FYROM Premier Says There's One Macedonia: His Country

Αssociated Press

FILE - FYROM's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev greets the supporters during a pre-referendum rally named "For European Macedonia", in Skopje, FYROM, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Premier Zoran Zaev, who reached an agreement with Greece to change the name to North Macedonia – keeping the name of an ancient abutting Greek province – said only his country is really Macedonia.

Before FYROM's state-run MIA news agency changed the comments, it reported he said in an interview in Washington, ahead of a Sept. 30 referendum asking the country's citizens whether they agree with the deal, that, “The northern part of Greece is Greece, the western part of Bulgaria is Bulgaria. This is our Macedonia and there will not be another one in the world.”

That was swiftly redacted and replaced with the agency claiming what he really said – without explaining the contradiction or the oddly-worded phrasing, to: “We all know that today a part of the geopolitical region of Macedonia is in Greece, a part is in Bulgaria, and the northern part is in our country. And no one will ever try to deny our Macedonia. The adjective ‘North’ makes a distinction and we reaffirm that there are regions in Bulgaria and in Greece which are called Macedonia.”

Greece's anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras agreed to the name change to end a 27-year feud that began when a New Democracy administration in 1991 let the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia use the name Macedonia.

That was supposed to be a temporary acronym but when successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, Greece used a veto to keep its neighbor out of NATO and opening European Union accession talks. Those were lifted by Tsipras even though Zaev hasn't yet moved, as promised, to change his country's Constitution to remove irrdentist claims. If the agreement is approved in the referendum it will go to the Greek Parliament for a vote, likely early next year.

Tsipras' junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos were expected to vote against it. Kammenos said he would pull his party from the government if it comes to a vote.

But has waffled again on what he would do as leaving would remove him from power with polls showing his party at about 1 percent and no chance of returning to Parliament in the next elections, which must be held by October of 2019.

Tsipras and Kammenos met to talk about their differences, repeating a pattern in which Kammenos first publicly barks defiance before later quietly relenting and voting the way he's told by Tsipras.

Kammenos has said both that he opposes the deal but wouldn't stand in the way of it, allowing him to both support and oppose it and have it both ways while saying what happens isn't his fault. The two said they would talk about it again in March, said Kathimerini, although the deal could come to a vote before that, with the contradiction unexplained.

FYROM's opposition VMRO party is taking the same stance, first vehemently opposing it, then with the party leader saying its members could vote their conscience, and now leaning toward supporting changing the Constitution and stop claiming Greek lands.

The party’s leader Hristijan Mickoski said he is still against a revision of the constitutionbut added that if the majority of citizens approve it then “we will respect this decision” – as long as more than 50 percent participate in the referendum and the result is a “yes” vote. Mickoski also said he is sticking to the party decision not to tell its supporters what to vote for in the referendum. United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, joining other western leaders, with the US said to be eager to get FYROM into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests, said “We consider the agreement between the two governments to be a very positive one,” according to Greece's state-run news agency ANA-MPA. US Vice President Mike Pence also pushed for the two countries to settle the name dispute with a White House statement indicating that he congratulated Zaev and said thate the agreement would “lead to greater security and prosperity for the entire region.”

The French Ambassador to FYROM, Christian Thimonier urged a yes vote in the referendum, telling MIA it's the only choice they have.

He said that, “I've been talking with Macedonians and I know this is not easy but they should all think about the next generations. Maybe (I am being) too straightforward but I'll tell you: The choice is between North Macedonia and North Korea. You should know what to choose.”

“I believe Macedonians are able to make sacrifices and now they have a real opportunity… to demonstrate that,” he was quoted as saying, using the word Macedonians in line with the deal SYRIZA reached to let residents of what would be North Macedonia to be called Macedonians and have a Macedonian language and culture.

Speaking at the same debate French diplomat Alain Le Roy said while the agreement signed with Greece in June was “not perfect,” there was nevertheless “unanimous support” for the deal, notd mentioning opposition from ANEL and SYRIZA's major rival New Democracy nor the 62 percent of Greeks who in a survey said they were against it.