The deal with Greece signed, sealed and delivered, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has begun the process of ratifying the agreement so it can officially become North Macedonia, taking the name Macedonia from an ancient abutting Greek province.
Greece’s anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras opened the door to the deal to end a 27-year feud between the countries that could see FYROM – or North Macedonia – also admitted to NATO and begin membership hopes for the European Union, both barred by Greek vetoes until now.
FYROM’s government spokesman Mile Bosnjakovski said Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Cabinet approved the deal and sent it Parliament for approval before a referendum in the fall. Tsipras has rejected a referendum in Greece with surveys showing 68 percent of people against the deal and it could be until autumn before the Greek Parliament takes it up, too late to reverse it if the lawmakers reject the agreement but FYROM is already in NATO.
FYROM’s Parliament Speaker told the state MIA news agency the ratification debate would start June 19 and is expected to end by the night of June 22 but the governing coalition controls 61 of the 120 seats in Parliament, a one-vote majority.
While the deal would commit Greece to lifting its objections to FYROM joining NATO and the European Union, politicians and residents in both countries oppose the compromise their leaders reached over the name of Macedonia.
Zaev still hasn’t moved to change his country’s Constitution to remove irredentist claims on Greek territories, including the real Macedonia and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki and the deal allows its citizens to call themselves and their language as Macedonian.
Seven policemen were injured and 25 protesters detained late June 17 in the FYROM Capital of Skopje as demonstrators opposed to the name deal tried to push their way into the Parliament building.
Near the deal signing at Lake Prespes, which has borders in both countries, Greek riot police had to beat back 4,000 protesters to keep them from disrupting the signing ceremony. Clashes erupted that left Greek police and 12 people injured.
The FYROM Interior Ministry said police used tear gas to stop the demonstrators as they threw stones and firecrackers. The statement made no mention of injuries among the protesters. A few thousand people took part in the demonstration.
Police reported June 18 that unknown arsonists set fire overnight to the car of a lawmaker in FYROM who had attended the ceremony.
Greece insisted on a name change for years, arguing that the name Macedonia implies claims on its own northern province of Macedonia, and on Greece’s ancient heritage. Most Greek hardliners want to avoid any use of the word Macedonia in the small landlocked country’s name, including Tsipras’ coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who made no attempt to stop the deal but said he and his party would vote against it in Parliament.
In FYROM,President Gjorge Ivanov vocally opposes the change to North Macedonia and has said he will not sign off on the agreement even if Parliament ratifies it. That would force lawmakers to repeat the debate and vote, and if the deal is ratified again then Ivanov will be unable to block it.
Zaev said if it is supported by voters in the referendum the next step will be for the country’s Parliament to approve a constitutional amendment formally changing the country’s name.
Provided all that goes off smoothly, Greece’s Parliament will then vote on the deal, which has split the left-led governing coalition and is rejected by most opposition parties.
If FYROM fails to complete its side of the process, Greece says its neighbor’s NATO and EU accession course will automatically come to a halt under the deal, unless it’s already been admitted, making it irreversible.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)