World News

Greece and Macedonia Press Ahead With Name Accord

Posted June 15, 2018 10:30 a.m. EDT

ATHENS, Greece — A landmark agreement to change the name of Macedonia and end a decades-old dispute with Greece appeared to be on track Friday, but it was becoming increasingly clear that few people in either country were terribly happy about it.

The announcement of the agreement Tuesday prompted the main conservative opposition party in Greece, New Democracy, to call for a vote of no-confidence against the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, plunging Parliament into an acrimonious debate that forced Tsipras on Friday to abandon plans to brief lawmakers on the naming deal.

Greece has long objected to its northern neighbor’s use of the name Macedonia, arguing that it implies territorial aspirations against a northern Greek region with the same name and represents an attempt to appropriate the ancient civilization of Macedonia, the center of the kingdom of the Greek warrior king Alexander the Great.

There have also been more far-reaching implications: The dispute has kept Macedonia out of the European Union and NATO.

The no-confidence vote was lodged by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of New Democracy, who described the agreement as a “bad deal which harms our country’s interests,” although his political maneuvering was unlikely to have much practical effect, at least in the short run.

The no-confidence vote, now scheduled for Saturday, is unlikely to pass, with Tsipras’ coalition partner saying it opposes the Macedonia agreement, but not to the extent that it is willing to threaten the government’s stability.

There were more extreme reactions. Konstantinos Barbarousis, a lawmaker for the ultraright party Golden Dawn, caused an uproar that led his party to be ejected from the debate, after he accused Tsipras, as well as the country’s president and defense minister, of treason and called on the Greek army to arrest them. (The Greek justice minister, Stavros Kontonis, asked a prosecutor to investigate whether Barbarousis should face criminal charges for his rant.)

Outside Parliament, protesters waved Greek flags and condemned the deal as a “national betrayal” and suggested that the compromise was a final straw after years of what they regarded as humiliating austerity measures. “They’ve taken everything, but not our Macedonia. We’re not giving it away,” said Aliki Voutsa, 63, a retired schoolteacher. “They have no right to give up our history, our heritage.”

In recent months, there have been large rallies against a compromise on the issue of Macedonia’s name in Athens and other major cities — including Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, the capital of the Greek region Macedonia. Organizers of the rally in Athens on Friday called for a referendum on the deal and promised an “unending struggle.”

“Fellow Greeks, this is the last chance for us to save our Macedonia,” Michalis Patsikas, one of the rally organizers, said in a recorded message outside Parliament that was posted on social media. “Do your patriotic duty,” he said, calling on Greeks to “leave obligations and work” and join the rally in central Athens.

The agreement has also prompted protests and political opposition in Skopje, the Macedonian capital. President Gjorge Ivanov has said he will oppose the agreement, and a meeting with Ivanov; and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov on Friday ended almost immediately after it started.

The fragile deal, which is subject to a referendum in Macedonia and approval from parliaments in both countries, has long been in the making. After years of U.N. mediation, negotiations intensified in recent months, propelled in part by a moderate government in Macedonia that replaced hard-line nationalists last year.

And Tuesday, to widespread surprise, Tsipras and Zaev said they had agreed to rename the country the Republic of North Macedonia.

The two men hailed the deal as a historic, dignified solution for both sides, as did European officials. But leaders of both countries were quickly accused of capitulation.

The agreement was expected to be signed Sunday by the two countries’ foreign ministers, in the presence of their prime ministers, in the region of Prespes, on the shore of the Prespa Lake district, which the two countries share, along with Albania. European and U.N. officials are expected to attend.

Reflecting the tensions surrounding the deal, however, details about the exact location of the event have not been revealed because of security concerns.

“Your heads at Prespes!” said Barbarousis, the Golden Dawn lawmaker.