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Macedonia's president rejects new name deal

June 13, 2018

After Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev agreed to rename his country Northern Macedonia, President Gjorge Ivanov declared he would not sign off on the deal with Greece. The Greek government faces troubles of its own.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov meeting Prime Minister Zaev and Foreign Minister Dimitrov in Skopje
President Ivanov (middle right) meeting PM Zaev (middle left) for briefing on name dealImage: Mazedonien Präsidialamt

The proposed deal between Skopje and Athens on adopting the name "Republic of Northern Macedonia" for the country formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is "unacceptable," Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said on Wednesday.

Only a day before, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov announced the deal with their Greek counterparts to end the decades-long name dispute, which had prompted Greece to block Macedonia's efforts in joining NATO and the EU.

President Ivanov, who holds a largely ceremonial post in the Balkan country, broke off a Wednesday meeting with Zaev and Dimitrov in which he was set to hear the arguments in favor of changing the name.

Read more: Macedonia's Zaev says name change to be put to public vote

Ivanov then told the public the deal was a "personal" matter of Zaev and Dimitrov and accused them of not seeking to reach consensus on the issue.

"The text of the agreement is disastrous," Ivanov said. "Is it really patriotism to give Greece everything it asks for, while we get nothing?"

'I won't be intimidated'

Ivanov also said the agreement was deleting the history of the 2-million-strong country, which seceded from former Yugoslavia in 1991. He added that joining NATO and the EU could not be used as justifications to sign a "damaging" deal.

"The people, wherever they are, should not be afraid," he said. "My decision is final and I won't be intimidated by any threats or blackmail."

Read more: Macedonia: What's in a name?

The Macedonian president, originally backed by the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party, has had a bumpy relationship with Zaev and his Social Democratic Union of Macedonia.

Waiting for referendum

The deal pushed by Zaev is set to be signed by the foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia during the weekend, and then directed to the Macedonian parliament for a vote. If the vote is approved, Ivanov would have a possibility of withholding his signature and sending it to another parliamentary vote. If the agreement is confirmed again, the president would be legally required to sign off on it.

However, the adoption of the deal is far from certain, as nationalists in both Macedonia and Greece oppose the suggested name of Republic of Northern Macedonia. Greek hardliners believe their northern neighbor has no right of using the geographical term associated with the Alexander the Great, while the Macedonians believe their country to be the one true Macedonia.

In order to come into force in Macedonia, the deal would also require a referendum, amending the constitution, and changing the personal documents.

Read more: Thousands protest country's name change in Macedonia

Tsipras faces break in coalition

In Greece, left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras would also need to push the document past his parliament, with the conservative party of New Democracy reportedly mulling over a no-confidence vote over the deal for Thursday.

Tsipras' Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is a partner in the ruling coalition, also said he would oppose the motion in the parliament. His opposition could leave Tsipras without a majority to pass the proposal.

A block on either side would return the 27-year-long dispute to "square one" according to Macedonia's Zoran Zaev.

Powder keg in the Balkans

dj/msh (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters, MIA)