Skopje: Greece and Macedonia have taken a major step towards resolving a 27-year-old dispute over the latter’s name by signing an agreement that would see Macedonia change its name to the ‘Republic of Northern Macedonia’.
The signing of the deal in the small fishing village of Psarades on Sunday comes a day after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote over his handling of the dispute.
Opposition MPs, who accuse Tsipras of excessive compromise on the issue, failed to pass the no-confidence motion by 153 votes to 127 on Saturday.That attempt came a day after an MP from the far-right Golden Dawn party delivered a fierce rant urging the army to overthrow Tsipras.
Outside of parliament, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters marching against the agreement.
Security is intense at Sunday’s venue, with police cordons in place many miles from the village. Anybody seeking to approach has to pass through successive identity checks.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov of Macedonia signed the historic accord, with Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev in attendance, joined by officials from the United Nations and the European Union (EU), who have welcomed the move.
Once ratified by the respective parliaments in each country and confirmed by a referendum in Macedonia by the end of the year, the agreement will also enable the landlocked state to eventually join the EU and NATO.
Many Greeks are opposed to Skopje’s use of the name Macedonia, as they say, it appropriates Greek history and fails to distinguish itself from the Greek region with the same name.
Tsipras has defended the new name because it includes the geographic qualifier ‘northern’.
The historic region of Macedonia, includes the modern Greek region and some territory within what is now the sovereign state of Macedonia.
The region was the birthplace of Alexander the Great, the ancient King of Macedon, whose empire stretched from Greece to India.