Greece Approves Macedonia’s Name Change
A 28-year dispute between Greece and Macedonia came to end on Friday when Greece’s parliament, in a 153-to-146 vote, approved Macedonia’s name change to North Macedonia. The name change will allow North Macedonia to join NATO and eventually the European Union which is expected to bring more stability to the Balkans.
Resistance to the Macedonian name change has been strong for nearly three decades. It has led to several months of mass demonstrations in Greece, which continued even as the Greek Parliament was voting in favor of the name change. Protesters held banners that read “Macedonia is Greek.” In parliament, members of the far-right Golden Dawn party shouted “traitors” as other members cast their votes to approve the change.
Many Greeks have fiercely objected to the use of the name Macedonia because of the historical and cultural heritage associated with the name, given that the ancient Macedonian kingdom was the “birthplace and homeland of Alexander the Great.”
But most don’t approve of the new name either. Polls indicate that up to two-thirds of Greeks are not satisfied with the change and predict that Greek Prime Minister Tsipras’s party will lose the upcoming elections later this year. Since his election in 2015, Tsipras has moved away from a populist stance towards a more center-left, pro-EU position. The Macedonian name change may be the last straw.
In what is now North Macedonia, the deal was backed in a September referendum and was then voted on in parliament. Now that both the Greek and North Macedonian parliaments have approved of the name change, North Macedonia will no longer face restrictions from Greece in joining NATO or the EU.
The name change and potential accession of North Macedonia into NATO and the EU are viewed favorably by the West. US and EU leaders consider the deal a win against Russia, which has been fighting against the West for influence in the Balkans. Russia has been accused of meddling in the name deal through bribes and a “disinformation campaign.”
North Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev stated that Greece and North Macedonia have attained a “historic victory” that points the Balkans, and Europe as a whole, toward “eternal peace and progress.”