Macedonia: a happy ending to the name dispute?

Athens and Skopje put an end to their name dispute with a ceremony in the border town of Prespes on Sunday. The neighbours signed an agreement according to which the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom) will be renamed the Republic of Northern Macedonia - provided the countries' parliaments and Macedonian voters agree. The media within the region and outside it are stirred up by the decision.

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Daily Sabah (TR) /

A psychological hurdle has been overcome

Daily Sabah hopes that other countries will also follow the example set by this agreement:

“Country names always have historical and symbolic meanings. Macedonia will not suddenly change its identity because of this name change. But this is a step toward future policy changes. As you may notice, the name change has its own risks. However, the fact that the two neighbors have come to an agreement should be celebrated. Especially when you know the real obstacles are not the names or physical borders, but psychological barriers. Let's hope there will be more examples like this, and countries will manage to resolve their differences through agreements and not armed conflict.”

Alitheia (CY) /

At last a courageous politician

Alitheia is full of praise for Greek Prime Minister Tsipras's efforts towards reaching an agreement in the name dispute:

“He has shown that he's no longer 'little Alexis', as some mockingly called him, and that in three years he's matured immensely as a politician. And that he has what it takes to be a great leader, one who believes in himself, his visions and his principles. It is not often that we see a politician show such courage, patience, stamina, realism, resolve and determination to sign an agreement that could mean his political end. Little Alexis has shown that he's grown up, and demonstrated how true, great leaders should behave.”

Standart (BG) /

Macedonians should be Bulgarians once more

Commenting in Standart, historian Boshidar Dimitrov says he couldn't care less what the strip of land in the Balkans is called,

“but Bulgaria's strategic position vis-á-vis Macedonia must be that Bulgarians live there. ... At the moment ten percent [of Macedonia's population of two million inhabitants] describe themselves as Bulgarians. They have Bulgarian passports. With the corresponding legal amendments we can bring that figure up to a million within two years. What the state is called doesn't interest me. What interests me is when 1.2 million people living in the state of Macedonia will start to describe themselves as Bulgarians, in other words when the process of re-Bulgarianisation will set in. ... That's what matters to us: that Bulgarians live in Macedonia. Whether the country is called North Macedonia, Illyria or Southwest Bulgaria doesn't matter to me in the least.”

Avgi (GR) /

New paths towards friendship

The pro-government daily Avgi is delighted with the events in Prespes:

“To take this decisive historic step both countries needed governments that were willing to defy the constructed ethno-patriotic discourses as well as the temptation of making quick political gains. Therefore we must not ignore the extremely fierce reaction from the nationalist blocs in both countries. ... A new era began yesterday in Prespes. An era in which the term patriotism is no longer associated with the far right, incendiary discourse about the homeland, nationalism and intolerance. Patriotism should aim to build bridges and open up paths towards friendship, stability and understanding. That happened yesterday in Prespes.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Thanks to a new generation

In the end common sense has prevailed, author Sergio Romano comments with relief in Corriere della Sera:

“The affair wouldn't be so important were it not that Greece is an EU member and in a position to prevent Macedonia from joining Europe's biggest organisation. Up to now the problem had been avoided by giving the country a name consisting of five words: the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'. ... The country had a right to a more serious name. That it now has one is firstly thanks to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who displayed the same common sense on this issue that he brought to the euro issue. And secondly thanks to the course of history. The demonstration on Syntagma Square has shown that although the old nationalists have not disappeared, the new generations have other worries and interests.”

Der Standard (AT) /

EPP must up pressure on Skopje

Pressure from the European Parliament is needed if a breakthrough in the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia is to be reached, argues Der Standard:

“What is still lacking for the constitution to be amended is the approval of the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, which is a sister party of the European People's Party (EPP). Only the EPP is capable of exerting massive pressure to bring VMRO to relent - and it must do that if it feels committed to the European spirit, because for Macedonia its future in the EU and Nato is at stake. Moreover there is absolutely no reason to deal gently with VMRO, because in all Europe there is not another party that circumvented the state in such an unscrupulous manner until 2015 as the nationalists in Skopje.”

e-vestnik (BG) /

Bulgaria too lax with Macedonia

Bulgaria shoud not have made things so easy for the Macedonians and above all the Macedonian nationalists who refuse to recognise the Bulgarian roots of the Macedonian language, culture and history, e-vestnik criticises:

“[Macedonia's prime minister Zoran] Zaev has explained that Macedonia is not making any territorial claims vis-à-vis Bulgaria. But he insists that the Bulgarians of the Pirin region [in Southwestern Bulgaria] belong to the Macedonian 'nation' and he makes historical claims. Not just Zaev but also his political opponents are Macedonian nationalists and successors of the propaganda from the times when Yugoslavia existed. They distort history and claim key figures in Bulgaria's history as their own. And our government is closing its eyes to this.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Athens' victory is injust

