Macedonia name proposal criticised at home and in Greece
‘Ilinden Macedonia’ suggested as solution to 27-year dispute with Balkan neighbour
Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev gives a news conference at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, last week. Photograph: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters
The Macedonian government’s proposed new name for the country faces strong opposition at home and in Greece, damaging hopes of ending a 27-year dispute between the neighbours that has paralysed the ex-Yugoslav republic’s bid to join the European Union and Nato.
Athens vows to prevent Macedonia joining either organisation, until it changes a name that it shares with a region of northern Greece and removes parts of its constitution that allegedly imply a territorial claim on the area.
Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras met last Thursday to discuss the issue, in the hope of reaching a deal before the EU’s next summit in late June and a gathering of Nato leaders the following month.
Afterwards, Mr Zaev surprised many at home and abroad when he revealed that his favoured proposal was to rename his country “Ilinden Macedonia”.
“Ilinden” refers to St Elijah’s Day – August 2nd – when Macedonians launched an uprising against their Ottoman rulers in 1903 and against the Nazis in 1944.
After briefing other top Macedonian politicians on the issue in Skopje, Mr Zaev declared that the new name would “make the foundation of our republic stronger, while Ilinden means the historical continuity of our aspirations, our statehood and our pride. Ilinden is our glorious past, Ilinden is our bright future”.
He urged Macedonians to join him in supporting a proposal that he said would ensure “a full distinction from the region Macedonia in Greece”.
The patriotic resonance of “Ilinden” failed to sway Macedonia’s main nationalist opposition party, however.
“VMRO-DPNE will not support a change to the constitution with the goal to change the constitutional name,” said party leader Hristijan Mickoski.
Mr Zaev’s government needs some opposition support to secure the two-thirds of votes in parliament required to enshrine a new name in Macedonia’s constitution, and inter-party relations are fractious after a bitter two-year political crisis.
The Greek government has not publicly backed the proposal and several opposition parties have rejected it, saying that Macedonians who took part in the anti-Nazi Ilinden uprising wanted to take part of northern Greece under their control.
New Democracy, the main Greek opposition party, said that “any reference to Ilinden in the neighbouring country’s name does not put an end to the irredentism of Skopje, but instead it confirms and strengthens it”.
The Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers are due to meet for more talks in New York on Thursday and Friday.