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Zaev Cites Agreement With Greeks On 'Ilinden Macedonia' Name

A car travels past a Greek border stone and a sign on the border of Macedonia and Greece.
A car travels past a Greek border stone and a sign on the border of Macedonia and Greece.

Macedonia's prime minister says his administration has reached an agreement with Greek leaders on a new name for his country, possibly ending a decades-long dispute between the Balkan neighbors.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on May 19 said that "Republic of Ilinden Macedonia" has been agreed to as the compromise name by both sides and will be put to referendum for approval by Macedonian citizens.

The name has also been given as "Republic of Ilindenska Macedonia."

"Ilinden" and "Ilindenska," meaning "the day of St. Elijah," refer to a 1903 uprising against Turkish occupiers and a 1944 uprising against the Nazis that took place on August 2, St. Elijah day.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on May 19 did not specifically address Zaev’s claim of an agreement on the name, but said the countries were "closer than ever before" to a solution.

"We must not lose this historic opportunity. Let's not make clumsy steps in the final meters to the finish line," Tsipras said in a speech.

Bulgaria's foreign minister, Ekaterina Zaharieva, confirmed to RFE/RL on May 18 that the two sides had discussed the name Republic of Ilinden Macedonia during the EU-Western Balkan summit in Sofia.

"It sounds to me like they recognized that we have a common history and a common past," she said.

The name dispute between Macedonia and Greece dates back to 1991, when Skopje declared independence following the collapse of communist Yugoslavia.

Athens objects to Macedonia's name because it has its own northern province called Macedonia, and fears it may imply territorial ambitions.

The dispute has hampered Macedonia's ambitions to join both the European Union and NATO.

Negotiations to resolve the dispute have made progress since Macedonia recently agreed to change the name of Skopje's Alexander the Great airport to Skopje International Airport, in a goodwill gesture to Greece.

The Greek government has said the Macedonian Constitution must be revised to make clear the country does not consider the province part of its territory.

"As regards the debate surrounding [Macedonia's] name, the [Greek] government will not enter more specific talks if the above requirements are not fulfilled first," Tsipras's office said in a statement on May 19.

Even with the apparent agreement between Macedonian and Greek leaders, Zaev still faces opposition from nationalists at home who do not accept the compromise with Athens.

Other compromises previously put forward included adding geographic modifiers to the name, such as "Northern Macedonia" and "Upper Macedonia."

Greek’s main opposition New Democracy party also expressed opposition to the use of the suggested name.

The anti-Nazi uprising sought to unify the geographic area of Macedonia including parts of Greece. Critics say its inclusion indicates Skopje's desire for a "Greater Macedonia" that includes the Greek city of Thessaloniki and extends to the Aegean Sea.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Greek Reporter, and Ekathimerina
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