Macedonia: decades-long name dispute ends

The parliament in Athens has approved the accord for the renaming of Macedonia by 153 votes to 146. The country which up to now mostly went by the name "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM) at the international level will in future be called the "Republic of Northern Macedonia". How significant is the settlement of this decades-long name dispute?

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Nova Makedonija (MK) /

Revoke the agreement

Despite the agreement on the name change the last word has not been spoken, Nova Makedonija hopes:

“The people have not proved particularly resourceful when it came to thwarting the plans of conniving politicians. ... Now new elections must be held as soon as possible so that the nation can make its will known. If it re-elects the government, it doesn't deserve anything better. ... But if it voices a decisive 'no!' against this brazen, US-influenced policy the new government will have to ensure that the rule of law and respect for our legislation are restored as quickly as possible. Those who have betrayed our rights and interests must be held responsible, and the dishonourable agreements must be revised or revoked. And that includes the law on the use of Albanian [as an official language in Macedonia].”

Berlingske (DK) /

EU must seize this opportunity

To ensure that Tsipras' efforts to settle the issue serve a real purpose the EU must quickly seek closer ties to Northern Macedonia, former Danish foreign minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen demands in Berlingske:

“[In Northern Macedonia] there has been broad-based resistance - fuelled by Russia's interference in shaping opinion, which is increasingly evident in the Balkans. But in Greece the resistance was even greater. Later this year elections will be held in Greece, and Tsipras will probably lose them, but he has gone down in the history of the Balkans as a peacemaker. To preserve this positive development it is vital for the EU to act quickly now to strengthen its ties with Northern Macedonia.”

Trud (BG) /

Worth a Nobel Prize

There is talk of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Northern Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev being nominated as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize after reaching an agreement in the name dispute. Rightly so, columnist Kostadin Filipov comments in Trud:

“In particular the two leaders must be given credit for putting so much effort into getting to know one another. In this way they built up trust and passed it on to their subordinates, who worked out the agreement. ... This result has been described as 'historic', and I agree, although I've heard the word used so often in Macedonia's 25-year history as an independent republic that its significance is beginning to fade.”

To Vima (GR) /

Who really benefited from the dispute

Not only has the settlement of the Macedonia issue cost Tsipras the support of many voters, it has had a far more unpleasant effect, To Vima Online comments:

“Those who follow developments in northern Greece say that the government has seriously hurt people's feelings. They stress that support for the governing party Syriza and the prime minister is dwindling. ... What's striking is also the opportunity that the name issue offers to anti-Semitic forces on the far right, particularly Chrysi Avgi. In Macedonia [the region in northern Greece] the party hid its abhorrent Nazi face behind the flag with the Vergina Sun [the symbol of the ancient Greek Macedonia], and its members play a leading role in acts of violence.”

Magyar Idők (HU) /

Close ties, but not too close

The pro-government daily Magyar Idök knows why the Republic of North Macedonia will have to wait a while for EU accession talks to begin:

“In EU member states, the idea of letting the 'many small countries with Cyrillic letters' from the Balkans join is not particularly popular. So negotiations with Macedonia would endanger the victory of the 'good' (meaning the left-liberal) side in the upcoming European elections. But a major political goal has been achieved, or at least one of the US's major goals: At last Macedonia is part of the security zone which was created to isolate Russia.”

Lost in EUrope (DE) /

How ironic!

Eris Bonse points out in his blog Lost in Europe that there was a time when Chancellor Merkel and Finance Minister Schäuble did their utmost to get rid of Tsipras:

“When the Syriza leader held a referendum on the austerity policy for Greece prescribed by Berlin the result was simply ignored. In doing so Merkel and co. smothered any attempt to introduce an alternative, leftist economic and financial policy in the EU. How ironic that now Tsipras of all people has secured a foreign policy success for the Europeans! By contrast the Greek conservatives, or in other words the allies of Merkel and her leading candidate for the European elections, Weber, tried to the bitter end to torpedo the agreement.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

For the first time Greece is not the problem

The English version of Kathimerini focuses on the future and urges Greece to shape its relations with its neighbour Macedonia to its advantage:

“This means strengthening our friendship and deepening our commercial and economic cooperation. Furthermore, we must capitalize diplomatically on the fact that, for the first time in decades, we have managed to be part of a solution, not a problem. Politics aside, there's the impact on society. Ordinary people were divided on an inexcusable level. Hence, another national goal must be to heal the wounds. It won't be an easy task. The healing process will take time, but it must start without delay. That's an obligation for politicians, intellectuals and, above all, us in the media.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Without rule of law solution wouldn't be possible

Der Standard draws important conclusions for other Balkan states:

“This agreement was possible because back in 2015, when it was shown that the ruling party in Macedonia had infiltrated both the police force and the judiciary, a commission under the auspices of German lawyer Reinhard Priebe was sent to the country. It highlighted the country's autocratic structure and made proposals for how democracy and the rule of law could be restored. The goal was to strengthen the separation of powers - or in other words reduce the influence of political parties. Only then was it possible for politicians who were trying to serve the public interest rather than line their own pockets to be elected. The name deal would never have come about under corrupt autocrats like former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who has now left the countryfor Hungary. Other Balkan states could also do with a Priebe commission.”

Trud (BG) /

The West has won out

The name dispute was about far more than the sensitivities of these two countries, Trud explains:

“The truth is that the Americans and Europeans (and in particular the Germans) put Greece and Macedonia under pressure to reach an agreement. ... A big geopolitical game is being played in the Balkans. The interests of the West come up against those of Russia here, secretly followed by China and Turkey. This is about power and influence. The name accord is part of this dangerous game. Now that it has been ratified in Greece and Macedonia the path has been freed for Macedonia to become a Nato member. Moscow loses its influence and will withdraw almost completely from the Balkans.”