By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Macedonian lawmakers have started debating an agreement with Greece to change the former Yugoslav republic’s name, as hundreds of protesters gathered in the center of Skopje for a third day to vent anger over the deal.
The National Assembly on June 19 voted 69-40 for the adoption of a shortened ratification procedure for the accord, which changes the country’s formal name to the Republic of North Macedonia.
During a speech by Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, the deputies of the opposition nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party shouted “traitor” and left the legislature to protest against the name change.
Two parliamentary committees were set to consider the draft law on ratifying the deal later in the day.
Parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi has said he expects the accord to be ratified by the end of June 22.
The draft legislation on ratifying the deal requires a simple majority from at least 61 deputies required for a quorum.
The deal, signed by the two countries’ foreign ministers on June 17, ends a 27-year dispute between Athens and Skopje and paves the way for Macedonia to begin membership talks with the European Union and NATO.
But it will take months to complete and faces several hurdles on the way, with President Gjorge Ivanov pledging to veto the deal if it is ratified by parliament.
That would force lawmakers to repeat the vote, and if the deal is ratified again — this time with an absolute majority — then Ivanov will be unable to block it.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has also pledged to hold a referendum on the deal later this year. If Macedonians vote in favor, the next step will be for lawmakers to approve a constitutional amendment formally changing the country’s name.
The Greek parliament would then vote on the deal, which has split the governing coalition and is rejected by most opposition parties.
The name dispute between Skopje and Athens dates back to 1991, when Macedonia peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.
Greece has objected to the name Macedonia, fearing territorial claims on its eponymous northern region.
Because of Greek objections, Macedonia was admitted to the UN under a provisional name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Greece, an EU and NATO member, has also cited the dispute to veto Macedonia’s bid to join the two organizations.