Macedonia parliament approves name change

Macedonia Macedonian parliament
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (C) hugs a lawmaker after the members of Parliament voted to change constitution and change the country name to North Macedonia Friday. (Georgi Lucovski/EPA-EFE photo)

SKOPJE, Macedonia (UPI) — Macedonia’s Parliament gave its final approval to change the Balkan nation’s name in one of the last steps to settle a decades-long dispute with Greece and pursue admittance to NATO.

The Assembly narrowly passed the measure to change the country’s name to North Macedonia on Friday with the necessary two-thirds vote.

“We are making history by opening up our future,” Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said on Twitter. “We have proven that miracles are possible. We demonstrated that we are European, not only geographically, but also in terms of European values. I am proud to be on the right side of history.”

The former Yugoslav Republic has called itself Macedonia since 1991, but the name has caused a rift with Greece, which has a region that bears the same name. Greece believes it is the only country entitled to lay claim to the ancient culture.

Because of its disagreement with the name, Greece has prevented Macedonia from joining NATO — the 29-member state bloc needs unanimous consent to allow a new member.

Greece’s Parliament must give its own approval to the name change in order for it to officially go into effect. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev encouraged Greek lawmakers to support the move.

“I am convinced Greek lawmakers will recognize their great role in this historic moment. I believe Greece will ratify the agreement and will be the first country to sign the protocol for our accession to NATO,” he said during a news conference.

Macedonia wants to finish the deal before March, when Greece will have its own elections and politicians opposed to the deal could be elected.

Many Greeks oppose the new name and protested Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for supporting the deal. Tsipras fended off an attempt to remove him from office in June.

Greeks took to the streets for protests Friday against the Macedonian Parliament’s decision.

The United States and Germany have shown strong support for the name change, as has NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“I congratulate PM @Zoran_Zaev on the parliament’s final vote on the #PrespaAgreement. #NATO strongly supports the full implementation of the agreement, which is an important contribution to a stable and prosperous region,” he tweeted.

Reporting by Danielle Haynes

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