Thursday, 20 September, 2018

Macedonia signs name change deal with Greece

A man faces riot police in Pisoderi near the border with Macedonia A man faces riot police in Pisoderi near the border with Macedonia
Jeannette Daniel | 20 June, 2018, 02:57

The deal to change the name was signed by two nations' foreign ministers on Greece's northern border on Sunday, witnessed by the leaders of both countries. Most Greek hardliners want to avoid any use of the word Macedonia in the small landlocked country's name.

But the decision is not universally supported.

One MP from the government coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party (ANEL), broke ranks and was promptly ejected from the party, revealing a crack that was followed later by the resignation of several ANEL party functionaries in protest of the agreement's signing.

The interior ministry said police used tear gas to stop the demonstrators, who were throwing stones and firecrackers.

"We won't give up the name" protestors, organised through social media, shouted.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the signing of the agreement, which will rename Macedonia as the Republic of Northern Macedonia, "a fearless, historic and necessary step for our peoples". "Our countries are leaving the past behind and are looking to the future". Negotiations took place under United Nations auspices beginning in 1995.

However, more than 120 countries including Russian Federation and the United States have recognised the Balkan country under the name of "Republic of Macedonia".

"It accused Tsipras of having "given orders" for "[police] to show unprecedented brutality" against people "who were demonstrating their patriotic sensibilities".

Right after the ratification, Greece will send a letter to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secretary general, informing him that there is no dispute between both countries and that there are no obstacles for Macedonia to receive an invitation for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation membership, Zaev said in a statement.

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In return, Greece will agree not to block their neighbour's efforts to join the bloc at the forthcoming European Council summit later this month, which will end with a set of conclusions on the subject of EU enlargement.

The accord still needs to be approved by Macedonia's parliament and then pass a referendum.

Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote mounted by Greece's opposition in parliament Saturday, but the depth of public emotion against the deal is strong. The motion was rejected in a 153-127 vote, which paved the way for the historic signing on June 17.

Macedonians are not the only ones enraged by the deal.

But the Kremlin has nothing against Macedonia's EU entry, Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told the Greek government in Athens on Friday.

But the level of venom highlighted the challenges that the name deal still faced to enter into life.

Skopje hopes that with a solution in hand, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will extend a membership invitation and that the European Union will allow the start of accession talks as early as this summer.

A landlocked country with a population of 2.1 million, it shares borders with Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece.

"The dispute is perceived as touching on issues of identity and self-determination and is highly polarising and charged with emotions", Kacarska said.

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