Macedonian Prime Minister Pledges To Forge Ahead On Name Change

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The FINANCIAL — SKOPJE – Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has vowed to follow through with a change to the Balkan nation’s name as part of a deal to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece after a September 30 referendum on the move failed to secure a turnout of 50 percent, required to make the nonbinding vote valid.

Only 36.9 percent of the country’s 1.8 million eligible voters cast ballots in the referendum as election officials continued to tally results on October 1.

With more than 98.6 percent of polling stations reporting, it was clear the legal threshold to make the vote valid would not be reached, according to RFE/RL.

But with results also showing resounding support of 91.5 percent among those who did vote, a defiant Zaev said he “will do everything” to forge ahead with changing the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia, as a way to resolve the dispute with Greece and clear the way for Macedonia’s possible entrance into NATO and the European Union.

 

Given the success of efforts to suppress turnout, analysts say Zaev faces a difficult to muster enough support in parliament to push his agenda through.

Officials in Zaev’s government have said they have 71 parliamentary deputies ready to approve a constitutional amendment accepting the name change, short of the two-thirds majority, or 80 votes in parliament, needed to amend the constitution.

 

Greece noted the “contradictory” results from the vote and said its outcome will require careful moves to “preserve the positive potential” of the deal between Athens and Skopje.

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The European Union’s enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, said there was “broad support” for the agreement with Greece. Hahn said he expects “all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines, in the interest of the country.”

The U.S. State Department said it welcomed the results and that it “strongly supports” the full implementation of the accord between Macedonia and Greece, “which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU, contributing to regional stability, security, and prosperity.”

The name dispute between Macedonia and Greece dates back to 1991, when Macedonia peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia.

Greece says the name Macedonia implies territorial and cultural claims on the northern Greek region of the same name. Greece, an EU and NATO member, has cited the dispute to veto Macedonia’s bids to join the two organizations.

In June, Athens and Skopje hammered out a tentative compromise to end decades of squabbling if Macedonia adopts the new name.

Macedonia’s economy is sputtering after a two-year financial crisis that pushed unemployment above 20 percent, one of the highest rates in the Balkans, and an average monthly net salary of about $400, the lowest in the region.

Analysts say further integrating Western Balkan countries such as Macedonia into European and transatlantic structures is the best way to ensure the stability and development of a region still healing from the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

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