Greece and Macedonia reach deal to end decades-old name dispute

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faces criticism for the move one made to improve relations with Macedonia. — Reuters pic

Macedonia and Greece reach agreement in name dispute

Macedonia is the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

When Macedonia peacefully gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece balked at the name, saying it implied territorial ambitions toward Greece.

Just to make things confusing, when it became a member of the United Nations in 1993, it had to be given an alternative provisional name of the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", which was purely because of the ongoing dispute with Greece.

Announcing the agreement reached with neighbouring Greece over the change of name, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said resolving the long-standing issue would open his country's access to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

Previous administrations in Macedonia's capital, Skopje, resisted demands to change or modify the name.

Mr Tsipras added: "The name change will be implemented not only the country's worldwide relations but also domestically".

"We have a deal".

He said: "We have a good agreement that covers all the preconditions the Greek side had set".

Resolving the dispute would see Greece lift its objections to Macedonia's accession to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

Greece and Macedonia are involved in a longtime dispute over the name of the Republic of Macedonia.

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The statements from diplomats trumpeting today's deal reflect the linguistic awkwardness of the issue.

And main opposition parties in both countries rejected the agreement.

'This historic agreement is testament to many years of patient diplomacy, and to the willingness of these two leaders to solve a dispute which has affected the region for too long, ' NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

"I now call on both countries to finalise the agreement reached by the two leaders".

By solving the dispute which has lingered for more than 25 years, Macedonia will remove the biggest obstacle on its path towards European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation accession.

In 1992 more than a million Greeks joined a rally in the northern city of Thessaloniki, once the most important city in ancient Macedonia, to proclaim "Macedonia is Greek".

He also said it "secures the historic heritage of ancient Greek Macedonia" and promotes stability and cooperation in the Balkans, confirming Greece's role as pillar of peace, security and growth. Greece considers Macedonia a non-negotiable part of its history. Macedonia's flag is emblazoned with the Sun of Vergina - a symbol associated with the dynasty of Alexander and his father Philip.

Macedonia, the name of the ex-Yugoslav republic since its independence in 1991, has poisoned relations between Athens and Skopje for almost three decades. A meeting of the two soon may seal the deal, he said.

Matthew Nimetz, a retired US diplomat, has been the United Nations mediator on the issue since 1994.

But Macedonia clearly liked the name, too, meaning that there's been a massive stand-off for nearly 30 years, which has seen many protests and conflict.

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