Name change deal with Greece to be blocked by Macedonia’s president

Despite accord between PMs, Gjorge Ivanov claims too many concessions made to Athens

Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov: there is a rift between him and Macedonia’s prime minister Zoran Zaev.  Photograph: Nake  Batev

Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov: there is a rift between him and Macedonia’s prime minister Zoran Zaev. Photograph: Nake Batev

 

Macedonia’s president has said he will not approve a historic deal with Greece that would change his country’s name.

President Gjorge Ivanov said the agreement, which would rename Macedonia as the Republic of North Macedonia, gave too many concessions to Greece.

The deal reached by the two countries’ prime ministers is expected to be signed by their foreign ministers this weekend. After that, Macedonia’s parliament would vote on it, and if it is approved, Mr Ivanov’s signature would be needed.

If the president refuses to sign, the deal would return to parliament for another vote. Mr Ivanov would have to sign off on the agreement if it passes a second time.

The name dispute, which has prevented Macedonia from joining international institutions such as Nato, has roused strong nationalist sentiments and poisoned the two countries’ relations since the Balkan country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Greece argues that the term “Macedonia” implies a claim on the territory and ancient heritage of its own northern province of the same name – the birthplace of ancient warrior king Alexander the Great.

Strong dissent

The two prime ministers’ efforts to forge an agreement faces strong dissent, with opponents staging protests on both sides of the border.

The issue threatened to split Greece’s governing coalition, and provoked a rift between Macedonia’s prime minister Zoran Zaev and Mr Ivanov.

New calls are circulating on social media for renewed street protests, with opponents on both sides arguing their prime ministers conceded too much to reach the deal. In Macedonia, Mr Zaev has said he will put the deal to a referendum this autumn.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras also faces opposition at home.

His defence minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is the coalition partner in Mr Tsipras’s government, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote.

This would leave the left-wing prime minister dependent on support from political opponents to ratify the deal in parliament. – PA