Greece-Macedonia name deal meets with mixed reaction

ATHENS, | Greece-Macedonia name deal meets with mixed reaction

ATHENS, Greece — A historic deal ending a decades-long dispute between neighbors Greece and Macedonia over the latter’s name met with mixed reactions in both countries Wednesday, with some welcoming the agreement and others horrified at what they see as unacceptable concessions.

Under the deal reached between the two countries’ prime ministers Tuesday, Macedonia will change its name to Republic of North Macedonia, and will amend its constitution. The agreement is expected to be signed this weekend.

The name dispute has roused strong nationalist sentiments and poisoned the two countries’ relations since Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece argues that the term “Macedonia” implied a claim on the territory and ancient heritage of its own northern province of the same name.

The two prime ministers’ efforts to forge an agreement face strong dissent, with opponents staging large protests on both sides of the border. The issue threatened to split Greece’s governing coalition, and provoked a rift between Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and President Gjorge Ivanov.

New calls were circulating on social media for renewed street protests, with opponents on both sides arguing their prime ministers conceded too much to reach the deal.

Zaev, accompanied by Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, visited Ivanov Wednesday to brief him on the deal. But Ivanov refused to discuss the issue and walked out of the meeting.

“President Ivanov … left the meeting, refusing to talk about the achievements of this historical agreement,” the government said in a statement.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also faces opposition at home.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is the coalition partner in Tsipras’ government, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote. This would leave the left-wing prime minister dependent on support from political opponents to ratify the deal in parliament.

The head of Greece’s main opposition party described the agreement as “deeply problematic.” Conservative New Democracy party head Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on Greece’s president to intervene so the deal can be debated in parliament before it is signed, instead of after.

On the streets of both capitals, reactions were mixed.

“We lost the country, this is a disaster,” 45-year-old lawyer Mila Ivanovska said in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, and began to cry.

Greek opponents were equally angry.

“You, Slavs from Skopje through the centuries, you have never been true Macedonians,” said Athenian resident Konstandinos Goutras.

But for others the deal marks a welcome end to a protracted dispute.

“North Macedonia is acceptable for me,” said Svetlana Jancevska, a 55-year-old music teacher in Skopje, adding that it does “not damage my identity as Macedonian. The language remains Macedonian and that makes me happy. It was high time for the problem to be solved.”

The agreement should pave the way for the former Yugoslav republic to begin the process of acceding to NATO and the European Union, and was welcomed by international officials.

The dispute was deadlocked for years but hope for a resolution was rekindled after Zaev became Macedonia’s prime minister last year, replacing conservative Nikola Gruevski who had served as prime minister for a decade.

Opponents in Greece object to any use of the term “Macedonia” in their northern neighbor’s name, fearing territorial claims and seeing the use of the name as a usurping of Greece’s ancient heritage. Opponents in Macedonia disagree with any modification to their country’s name, seeing it as a threat to their national identity.


Mironski reported from Skopje, Macedonia. Raphael Kominis in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.