More police protection is being given to lawmakers in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) who voted for a deal with Greece to change their country’s name to North Macedonia and drop claims on Greek lands and territories, including the real Macedonia in Greece and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.
Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski said all 80 parliament members who backed launching the constitutional amendment process needed for the change were getting extra security after several lawmakers and their families reported death threats.
Parliament voted 80-39 on Oct. 19 in favor of the government’s proposal for the amendment that also would let residents of what would be North Macedonia be called Macedonians and have a Macedonian language, culture and identity, major concessions from Greece, which also agreed to lift vetoes keeping its Balkan neighbor out of NATO and opening European Union accession talks.
The government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, which needed a two-thirds majority, got just enough votes from rival parties to approve the Constitutional changes, spearheading the way foir the agreement to go to the Greek Parliament.
The deal was pushed by Greece’s anti-nationalist ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras but his junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos are opposed and he said he will take his tiny party out of the government if it comes to a vote.
Kammenos claimed some unnamed MP’s in FYROM were bribed to vote for the deal but there’s no report of any investigation.
The name change would end a 27-year dispute between the countries that began when a New Democracy government in 1991 agreed to let the new country forming from the collapse of Yugoslavia to use the name Macedonia in what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement before successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands.
Western officials have strongly supported the deal, which could reduce Russian influence in the Balkans. It was brokered with the help of United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who had failed for two decades to find a solution but resumed talks earlier this year after a three-year break amid speculation it was done so that the US could get another country into NATO as a bulwark against Russia interests in the Balkans.
On Oct. 22, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer visited FYROM’s capital of Skopje and praised the Parliament decision, saying the agreement “is essential for Macedonia’s path towards the European Union and NATO,” using the name FYROM already calls itself, as do 140 other countries.
“I would like to underscore that the Macedonian people can rely on U.S. friendship and support,” Palmer added, the kind of talk that infuriates Kammenos and Greek nationalists who say that Macedonia is Greek before the government gave the name away again.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)