Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said he’s confident a Sept. 30 referendum seeking to change the country’s name to North Macedonia as part of a deal with Greece will be approved by voters.
“I am certain the agreement will be accepted by our citizens, because whenever we are before a historic crossroads, we make wise choices,” Dimitrov told the IBNA news agency on the sidelines of a conference in Vienna. “I am also confident that even the ones, from both sides, opposing the agreement will, from a historical perspective, accept that this is an important step forward because there will be many benefits,” he was quoted as saying.
“We are neighbors, we cannot change this fact, history cannot be changed, but we can influence our future and make it better.”
The referendum question, which does not spell out the new name, will be, “Are you for EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?”
FYROM calls itself Macedonia and under the agreement with the anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras its citizens would be called Macedonians and have a Macedonian language and culture. While FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev hasn’t yet moved to change his country’s Constitution to remove irredentist claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia in Greece as well as the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, Tsipras said he will lift a Greek veto on FYROM getting into NATO and opening accession talks with the European Union.
The agreement, twice passed by FYROM’s Parliament after President Gjorge Ivanov refused to sign the first approval, will go to the Greek Parliament if it’s approved in the referendum but Tsipras, with 62-68 percent of Greeks opposed, has barred a referendum.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are SYRIZA’s junior coalition partners, said he will leave the coalition if it comes to a vote. That would require Tsipras to find votes from rival parties and another partner to keep his government from collapsing.
The deal was brokered with the help of UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who had failed for two decades to find a solution before resuming talks earlier this year after a three-year break amid speculation the US pressured Greece to relent to get FYROM into NATO as an American bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.