Otesevo (Macedonia) (AFP) – An historic deal between Greece and Macedonia to rename the small Balkan state the Republic of North Macedonia is crucial for the whole volatile region, Skopje’s foreign minister said on Sunday.
“We have made history today to open up our future,” Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov told AFP in an interview just hours after signing the agreement with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias.
The accord should help disentangle one of the world’s longest diplomatic disputes, which began 27 years ago when Macedonia declared itself independent, but whose roots date back centuries.
“This will have a very calming influence in the Balkans. Geopolitically, it’s bigger than the two countries involved,” Dimitrov said.
“And this is the major breakthrough, essentially. Two Balkan countries are proving that this is a region that is part of Europe, because we deal with our issues on our own in a European way.”
Since 1991, Athens has objected to its neighbour being called Macedonia because it has its own northern province of the same name, which in ancient times was the cradle of Alexander the Great’s empire — a source of intense pride for modern-day Greeks.
Both Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev have bucked strong hostile reactions at home to push ahead with the deal.
The accord still needs to be approved by Macedonia’s parliament and then pass a referendum.
The Macedonian constitution must also be revised by the end of the year, before Greece’s parliament is called to ratify the accord.
Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
However, more than 120 countries including Russia and the United States have recognised the Balkan country under the name of “Republic of Macedonia”.
“The best thing that the EU can do now is to recognise (the deal) and help us by opening the door,” Dimitrov said.
Skopje hopes to secure a date to begin European Union accession talks at a bloc’s summit in late June and an invitation to join NATO in mid-July.
The signing ceremony on the Greek side of Lake Prespa, was attended by Tsipras, Zaev as well as other officials including longterm UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini.