The Macedonian Parliament yesterday ratified again a historic deal with Greece aimed at ending a long-running name row after its president refused to sign it, paving the way for a referendum. President Gjorge Ivanov, an ally of the nationalist opposition, last month vetoed the government-backed accord to rename the small Balkan nation the Republic of North Macedonia. But following yesterday's vote, he is now obliged to sign the law on ratification under the constitution. A referendum on the name change will still need to be held at a later date.
The agreement was reached in June in a bid to resolve the dispute, which has been poisoning relations between the two countries since 1991. For nearly three decades, Athens has insisted Macedonia should change its name 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.
In exchange for the accord, Skopje hopes to begin European Union accession talks and get an invitation to join NATO, long opposed by Athens. However, the nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE, the main Macedonian opposition, has repeatedly said it will not support the change of "Macedonia's constitutional name," arguing it erodes the country's identity.
A total of 69 MPs in the 120-seat assembly backed the accord yesterday, while the nationalist opposition lawmakers of the were not present during the vote. Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."
Under Macedonia's constitution, Ivanov can no longer block it after the second ratification vote. However, the president might delay signing off on the deal, triggering a constitutional crisis and a showdown with left-wing Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who has staked his political future on the deal. Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov strongly criticized Ivanov's stance during yesterday's debate, accusing him of trying to terrorize the country's population. "The most important thing is that the deal does not jeopardize our independence," he said. "On the contrary, [the deal] strengths our independence by opening the doors to NATO and the European Union."