Macedonian lawmakers have begun a crucial debate on renaming the country North Macedonia in order to resolve a decades-long dispute with neighboring Greece and open the way for NATO and European Union membership.
Speaking at the start of the debate on January 9, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev urged lawmakers to vote in favor of the name change.
"This is a historic and patriotic choice. We can be the generation that has made a bold decision," Zaev said.
If parliament passes the name change, Greece has promised to stop blocking Skopje's efforts to join NATO and the European Union.
After Zaev's speech, the parliamentary session was adjourned until January 10. The debate is expected to last until January 11.
Zaev doesn't have a two-thirds majority in the 120-member parliament. That means he and his party need lawmakers from the opposition VMRO-DPMNE to back the effort. That happened in November when the name-change process began.
The debate was scheduled to begin during the early afternoon of January 9 but was postponed for several hours while several hundred nationalist protesters demonstrated in front of parliament against the name change.
The protesters say their demonstration was aimed at defending Macedonia's name, identity, and history, as well as the traditions of the Macedonian people, against what they called "the greatest national treachery."
The protesters said they would gather again on January 10.
The agreement with Greece was signed in June 2018. The deal has met with opposition in both countries, with critics saying it makes too many concessions to the other side.
Athens argues that use of the name "Macedonia" implies territorial claims on Greece's northern province of the same name, and on its ancient Greek heritage.
Even if the Macedonian parliament approves the name change, it still needs to be cleared by the Greek parliament.