Greece: outrage over Macedonia name sets no-confidence motion in parliament

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has faced rejection at home over his deal to settle the dispute over Macedonia's name. Tsipras's leadership will be tested as parliament considers a no-confidence motion against him.

The Greek parliament moved on Thursday to debate a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's government. Lawmakers acted following Tsipras's deal with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia that it should be called Severna Makedonja, or Northern Macedonia.

The parliamentary debate is expected to conclude on Saturday and if successful, it would mean that Tsipras would have to hand over his governing mandate to Greece's president.

The controversial name deal

The agreement between the Greek prime minister and his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, was meant to solve a decades-old dispute between the two countries over Macedonia's name.

Read more: Greece's anti-Macedonia protests fuel nationalist sentiment

Greece has used its influence to prevent its neighbor from joining the EU and NATO because it fundamentally opposes their use of the name Macedonia.

For Greece, the term "Macedonia" implies a territorial claim on its northern province, also called Macedonia, which is the birthplace of Alexander the Great, a major figure in ancient Greek heritage and history.

Shape-shifting Macedonia

Present day

As well as Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the geographic region of Macedonia extends into Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia as well as small areas of Kosovo (which you can't quite see here).

Shape-shifting Macedonia

Greek origins

The ancient kingdom of Macedonia – or Macedon – was a relatively small part of the present day Greek province of Macedonia. It first expanded under King Perdiccas I, then widened to take in other areas.

Shape-shifting Macedonia

A Roman province

After the fall of the Greek Empire, the Romans – who admired Alexander – used the old name Macedonia for the province encompassing much of northern Greece and the area north of it – including much of the modern-day Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Shape-shifting Macedonia

A shift to the east

With the breakup of the Roman Empire into East and West, this region was overrun by the Slavic invasions. An entirely new province far to the east, including part of Thrace in modern-day Turkey, was named Macedonia by the Byzantine Empress Irene of Athens.

Shape-shifting Macedonia

Ottoman roots for current concept

The geographic region known as Macedonia today roughly equates to the part of the Ottoman Empire known as Ottoman Vardar Macedonia. It included Greek and Slavic areas and was split into three administrative units, but the concept of Macedonia persisted. This remained the case for centuries and so this concept – of what Macedonia is – has stuck.

Shape-shifting Macedonia

Let's put that all together...

...and there's certainly a fair bit of overlap — and room for confusion.

Shape-shifting Macedonia

Small matter of empire

Of course, Macedonia's King Alexander the Great's realm stretched all the way to India — but it would be a bit of a stretch to call that Macedonia

Shape-shifting Macedonia

A heady mix of flavors

As if it weren’t complicated enough, there’s another meaning of the word Macedonia. In Greece and many Latin-language-speaking countries, it’s also a fruit salad. The name is thought to have ben popularized at the end of the 18th century, referring to either the ethnic diversity of Alexander's vast empire or the ethnic mix of Ottoman Macedonia.

The agreement between Zaev and Tsipras, although technically a compromise, has been fiercely opposed in both countries, by citizens and politicians alike.

Read more: Greece-Macedonia name dispute compromise faces stiff opposition

Macedonia's president, who holds a largely ceremonial post, broke with his prime minister on Wednesday and said hewould not support the name change.

Opposition leads no-confidence effort

The main opposition group in Greece, the New Democracy party, submitted the no-confidence vote.

"I have an obligation before the Greek people to try to avert the mortgaging of our country's future with an agreement that is detrimental to our national interests," New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, explaining his party's move.

Tsipras's governing left-right coalition currently holds a 154-seat majority in the 300-member parliament. To survive the no-confidence vote, the prime minister needs the full support of his governing bloc and especially of his coalition junior partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks.

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, Defense Minister and leader oft he Independent Greeks, has opposed Tsipras's Macedonia name deal and has not yet signaled whether this conflict would lead him to support the no-confidence vote.

"What goes around comes around," Tsipras said in parliament on Thursday, shrugging off the no-confidence motion. The prime minister then blamed the New Democracy party for failing to resolve the issue itself, when it was in government.

Macedonia: What's in a name?

The Republic of Northern Macedonia

For decades Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) had a contentious relationship over the name. When Yugoslavia broke up Macedonia declared its independence and took the name Republic of Macedonia, Greece objected as its northern region is also called Macedonia. In 2018, the two countries settled the dispute and Macedonia is now known as The Republic of Nothern Macedonia.

Macedonia: What's in a name?

The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

The Irish have long had a contentious relationship with the United Kingdom. While Ireland was for centuries part of the UK, the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 gave Ireland complete independence in its home affairs but an opt-out clause allowed Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom.

Macedonia: What's in a name?

Islands worth going to war over

The islands in the southern Atlantic have had French, British, Spanish and Argentinian settlements. The British refer to the archipelago as the Falkland Islands and reasserted its rule over them in 1833. Argentina maintains that the islands are called the Islas Malvinas and are a part of its territory. In 1982, Argentina invaded the islands until a British force retook the territories.

Macedonia: What's in a name?

Senkau or Diaoyu?

The small group of islands controlled by Japan in the East China Sea has long been a sore point between Japan and China. China claims it discovered what it calls the Diaoyu islands in the 14th century. After World War II, the US administered the island but returned control to Japan in 1972. With the discovery of oil reserves in 1968, ownership is now once again an issue.

jcg/jm (AP, Reuters)

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