Zaev, Tsipras Feared Political Fallout from FYROM Name Deal

FILE - FYROM's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, left, speaks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (AP Photo, FILE)

His country is North Macedonia now, but Premier Zoran Zaev said the deal he made with anti-nationalist Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras to change it from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) had them fearing they would be “politically dead.”

With Greece also lifting vetoes keeping what is now North Macedonia out of NATO and from opening European Union accession talks, Zaev told the Financial Times that his country’s accession to NATO is a “great honor” although it may take as long as a year to get in.

Asked by the newspaper about criticism by some of his fellow citizens that he conceded too much in the deal, Zaev said that both he and Tsipras had feared that the agreement would provoke their political demise, as it was opposed by two-thirds of Greeks.

But now that it’s done, Zaev said support for the deal was growing and that citizens follow leaders who take “difficult decisions.” It also led to both being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize although there’s no war between the countries.

When the deal was being signed, support for it in his country stood at just 17 percent of the population, he said, noting that that the figure had since risen to 60 percent while there’s no indication that Greek opposition has lessened.

The agreement was brokered with the help of United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who had failed for two decades to end a 28-year name feud, amid speculation US pressure on Greece to get North Macedonia into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans was put on Tsipras.

“Today we have a chair in NATO headquarters, and . . . very soon we will have the right to vote,” he said. “One vote for North Macedonia, one vote for Great Britain, one vote for United

one for Germany . . . we will be equal there. It is a great honour for us,” he told FT.

He said while Russia was vehemently opposed that he still thinks North Macedonia can work with Moscow.

“We don’t have enough stones to attack Russia,” he said. “I don’t expect something to happen during the Nato entry process because, really, we are not a threat to anyone.”