By Patrick Brogan
MPs in Macedonia voted in favour of ratifying a deal agreed with Greece that includes changing the country’s name. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will become North Macedonia. As a result, Greece will not use its veto on Macedonian membership of NATO.
Since Macedonia gained independence in the early 90s, there has been tension with neighbouring Greece. The Greeks felt Macedonia, by picking that name, was making a claim on the Greek territory of the same name. They also felt they were appropriating a part of Greek culture. Macedonia is famous for Alexander the Great and then the Macedonians saw themselves as very much Greek, however, the current inhabitants of the country are of Slavic origin. For these reasons, Athens said it would veto any moves Skopje made towards NATO membership.
Poking the Bear
The deal between the two countries is a comprise and it is one the current Government in Macedonia feel is necessary to move closer to a Western system. Obviously, the Kremlin and Putin are concerned as they saw the Balkans as in their sphere of influence. Indeed, it was reported Russian billionaire oligarchs were throwing their weight, and money, behind nationalist MPs who opposed the deal. And they were very close to achieving their objective.
The referendum had an embarrassingly low turn out of only 35% and the vote in parliament was barely passed by the two-thirds majority. The nationalist opposition party kicked out any of its members that voted in favour of the new legislation.
There are still a number of hurdles before Macedonia becomes a member of the two Western institutions. Greece has to ratify the deal and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sees this as the crowning glory of his foreign policy and is remaining as Greek Foreign Minister until the deal is completed. However, the junior member of the coalition in Athens has said it will leave the partnership rather than vote on the deal as they feel Macedonian politicians were bribed into voting in its favour.
While anyone would welcome a reduction in tensions between Greece and Macedonia, the new deal does nothing to ease the tension between Russia and the West, which is a far bigger issue. The US and the West have, not surprisingly, welcomed the move, but will Russia try scupper the deal before it is completed? Given the fact that the ordinary Macedonian doesn’t seem enthusiastic about the deal and the threats of Greek MPs pulling the plug on the current Greek coalition, the Kremlin has a lot of options to torpedo this deal yet. Where will that leave the ordinary Macedonian, though?
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