by Aggelos Skordas
Greece and FYROM have reached a historic agreement on the long standing naming dispute, after the Balkan country has agreed to all the preconditions Athens has set. As announced by both countries’ leaders on Tuesday afternoon, Skopje agreed to change its name to “Republic of North Macedonia” (Republika Severna Makedonija) for all uses (erga omnes), to proceed to a constitutional amendment, and eliminate all irredentist claims.
Following the 27 year-old naming dispute settlement, Athens is obliged to lift the veto imposed over FYROM’s NATO and European Union membership talks, while the agreement has to be approved by both countries’ parliaments and also by a referendum to be held in FYROM this autumn. Once the agreement is ratified Skopje has to formally inform the 140 states that have recognised the country under the up-to-date constitutional name “Republic of Macedonia”. Moreover, according to Greek media, the country’s language will be identified as “Macedonian” and its people known as “Macedonians/ Citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia”.
Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, following a second consecutive phone conversation with his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev, met with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos in order to brief him on the agreement.
“This visit has a good purpose. I am bringing good news. A while ago we reached an agreement with the Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on an issue which has been occupying and torturing us for many years. I am happy because we have a good agreement which is covering all the preconditions the Greek side has set […] We have a combined name with a geographic qualifier for all uses […] The most important part of the agreement is that the cultural heritage of Ancient Greece’s Macedonia is being safeguarded”, the Greek Premier told Pavlopoulos during a visit to the Presidential Mansion, while not disclosing the name that the two sides agreed to.
Greek PM Tsipras: Agreement with FYROM a diplomatic victory
This was not done until 8pm when Tsipras informed the Greek public on the deal with a televised address. Among others, he characterised the deal as a “diplomatic victory” and a “large historic opportunity”:
“[FYROM] have agreed on renaming their country to the Republic of Severna Makedonija, in our language the Republic of Northern Macedonia. The name change will be implemented both for their international and bilateral relations, but also for domestic use. In short, this name will be used erga omnes -towards all- both abroad and domestically, which means that our neighbours undertook the obligation to revise their constitution.
In this way and under the terms of the agreement, the 140 countries that today recognise our neighbours as ‘Macedonia’ will now recognize them as the ‘Republic of North Macedonia’. Thus, a clear separation between Greek Macedonia and our northern neighbours is achieved and the irredentism of their current constitutional name finally comes to an end.
At the same time -and perhaps this would have the greatest historical weight and value for Greece- in the agreement that we reached for the first time is clarified that our northern neighbours do not have and cannot claim in the future any relationship with the Ancient Greek civilization of Macedonia.
The term Macedonian of the Greek historical heritage, which draws its origin from the Ancient Greek civilization, is explicitly and categorically separated from the term Macedonian as it is used by them and on the basis of which the citizens of our neighbouring country are identified.
In the same context, the agreement recognises the relevant United Nations resolutions since 1977 that record the language of our neighbours as Macedonian language, with the additional but clear wording that it belongs to the family of South Slavic languages which, as it is explicitly acknowledged, separates it completely from the Greek-Macedonian linguistic heritage and the Ancient Greek civilization.
The agreement also stipulates that the citizenship to be displayed on the travel documents of our neighbours will not be plain Macedonian, as it is today, but Macedonian/ Citizen of North Macedonia. Greece will recognise the neighbouring citizens as “Citizens of North Macedonia”.
But beyond that, it is of great significance that we have agreed in the forthcoming constitutional amendment our neighbors to remove from their constitution any reference that could be interpreted as irredentist.”
FYROM PM Zaev: There is no way back, UN and NATO welcome the agreement
On his behalf, Zaev said the solution given to the long standing row would open FYROM’s access to NATO and the European Union. Addressing a press conference while accompanied by all his cabinet members, the ex-Yugoslav republic’s Premier characteristically highlighted that “there is no way back”.
Following the official announcement by the two countries leaders, the United Nations Special Representative for the naming dispute between Greece and FYROM Matthew Nimetz has welcomed the agreement that would bring “mutual benefits”. “I warmly welcome the announcement by Prime Ministers Tsipras and Zaev on finding a mutually acceptable solution to the ‘name’ issue. I would like to congratulate the parties for reaching a successful conclusion to the talks and for resolving the difference between them. I have no doubt this agreement will lead to a period of enhanced relations between the two neighboring countries and especially between their people. In that context, I am encouraged by the dedication of both governments to deliver mutual benefits for all their citizens through the establishment of a strategic partnership as a basis for intensified cooperation across all sectors”, a statement issued by Nimetz reads among others.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the deal on FYROM’s name, characterising it as “historic”: “I warmly welcome the agreement reached between Prime Ministers Tsipras and Zaev on a solution to the name dispute between Athens and Skopje. This historic agreement is testament to many years of patient diplomacy, and to the willingness of these two leaders to solve a dispute which has affected the region for too long”, he said in a statement while calling on the two countries to finalize the two leaders’ agreement. “This will set Skopje on its path to NATO membership. And it will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans”, he concluded.
Greek DM Kammenos says he won’t back the agreement
The emerging breakthrough, although, was not merely greeted with joy in neither of the two countries. Earlier on Tuesday, nationalist junior coalition government partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader and National Defense Minister Panos Kammenos told reporters that his party is not willing to back a solution that contains the term “Macedonia”, but he reiterated that ANEL will continue to support the leftist SYRIZA-led government. Moreover, he estimated that the proposed name will be rejected by the referendum in FYROM which is scheduled for the coming autumn.
On his behalf FYROM’s President Gjorge Ivanov, elected with the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, indicated that the name issue is too serious to be resolved with a telephone conversation.
Greece’s main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that the Greek Premier lacks legitimacy to sign the deal with FYROM as he ignored the Greek people. Moreover, in a reference to Kammenos statements, he underlined that “Tsipras has no political legitimacy to bind the country by signing an agreement that does not even have the support of his own government”. As he said, such an insult to the parliamentary system has no precedent in Greek politics and constitutional history. “The solution agreed is a bad deal. It contradicts the will of the majority of Greeks” Mitsotakis said, adding that Greece cannot afford open “another new wound”. He is expected to meet with the Greek President on Wednesday.
*Watch Video of PM Tsipras speech to the nation-