Macedonian lawmakers back North Macedonia name change

Macedonian parliamentarians have voted in favor of starting the process to change the country's name to North Macedonia. The name change would clear the path for the country's entry into NATO and possibly the EU.

After a delay of more than 10 hours, lawmakers in Macedonia voted 80 to 39 on Friday in favor of the proposal to change the constitution, a key step in accepting the deal struck with neighbor Greece back in June.

"The parliament adopted the proposal by the government to start the procedure for changes in the constitution," parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi said after the late-night vote.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's Social Democratic government had initially struggled to win the necessary support of conservative opposition members. The final vote, however, saw Zaev just achieve the necessary two-thirds majority needed inside the 120-seat house.

Zaev had said he would call for early elections if lawmakers did not vote to start the name change process

Some conservative lawmakers accused the government of offering bribes of between €250,000 and €2 million (between $288,000 and $2.3 million) in exchange for votes. Zaev's party denied the allegation and said it would respond with legal action.

Zaev had promised to call early elections if the government had lost the vote.

Greece dispute close to resolved

Zaev and his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, had reached a deal in June calling for Macedonia to change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Athens would in return stop blocking its neighbor from joining NATO and opening EU membership talks.

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DW News | 13.06.2018

Macedonia and Greece agree on name change

Greece has argued that the name "Macedonia" implied territorial claims to a Greek province of the same name. The name change would end a 27-year dispute that began after Macedonia emerged from the disintegrating Yugoslavia in 1991.

Read moreOpinion: Macedonia's bitter lesson

Following Friday's vote, Tsipras took to Twitter to congratulate Zaev. "Tonight's vote is a big step towards our common success. A very important step to a peaceful and prosperous future for our people!" the Greek prime minister said.

Conservatives in Macedonia vehemently oppose the name change and boycotted a referendum last month on the issue. The referendum failed to reach a turnout hurdle of 50 percent, leaving the issue to parliamentarians to decide.

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The amendment process must now formally start within the next two weeks. The procedure could be lengthy, however, and requires several votes.

Once Macedonia formally changes its constitution, Greece's lawmakers will also have to vote on the deal. It remains unclear whether that will come to pass, however, as several nationalist Greek lawmakers oppose allowing Macedonia to use the name in any form.

Macedonia: What's in a name (change)?

NATO next?

Should voters approve the name change to North Macedonia in Sunday's referendum, it could pave the way for the country to join NATO and the European Union. Previous talks stalled due to a veto by the Greek government in 2009.

Macedonia: What's in a name (change)?

Ethnic conflicts

Over the years, ethnic conflicts have been rife in Macedonia as a large part if its population consists of Albanian and Turkish minorities. The name deal would end one of the country's long-running conflicts with Greece.

Macedonia: What's in a name (change)?

Whose history is it?

Macedonia's previous government rebuilt the main square of its capital, Skopje, with an emphasis on history. It claimed its population were direct descendants of Alexander the Great. Greece has accused its neighboring country of trying to steal its history and identity.

Macedonia: What's in a name (change)?

Anger on both sides

The proposed name change has triggered protests in both countries, with Macedonian nationalists calling it an assault on the country's identity.

Macedonia: What's in a name (change)?

'Our name is Macedonia'

The protests were often led by far-right organizations both in Macedonia and Greece. The Macedonian far-right group MHRMI (Macedonian Human Rights Movement International) put up billboards along a central street in Gevgelija, a town near the border with Greece.

Macedonia: What's in a name (change)?

Glorifying the past

Macedonia's new archaeological museum was part of Skopje 2014, a project aimed at lending a more classical appeal to the country's capital. Former populist leader Nikola Gruevski and his government oversaw Skopje 2014, which saw hundreds of pseudo-historical monuments and baroque buildings erected throughout the capital.

Macedonia: What's in a name (change)?

United protests

Widespread protests took place in Greece before, during and after the negotiations to change Macedonia's name. They were often led by the far right but there were also protesters from across the political and social spectrum.

Macedonia: What's in a name (change)?

Tempers flare

Extreme right-wing protesters clashed with riot police in the Greek city of Thessaloniki during protests against the deal on September 8, 2018.

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dm/sms (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)