Macedonian lawmakers vote to rename country North Macedonia, change constitution

In a historic move, Macedonian lawmakers overwhelmingly voted for renaming the ex-Yugoslav country "North Macedonia." The move will "open the door for the future," according to Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

Over two-thirds of the parliament in Skopje voted in favor of renaming their country "North Macedonia" on Friday, passing the threshold required for amending the constitution in the Balkan country.

The move aims to settle the decades-long dispute with Greece over Macedonia's name, with Athens claiming that the name implies territorial claims on the Greek province of Macedonia and accusing the authorities in Skopje of trying to link their Slavic nation with Alexander the Great. Greece has been blocking Macedonia from joining NATO and the EU over the issue.

Addressing deputies in Skopje, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the vote would "open the doors to the future, Macedonia's European future."

EU and NATO pleased

NATO and the European Union welcomed the decision, which both organizations had backed.

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Macedonia: Low turnout mars referendum to change name

NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg said it was "an important contribution to a stable and prosperous region."

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini congratulated the Macedonian parliament and said the EU "remains firmly committed to continue to fully support and accompany (Macedonia) towards its common strategic goal of EU integration."

Greece to vote on change

However, the name change will only go into effect if Greek lawmakers ratify the 2018 accord between Zaev and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. This is far from certain, as many Greek nationalists object to any mention of "Macedonia" in the name of the neighboring country.

Following Friday's decision, Tsipras "congratulated Mr. Zaev on the successful conclusion of the process to revise the constitution," the Greek prime minister's office said.

Tsipras has said the parliament would vote on the deal by the end of the January.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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'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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Corruption allegations

Friday's session saw 81 Macedonian deputies aligned with the ruling party vote in favor of four constitutional amendments, including one proposing the name change. The opposition VMRO-DMPNE boycotted the vote.

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The process to change the constitution started in October 2018, with the pro-Zaev coalition managing to snatch 80 votes in favor. The laboriously won majority included eight VMRO-DMPNE deputies. They were subsequently purged from the party.

Some conservative lawmakers accused the government of offering millions in bribes in exchange for votes. Zaev's party denied the claims and pledged to respond with legal action.

jm, dj/amp (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, Beta)

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