Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is hoping for a big turnout at a Sept. 30 referendum asking residents whether they approve of a name deal with Greece to rename the country North Macedonia.
That would open the door for entry into NATO and allowing European Union accession hopes to begin in 2019 although even if approved in FYROM would still need ratification from the Greek Parliament. Anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who struck the deal to end a 27-year-long name feud between the countries, has barred a referendum after surveys showed 62-68 percent of Greeks opposed.
His own junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos are also against the deal and will vote against it. But Kammenos, whose party is the ideological rival of SYRIZA, said he wouldn't stand in the way of the agreement either, allowing him to have it both ways.
Zaev, who is staking his office on the vote – he said he would resign if the referendum rejects the deal – said it was a chance for people to make an "historic decision” and move on, although there is opposition from other parties as some 140 countries already call FYROM as Macedonia – the name of an abutting ancient Greek province.
Zaev urged FYROM residents to approve the referendum and the deal that would also let them identify as Macedonians and with a Macedonian language and culture although he hasn't yet moved, as promised, to change his country's Constitution to remove claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)