The deal’s not ratified yet, but a top American official said the United States was behind pushing Greece to reach an agreement changing the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and get the country into NATO.
The US backed the a settlement between Greece and FYROM as part of a campaign to stymie Russian interests in the Balkans, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell said.
“We have placed particular emphasis on bolstering the states of frontline Europe that are most susceptible to Russian geopolitical pressure,” Mitchell told a Senate foreign relations committee hearing on Aug. 21.
Under the deal, FYROM will be called North Macedonia but its citizens allowed to call themselves Macedonians and with a Macedonian language and identity, conceded by the anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
That was done to end a 27-year name feud that began when a New Democracy government allowed the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to take the name of Macedonia, an abutting ancient Greek province, in what was supposed to be a temporary acronym.
But after 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 from beginning European Union accession talks.
United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who had failed for two decades to find a solution, helped broker the new deal to get FYROM into NATO, which Russian diplomats in Greece tried to foil, the government said in expelling two of them.
Mitchell said that, “In the Balkans, American diplomacy has played a lead role in resolving the Greece-Macedonia name dispute,” referring to FYROM as Macedonia and not North Macedonia, perpetuating the problem Greece has faced with more than 140 countries calling FYROM as Macedonia too.
The deal has been approved twice by FYROM’s Parliament, the second time because the country’s President, Gjorge Ivanov, who opposes it, refused to sign. With the second okay he must sign under the law and then a referendum will be held on Sept. 30.
If ratified, it will go to the Greek Parliament, likely either later in the autumn or early in 2019 but Tsipras, seeing 62-68 percent of Greeks opposed – along with his own junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) – has barred a referendum.