Greeks divided on proposed Macedonia name deal

A Greek flag reading "Macedonia" held at a demonstration in Greece earlier this year urging the government not to compromise on the festering name row
AFP

Athens (AFP) – Greeks were divided Wednesday on a proposed compromise deal to end a nearly three-decade name row with Macedonia, with some questioning its benefits and others pointing out that obstacles remain.

The leaders of the two countries said Tuesday that they had reached a “historic” solution to resolve the dispute and call the northern nation the Republic of North Macedonia after months of intensive diplomacy.

“A mutually beneficial deal creates a safe environment on our northern border. Greece needs this because of tension with Turkey,” said Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political scientist at Athens’ Panteion university, wrote in the Ta Nea newspaper.

However both governments have faced internal criticism over of the compromise, with the countries’ main opposition parties saying they will not support it.

After the deal was announced, Greek conservative and main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis called it a “bad agreement”.

“The acceptance of the Macedonian language and nationality is an unacceptable national retreat,” he said.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev hailed the deal on Tuesday, saying “we have a historic solution after two and a half decades. Our agreement includes Republic of North Macedonia for overall use”.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared it “a great diplomatic victory and a great historic opportunity” for the region to have “friendship, cooperation and co-development”.

Greece has long objected to its northern neighbour being called Macedonia because it has its own northern province of the same name.

Macedonia hopes that resolving the name dispute will help clear the way for it to join the European Union and NATO.

But the deal still needs to be approved by the Macedonian parliament and pass a referendum there, as well as ratification in the Greek parliament. 

“The agreement has three hurdles,” Greek newspaper Ethnos noted Wednesday.

“A deal with gaps and questions,” added the Kathimerini newspaper.

Macedonia’s President Gjorge Ivanov, who is close to the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party which was defeated by Zaev in elections last year, has also signalled his concern.

“There is a need for a wider national consensus to find a solution that won’t hurt the dignity of the Macedonian people and citizens,” he said.

.