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Macedonia, Greece Reach 'Historic' Deal On Name Dispute


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) meets with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev at the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia on May 17.

Macedonia and Greece say they have reached a deal to resolve their 27-year dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on June 12 that Athens and Skopje agreed on the name Republic of North Macedonia, or Severna Makedonija in Macedonian, to end the row that has hampered Macedonia's ambitions to join both the European Union and NATO.

"There is no way back," he told a news conference after a telephone conversation with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Zaev said the deal preserved the Macedonian ethnic and cultural identity, while Tsipras said in a televised statement that the accord will allow a clear distinction between Greece's province of Macedonia and the country.

"Maybe what has the most historic gravity and value for Greece [is that] according to this accord...our northern neighbors don't have, and cannot assert, any link to the ancient Greek culture of Macedonia," Tsipras said in a televised address.

The Greek prime minister also said that Macedonia's name change would be reflected both domestically and internationally.

"We have a deal. I'm happy because we have a good deal which covers all the preconditions set by the Greek side," Tsipras said.

Under the deal, the country's language will be Macedonian and its citizens known as Macedonians or citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia, according to Zaev.

And as part of the agreement, it is made clear that their language is part of the Slavic family, unrelated to ancient Greek heritage, the BBC reported.

The text is expected to be signed by the end of the week before being sent to the Macedonian parliament for ratification. The proposed name will also go to a referendum in Macedonia later this year.

Skopje also needs to revise its constitution, Tsipras said, before Greek lawmakers ratify the accord.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the "historic agreement" and called on the two sides to finalize it.

"This will set Skopje on its path to NATO membership. And it will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans," Stoltenberg said in a statement.

The European Union congratulated Tsipras and Zaev for their "determination and leadership in reaching this historic agreement."

"We now look forward to the [European] Council endorsing our recommendation of 17 April to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in June," EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a joint statement.

Officials in Albania, which also hopes to launch full membership negotiations with the EU, hailed the agreement between Greece and Macedonia as good for the whole Western Balkans region.

Prime Minister Edi Rama called his Macedonian and Greek counterparts "two progressive leaders." "Balkans are today a better place thnx to you both," he tweeted.

Skopje and Athens have recently stepped up United Nations-brokered negotiations to resolve their name dispute, which dates back to 1991 when Macedonia peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.

Athens objected to its neighbor's new name, saying it implied a territorial claim over Greece's province of the same name, which borders the Balkan country.

Because of Greek objections, Macedonia was admitted to the UN under a provisional name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Greece, an EU and NATO member, has also cited the dispute to veto Macedonia's bid to join the two organizations.

On June 6, thousands of people protested in major cities across Greece against the compromise, while, four days earlier, like numbers of supporters of Macedonia's right-wing opposition VMRO-DPMNE party took to the streets of the capital, Skopje, to protest against a deal.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and the BBC
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