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Macedonia and Greece reach a historic agreement to name dispute

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History has been made as Greece and Macedonia have finally come to an agreement on a 27-year-old dispute about the name of the latter.

The country known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will be named Severna Makedonija, or Republic of North Macedonia. Both the English and Slavic term will be used, and the countries that already recognise it with its constitutional name will automatically recognise the new name.

The official language of the country will be Macedonian, and its people will be known as Macedonians.

“We have a historic decision, with which we will strengthen the Macedonian identity,” Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said of the decision.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the deal “historic”.

The country has faced years of failed bids to join NATO and the EU, all vetoed by Greece. It is a member of the United Nations under the name of FYROM.

The independence of Northern Macedonia in 1991 has previously led to Greek fears of territorial claims to the north-western Greek region of the same name.

The dispute resolution comes after the EU turned its eye to the region of the Western Balkans, where fears of expanded Russian influence has led to further integration efforts. The end goal is EU and NATO membership.  

News of the eagerly-awaited breakthrough comes after the two sides stepped up the UN-sponsored ‘name’ talks at the start of this year, after Zaev's party came to power in 2017.

The prime ministers of the two countries, Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, met in Sofia, Bulgaria, last month under the auspices of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Other alternative names were discussed, including Republic of Ilinden Macedonia.

It also follows after a good neighbourly deal was signed between Bulgaria (whose territory also incorporates a part of the overarching Macedonian region) and the Republic of Macedonia in 2017.

What comes next?

The agreement is expected to be signed on Saturday on Lake Prespa, which spans both Greek and Macedonian territory.

After that, Macedonia’s parliament will have to be convinced to back an agreement before 28th June, when EU leaders meet for a summit. After that, Greece will send a letter to the EU and NATO withdrawing its objection to accession talks, removing the biggest obstacle in Macedonia’s path.

Once autumn comes around, a referendum will take place in Macedonia. If voters back the deal, the government will have to change the constitutions, which is one of Greece’s key demands.

Finally, the deal will have to be ratified by the Greek parliament.

Both Zaev and Tsipras will face opposition from their own countries, but this is the biggest development on the issue, which has spanned decades.

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