By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Skopje and Athens announced they can resolve their long and bitter dispute by agreeing on the composite name ‘Republic of North Macedonia’ for Macedonia – a deal expected to unlock Skopje’s EU and NATO bids.
Neighbouring Macedonia and Greece announced on Tuesday they have reached a historic compromise solution to their decades-long name dispute, agreeing that Macedonia will use the composite name ‘Republic of North Macedonia’.
“The chance is here and it must be seized, bravely, as this is the only patriotic way,” Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told a press conference in Skopje.
“We got a fair deal… With this solution we are strengthening Macedonian ethnic and cultural identity, once and for all,” he added.
In Athens, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the deal “historic”.
Zaev said that the definition of the country’s language will remain ’Macedonian’, as Skopje insisted in the talks.
People’s nationality will be defined as ‘Macedonian/Citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia’.
Under the agreement, the agreed name, the Republic of North Macedonia, will be used internationally and domestically, an issue that was a priority for Greece.
News of the eagerly-awaited breakthrough comes after the two sides stepped up the UN-sponsored ‘name’ talks at the start of this year, after Zaev’s party came to power in 2017.
By solving the dispute which has lingered for more than 25 years, Macedonia will remove the biggest obstacle on its path towards EU and NATO accession.
Skopje hopes that with a solution in hand, NATO will extend an invitation to join and the EU will allow the start of Macedonian accession talks as early as this summer.
The two prime ministers are expected to sign the agreement over the next weekend.
Zaev said that the deal will be put to a referendum in Macedonia in the autumn.
But before that, he said the agreement will be put to parliament for ratification in order not to waste any time and to allow Greece to lift its blockade on Macedonia’s potential membership of NATO and the EU.
The EU’s enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn and foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini responded with an enthusiastic welcome for the agreement.
“We wholeheartedly congratulate Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev for their determination and leadership in reaching this historic agreement between their countries, which contributes to the transformation of the entire region of South-East Europe,” Hahn and Mogherini said in a joint statement.
The long-running dispute has centred on Greece’s objection to Macedonia’s name, which has prompted it to block its neighbour from joining NATO and the EU until it is changed.
Greece has been insisting that use of the name ‘Macedonia’ implies a territorial claim to Greece’s own northern province of Macedonia, and a claim to Greece’s ancient heritage.
But Macedonia feared that a name change could have a negative impact on the national identity of its people, the majority of whom simply call themselves ‘Macedonians’.