Greece and Macedonia have taken a major step towards resolving a 27-year-old dispute over the latter’s name by signing an agreement that would see Macedonia change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov of Macedonia signed the historic accord on Sunday in the small fishing village of Psarades.
Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev were in attendance, joined by officials from the United Nations and the European Union (EU), who have welcomed the move
The signing comes a day after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote over his handling of the dispute.
Opposition MPs, who accuse Tsipras of excessive compromise on the issue, failed to pass the no-confidence motion by 153 votes to 127 on Saturday.
That attempt came a day after an MP from the far-right Golden Dawn party delivered a fierce rant urging the army to overthrow Tsipras.
Security was tight at Sunday’s venue, with police cordons in place many miles from the village. Anybody seeking to approach had to pass through successive identity checks.
Once ratified by the respective parliaments in each country and confirmed by a referendum in Macedonia by the end of the year, the agreement will also enable the landlocked state to start proceedings and eventually join the EU and NATO.
Reporting from the signing ceremony, Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego described the event as “a symbolic, first step” to end the 27-year dispute.
Many Greeks are opposed to Skopje’s use of the name Macedonia, as they say, it appropriates Greek history and fails to distinguish itself from the Greek region with the same name.
“The Greeks are largely on the defensive on account of this agreement,” said Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos, reporting from the Greek capital of Athens.
“It recognises a Macedonian nationality; opponents say this comes awfully close to recognising a Macedonian ethnicity which Greece has spent the last quarter of the century denying it exists,” he explained.
“The Greeks say there is no separate Macedonian race, which implies it hails from the ancient Macedonians and the kingdom of Alexander the Great – that, they say, is a part of the Greek heritage,” Psaropoulos added.
Tsipras has defended the new name because it includes the geographic qualifier ‘northern’.
The historic region of Macedonia, includes the modern Greek region and some territory within what is now the sovereign state of Macedonia.
The region was the birthplace of Alexander the Great – born in Pella 356BC, northwest of Greece’s second-biggest city of Thessaloniki – whose empire stretched from Greece to India.