Greece, Macedonia seal deal on new name for ex-Yugoslav state

Prime ministers Alexis Tsipras (centre, right) of Greece and Zoran Zaev of Macedonia meeting yesterday in Prespes, a lake region bordering Greece, Macedonia and Albania. The two leaders later signed a historic agreement to settle a dispute over the f
Prime ministers Alexis Tsipras (centre, right) of Greece and Zoran Zaev of Macedonia meeting yesterday in Prespes, a lake region bordering Greece, Macedonia and Albania. The two leaders later signed a historic agreement to settle a dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PRESPES (Greece) • Greece and Macedonia defied protests and set aside decades of dispute yesterday as they agreed on a new name for the Balkan state, potentially paving the way for Skopje's admission to the European Union and Nato.

The foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia signed an accord to rename the former Yugoslav republic the "Republic of North Macedonia", despite a storm of protest over a deal seen as a national sellout by some on both sides.

In the idyllic setting of Prespes, a lake region which borders Greece, Macedonia and Albania, officials from the two countries embraced, shook hands and penned a deal in the presence of European and United Nations officials.

The agreement still requires the approval of both parliaments and a referendum in Macedonia. That approval is far from assured, as it faces stiff opposition from the Greek public, and Macedonia's President has vowed to block the deal.

"We have a historic responsibility that this deal is not held in abeyance, and I am confident that we will manage it," Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said as he and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev received a standing ovation from guests at the ceremony.

Mr Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote mounted by Greece's opposition in Parliament last Saturday, but the depth of public emotion against the deal is strong.

Under the deal, Greece will lift its objections to the renamed nation joining the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

"Our two countries have to turn from the past and look to the future," Mr Zaev said. "We were bold enough to take a step forward."

Greece has been in dispute with Macedonia since 1991 over the former Yugoslav republic's name, arguing that it could imply territorial claims over the Greek province of Macedonia and an appropriation of ancient Greek culture and civilisation.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Greece, Macedonia seal deal on new name for ex-Yugoslav state'. Print Edition | Subscribe