Greeks divided on proposed Macedonia name deal

by John HADOULIS
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Athens and Skopje signed an accord last month to resolve the decades-long dispute over the Balkan state's use of the name Macedonia

Greeks were divided Wednesday on a proposed compromise deal to end a nearly three-decade name row with Macedonia, with critics calling it a "national defeat" while others pointed out that obstacles remain.

The leaders of the two countries said Tuesday that they had reached a "historic" solution to resolve the dispute and call the northern nation the Republic of North Macedonia after months of intensive diplomacy.

However both governments have faced criticism over the compromise, with the countries' main opposition parties saying they will not support it.

Much of the criticism in Greece has focused on the government's acceptance that the neighbouring country's language and ethnicity will be called "Macedonian".

Greece has long objected to its northern neighbour being called Macedonia because it has its own northern province of the same name.

"The acceptance of the Macedonian language and nationality is an unacceptable national retreat," said main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Apostolos Tzitzikostas, one of the three governors in the Greek province of Macedonia, echoed the sentiment, saying "this is not a solution, it's a national defeat".

But others welcomed the solution, which Macedonia hopes will help clear the way for it to join the European Union and NATO.

"A mutually beneficial deal creates a safe environment on our northern border. Greece needs this because of tension with Turkey," said Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political scientist at Athens' Panteion university, wrote in the Ta Nea newspaper.

- 'Great diplomatic victory' -

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev hailed the deal on Tuesday, saying "we have a historic solution after two and a half decades. Our agreement includes Republic of North Macedonia for overall use".

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared it "a great diplomatic victory and a great historic opportunity" for the region to have "friendship, cooperation and co-development".

Critics say Tsipras, who has a slim majority in parliament, lacks legitimacy to enforce the deal because the nationalist leader of his coalition partner, Panos Kammenos, has also refused to support it.

And the agreement still needs to be approved by Macedonia's parliament and pass a referendum there, as well as be ratified by the Greek parliament.

"The agreement has three hurdles," Greek newspaper Ethnos noted Wednesday.

"A deal with gaps and questions," added the Kathimerini newspaper.

"This looks like a preliminary deal, there are many phases of implementation, so we should restrain our expectations," Greek analyst Constantinos Filis told SKAI TV.

Skopje hopes to secure a date to begin accession talks at an EU summit in late June, and an invitation to join NATO in mid-July.

Macedonia's President Gjorge Ivanov, who is close to the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party which was defeated by Zaev in elections last year, has also signalled his concern.

"There is a need for a wider national consensus to find a solution that won't hurt the dignity of the Macedonian people and citizens," he said.

Ancient Macedonia was the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire, a point of pride to Greeks today.

But under the Romans, the province of Macedonia was expanded to include territory in modern-day Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania.

A Greek flag reading "Macedonia" held at a demonstration in Greece earlier this year urging the government not to compromise on the festering name row

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the deal would end the 27-year name dispute