SKOPJE, FYROM — The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s national holiday saw Premier Zoran Zaev and President Gjorge Ivanov clash again over a deal to change the country’s name with North Macedonia, agreed with Greece to end a 27-year feud.
Zaev urged FYROMians on Aug. 2 — the 115th anniversary of a failed rebellion against Ottoman Turkey — to support the agreement with Greece in a Sept. 30 referendum that would clear the way for entry into NATO and the start of European Union accession hopes if Greece’s Parliament after that also votes approval.
Ivanov is refusing to sign off on the deal, which FYROM lawmakers ratified last month for a second time, necessitated when he refused to sign the first approval. The second passage means he’s required by law to sign but he’s holding out in opposition.
Ivanov says it would “delete” FYROM’s history as an independent nation that began in 1991 when its broke away from the collapsing Yugoslavia and was allowed by Greece’s then-ruling New Democracy Conservatives to use the name Macedonia – that of an abutting ancient Greek province – in what was supposed to be a temporary acronym.
But after successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek history, culture and territory – including the real Macedonia and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki – Greece used a veto to keep its neighbor out of NATO and having EU hopes.
Although the deal would change FYROM’s name to North Macedonia it would allow citizens there to call themselves Macedonians and have a Macedonian language and identity, anathema to opponents in Greece.
That includes the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition led by the ruling anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
He has barred a referendum with surveys showing 62-68 percent of Greeks are opposed although he said the agreement was necessary because it adds the qualifying North to Macedonia and that 140 countries already recognize FYROM as only Macedonia.