep the name of an ancient abutting Greek province.
The agreement got the support of 91.5 percent of FYROM voters in a Sept. 30 referendum but te paltry turnout of 36.5 percent, which came after opponents called for a boycott, led the country’s election commission to say it was invalid.
Tsipras also agreed to lift a Greek veto on North Macedonia getting into NATO and opening European Union accession talks to end a 27-year dispute that began when a New Democracy government allowed the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to use the name Macedonia before successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek territories.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev urged opposition lawmakers, who have said they will block the constitutional amendments, to support the changes, including modifying the constitution’s preamble and two articles. He said that otherwise FYROMwould be unable to join NATO.
“All lawmakers now have an historic duty to pave the way for the country’s stability, security and economic prosperity,” Zaev said. At last count, he was seven votes short and said he would call snap elections if there is no ratification, which could be the death knell of the name deal.
The main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party insisted that the deal with Greece is “dead” after the referendum.
“The people have rejected the deal,” VMRO-DPMNE lawmaker Trajko Veljanoski said. “I will not vote for constitutional changes.”
The debate will last several days at committee level before being put to lawmakers in a plenary session, likely next week.
FYROM’s Parliament has ratified the name-change agreement, which will only be finalized if the country amends its constitution and if Greece’s Parliament also ratifies the agreement. But Tsipras’ junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos are opposed.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)