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Politics

North Macedonia’s New President Reignites a Spat with Greece at her Inauguration Ceremony

SKOPJE, North Macedonia  — Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova was sworn as the first female president of North Macedonia on Sunday and immediately reignited a diplomatic spat with neighboring Greece.

At the ceremony in the country’s parliament, Siljanovska-Davkova referred to her country as “Macedonia,” rather than the constitutional name “North Macedonia.”

This prompted Greek Ambassador Sophia Philippidou to leave the inauguration ceremony. The Greek Foreign Ministry later issued a statement, saying that the new president’s actions violated an agreement between the two nations and put in danger both bilateral relations and North Macedonia’s prospects of joining the European Union.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen implicitly rebuked Siljanovska-Davkova’s choice of words.

“For North Macedonia to continue its successful path on EU accession, it is paramount that the country continues on the path of reforms and full respect for its binding agreements, including the Prespa Agreement,” she posted on X, referring to a 2018 agreement between North Macedonia and Greece.

A few hours later, von der Leyen posted her congratulations to the new president: “Congratulations, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, on becoming the first female President of North Macedonia. Your leadership comes at a crucial time, as your country advances its reforms and continues on its path towards the EU. I’m looking forward to working with you.”

Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, the new President of North Macedonia poses for the cameras at the entrance of the presidential palace in Skopje, North Macedonia, on Sunday, May 12, 2024. Siljanovska Davkova was sworn as first female president in North Macedonia on Sunday after her triumph in a presidential runoff earlier this week over the leftist incumbent president. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

The use of the name “Macedonia” provokes a strong Greek reaction, with Greece accusing its northern neighbor of appropriating a Greek name and the history of the Ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedonia, which existed centuries before Slavic people, such as the contemporary ethnic Macedonians, arrived in the area.

The decades-old dispute was resolved in 2018, when both sides signed an agreement and the constitutional name “North Macedonia” was adopted. Greece then lifted its objection to North Macedonia joining NATO and applying for EU membership.

That agreement was signed by the center-left North Macedonian government, against the wishes of the center-right opposition grouping to which Siljanovska-Davkova belongs. The opposition handily won both the presidential and parliamentary elections last week.

Siljanovska-Davkova is the sixth president since the tiny Balkan country gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. She was sworn in before the outgoing parliament.

“I could not have imagined that I would receive this kind of trust from over 560,000 citizens. I still can’t believe it. I will be the president of all citizens. I will try to justify these thousands of votes, which are not only the most beautiful gift for my birthday, but also the biggest obligation I have had in my life. It is time for unity,” Siljanovska-Davkova said, referring to the fact that she was officially informed of the result on Saturday — her 71st birthday.

Most of her address was focused on women and their role in society, promising to “feminize” and “Europeanize” the country. “With the help of us women, you male politicians will also change and Macedonia will become a decent place to live,” Siljanovska-Davkova said.

After taking the oath in parliament, a handoff ceremony took place in front of the President’s official residence.

Siljanovska–Davkova, a lawmaker in the outgoing parliament and a university professor and lawyer, was the candidate of the center-right coalition led by the VMRO-DPMNE and defeated incumbent president Stevo Pendarovski with 69% of the vote in last Wednesday’s runoff. Turnout was 47.47%, above the 40% threshold required to make the election valid and avoid a repeat vote.

Siljanovska-Davkova and Pendarovski had also squared off in 2019.

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