The name compromise has a bitter aftertaste for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“The pressure applied by the Greek side may have failed to reach its maximum objective, nevertheless it forces a name on the neighbouring country. The argument that the small and militarily weak Republic of Macedonia could pose an irredentist threat to the eponymous Greek province has always been completely absurd. ... Even the monopoly Greece claims to have on the history of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia is historically untenable. Nowhere - not even in Greece - is there a direct historical link from Ancient times down to the present. ... In fact the name conflict was never about the name alone. The Greek nationalists won't be persuaded by the compromise - and the others would have been able to live with a neighbour called the Republic of Macedonia.” (GR) /

Greeks must be allowed to vote too

Writing in his blog columnist Dimitris Konstantakopoulos doesn't find it surprising that the Greek government, unlike that in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom), doesn't want to hold a referendum on the name:

“If the agreement and its consequences - Fyrom joining the EU and Nato - are as good as the Greek government claims, why won't it hold a referendum on it? ... The Greeks aren't too dumb to understand the government's arguments. ... Why should they accept that Fyrom is more democratic than Greece? ... The Greek government's foreign policy is the implementation of the US and Nato's wishes and has nothing to do with the national interests of the Greek people. On the contrary, it exposes them to very serious risks without offering them anything in return.”

Kurir (MK) /

A classic case of cultural genocide

According to the deal reached with Greece Macedonia must dispense with the state assistance for the Macedonian minority in Greece which the Macedonian constitution has provided for until now. Kurir sounds the alarm:

“Greece has given a clear ultimatum to the Macedonian government: it must stop concerning itself with the rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece. ... Consequently we will no longer be able to share our education and culture with them because we will be a different people! That, my dear Macedonians, is a classic case of cultural genocide, perpetrated against us by Greece in the 21st century - the era of human rights. We must reject this with every means at our disposal.”

Club Z (BG) /

Change of name alone isn't risky

For some Bulgarians the new name, which includes the word "Macedonia", is just as problematic as it is for the Greeks because it doesn't exclude territorial claims to regions of the same name in neighbouring countries. But on the whole the agreement will bring stability to the region, Club Z comments approvingly:

“Macedonia's accession to Nato is of national interest to Bulgaria because together with EU accession talks it is a key prerequisite for internal peace in the republic and accordingly for peace in the Balkan region. For Bulgaria it isn't its neighbour's name that poses a risk but the activities of the Serbian and Russian secret services there, who are spreading anti-Bulgarian views.”

Kurir (MK) /

Our nation will cease to exist

The planned name change is anti-constitutional, Kurir criticises:

“It violates both international law and the laws and constitution of Macedonia. The treaty that Zaev and Tsipras want to sign confirms that we are not Macedonians, and that the Macedonian nation and society in which we were born and raised no longer exists! The treaty, which is being sold to us as the only possible and inevitable compromise solution, will permanently change the name of our state even though international law makes it clear that disputes over state names are prohibited and inadmissible.”

Fokus (MK) /

Macedonians must grow up

The Macedonians must learn to let go, Fokus counters:

“When children refuse to share their toys with other children, their parents teach them that sharing is a basic prerequisite for living together and for friendship. Those who aren't willing to compromise remain alone with their toys. ... There is no magic wand that makes all problems disappear. Anyone who says: 'We're not sharing our name. Without it we're nothing, and the Greeks are bad guys' needs to grow up.”

Politis (CY) /

Nationalist rhetoric goes unheeded

Politis is delighted at the prospect of a solution to the name dispute and praises Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias:

“Once the name dispute ends this country will soon join the EU and Nato. In fact by implementing EU law it will become a trade partner of Greece and the EU and at the same time a military ally. By accepting a complex name for the country that contains the term Macedonia, Greece guarantees peace, secures an economic and military alliance on its northern border, gains a new friend and eliminates an enemy. ... Kotzias has thus shown himself to be a realistic politician, and has closed his ears to the sirens of a doomed nationalist rhetoric in the interests of Greece's medium and long-term wellbeing.”

Dnevnik (SI) /

The EU's clever strategy

The EU is taking a pragmatic approach in the name dispute between Athens and Skopje, Dnevnik comments approvingly:

“It tempted Skopje at the right time with a big carrot (the prospect of membership talks) and thus made it easier for Prime Minister Zaev to convince his people that a compromise is not defeat. Moreover, Brussels has realised that if it doesn't offer this prospect, instead of EU expansion a return of the Turks and Russians to the southwestern Balkans could happen very quickly and that for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Albania quick solutions are also needed.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

Athens should learn from Irish history

Northern Ireland should serve as a blueprint for Greece's future dealings with the FYROM, writer Richard Pine advises in Kathimerini:

“When I hear 'Macedonia is Greek!' I think of the slogan used by opponents to Irish independence in the early 1900s: 'Ulster is British.' ... Historically, Ulster has been the heartland of Irish identity and mythology. ... On the island of Ireland, some of the most sacred topoi of Irish identity remain in the UK. This probably stirs atavistic memories in many Greeks, who regard Philip of Macedon and his imperialistic son Alexander as quintessentially Greek. ... If you look at the Irish history lesson ... it is still possible to be both pragmatic and aspirational: To continue to object to FYROM being called 'Macedonia' is absurd; so too is any claim based on ethnicity or territory to reintegrate what has always been an imprecise geographical area.”