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Northern light: Macedonia makes name change deal with Greece

13 June 2018

Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Zoran Zaev hailed a "historic solution" on Tuesday after Skopje and Athens resolved a longstanding row by agreeing to rename his country the Republic of North Macedonia.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addressed the nation in a 5-minute televised address to announce the deal with his counterpart, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. There were also rallies in Macedonia in spring, demanding the country's name to be left in place. A former republic of Yugoslavia, Macedonia broke away in 1991, and its name is recognized by the vast majority of countries around the world, including the U.S. Athens say that name implies territorial claims on a northern Greek province of the same name. "There is no way back", Zaev told a news conference. A meeting of the two soon may seal the deal, he said.

The proposed name change has been resisted by sections of the Macedonian public.

"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", NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

People's nationality will be defined as "Macedonian/Citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia".

The main opposition party in Macedonia, the conservative VMRO-DPMNE, accused Zaev of "capitulating" to Greece.

On the timeline of the deal, Tsipras said that it would be first signed by the two countries' foreign ministers and then ratified by Macedonia's parliament.

Many Greeks felt their northern neighbour was trying to hijack Greece's ancient cultural heritage.

He added that Macedonia "cannot and will not be able in the future to claim any connection with the ancient Greek civilisation of Macedonia".

Mr Tsipras said the deal dictates "a clear distinction between Greek Macedonia and our northern neighbours".

The new name will need to be approved by the Macedonian people and the Greek parliament, but by the sounds of things it's a goer.

However, Greece's leftist leader is still likely to win support from centre-left parties.

Athens and Skopje have been racing to agree the outline of a settlement before an European Union summit in late June.

Skopje hopes to secure a date to begin accession talks at an European Union summit in late June, and an invitation to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in mid-July.

"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", said Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The new name - which in Macedonian is Severna Makedonija - will be used both domestically and internationally, while Macedonia will also amend its constitution as part of the deal.

The prime ministers of Macedonia and Greece agreed that it would be known as the "Republic of Northern Macedonia" if the proposal receives the necessary approvals from Macedonia's lawmakers and voters.