Parliament in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is on pace to finalize a new name for the country as agreed in a deal with Greece that would also open the door for its entry into NATO and beginning European Union accession talks.
While it faces opposition in Greece, where two-thirds of voters disapprove and the Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Radical Left SYRIZA said they vote against it, it seems set to be okayed in FYROM, as the two countries try to end a near 28-year name feud.
A New Democracy administration in 1991 allowed the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslav to take the name of the ancient Greek province of Macedonia in what was supposed to be a temporary acronym.
But after successive FYROM governments claimed Greek territories, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, Greece used a veto to keep its Balkan neighbor out of the defense alliance and EU membership hopes.
The deal would see FYROM become North Macedonia and its citizens called Macedonians, with a Macedonian language, culture and identity as the anti-nationalist Tsipras said some 140 countries were calling FYROM already as Macedonia.
In FYROM’s capital, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told lawmakers debating the constitutional changes needed to rename the country that the agreement his government signed recognizes what he called Macedonian national identity and language.
“This is an historic and patriotic choice. We can be the generation that has made a bold decision,” Zaev said. The deal requires FYROM to change its constitution and give up irredentist claims on Greek lands.
FYROM lawmakers began debate on Jan. 10 and were expected to vote on jan. 11. If approved, the agreement would go to Greece’s Parliament where it faces opposition from
ANEL whose leader, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, said he would yank the party and topple the government if Tsipras persists.
FYROM’s center-right VMRO-DPMNE opposition party boycotted the debate. Leader Hristijan Mickoski and other party lawmakers joined several hundred protesters outside who called the deal “treason.”
Aleksandar Kiracovski, Secretary-General of the coalition government’s Social Democrats, said the government had secured enough votes to reach the two-thirds support required for passage.
FYROM’s Parliament is also expected to add a provision in the amendment legislation stating the constitutional changes would not be valid until Greece’s Parliament ratifies the agreement and endorses NATO protocols for making North Macedonia a member.
Tsipras said in an interview with private Open Beyond TV that once Greece gets formal notice of the FYROM parliament’s vote on the amendments, he would “immediately” launch the process of ratification in the Greek Parliament, which hadn’t been expected until March with his party reeling in an election year.
He said he expected lawmakers to approve the deal even if ANEL doesn’t, saying he has enough votes from rival parties, although without his partner he would lose his parliamentary majority unless finding a replacement.
Tsipras said if Kammenos won’t give ANEL’s continued support that he would seek a confidence vote in Parliament and that if he survives but can’t form a new parliamentary election he would call snap polls before required elections in October.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this review)