Macedonia MPs ratify Greece deal, paving way for referendum

SKOPJE, Macedonia – The Macedonian parliament Thursday, July 5, ratified again a historic deal with Greece aimed at ending a long-running name row after its president refused to sign it, paving the way for a referendum.

President Gjorge Ivanov, an ally of the nationalist opposition, last month vetoed the government-backed accord to rename the small Balkan nation the Republic of North Macedonia.

But following Thursday's vote, he is now obliged to sign the law on ratification under the constitution. A referendum on the name change will still need to be held.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said late Thursday that the referendum on the name change would take place "probably at the end of September", between September 23 and October 7.

"I hope that the result will be positive" and that by "January 15" the procedure for validating the accord will be completed, he added in an interview on Greek public television Ert.

The agreement with Greece on the name change was reached in June in a bid to resolve the dispute, which has been poisoning relations between the two countries since 1991.

For nearly 3 decades, Athens has insisted Macedonia should change its name because it has its own northern province of the same name, which in ancient times was the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire – a source of intense pride for modern-day Greeks.

In exchange for the accord, Skopje hopes to begin European Union accession talks and get an invitation to join NATO – long opposed by Athens.

However, the nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE, the main Macedonian opposition, has repeatedly said it will not support the change of "Macedonia's constitutional name", arguing it erodes the country's identity.

A total of 69 MPs in the 120-seat assembly backed the accord Thursday, while the nationalist opposition lawmakers were not present during the vote.

Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". – Rappler.com