ISSN 2330-717X

Macedonia MPs Pass Amendments To Change Country’s Name

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By Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Macedonia’s parliament has passed all four constitutional amendments to allow the country’s name to be changed – as required under the historic agreement with Greece.

Macedonia’s parliament backed all four of the government-proposed amendments on changing the country’s constitution on Friday night, allowing the country’s name to be changed to the Republic of North Macedonia.

All present 81 MPs from the ruling parties and from several opposition parties backed the amendments, securing the much needed two-thirds majority.

Most of the MPs from the opposition right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, which opposes the name agreement, were absent from the session.

The constitutional changes mark the finalisation of Macedonia’s side of the name agreement with Greece, and mean that the country’s name will now become the Republic of North Macedonia for international and domestic use.

The nationality of the majority population will remain Macedonian.

The UN provisional reference, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, will be scrapped.

With the amendments passed, Greece is expected to lift its veto on Macedonia’s hopes of starting EU membership negotiations and joining NATO.

In their joint reaction, European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn expressed “wholehearted congratulations” to the parliament on its decision.

“Political leaders and citizens alike have shown their determination to seize this unique and historic opportunity in solving one of the oldest disputes in the region, and decisively move forward on the European Union path,” they said in a press statement.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also tweeted his congratulations.

“NATO strongly supports the full implementation of the agreement, which is an important contribution to a stable and prosperous region,” he wrote.

During Friday night’s vote, several hundred opponents of the name deal protested in front of the parliament building, accusing the MPs who endorsed it of committing national treason.

The passage of the vote came as a boost to Zoran Zaev’s Social Democratic-led government, which has struggled to ensure the required two-thirds majority for the changes, meaning at least 80 of the 120 MPs in parliament.

The vote took place after three days of inter-party deliberations marked by high uncertainty over whether and how many opposition MPs would endorse the deal over Macedonia’s name reached with Greece this summer.

The biggest challenge for Prime Minister Zaev in the past few days was to convince four MPs from two small ethnic Albanian opposition parties, the Alliance for Albanians and BESA [Oath] to support the amendments.

They conditioned their support with a set of demands designed, they said, to affirm the multi-ethnic character of the country. One of the most controversial was the demand to scrap the term “Macedonian citizenship” from the constitution.

A compromise was found and the government has agreed to address some of these demands through additional laws, and to put some directly into the constitution.

The final act of implementing the agreement will now fall to Athens, where the parliament will have to ratify it.

Unlike Macedonia, only a simple majority is needed in the Greek parliament. This means that at least 151 MPs in the 300-seat parliament must vote for it.

On Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the agreement would be put forward for ratification in parliament by the end of the month.

If the agreement is implemented, it will end a decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name, to which Greece objected.

Greece long insisted that the term “Macedonian” was Hellenic property. But it has modified its stance, now that Macedonia has agreed to add the geographical qualifier “North”.

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Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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