Greek government faces censure over Macedonia deal

Some Greeks feel like it is difficult to change the name of a nation because it has more to do with identity than law.

Greece Macedonia
Greece has objected to the former Yugoslav state calling itself Republic of Macedonia, which implies territorial aspirations on its northern region of the same name [Paschalis Mantis/EPA-EFE]

The Greek government faces a vote of no confidence over its deal with the former Yugoslav Macedonia.

The conservative opposition New Democracy party brought the motion on Thursday, saying the deal “is opposed by the overwhelming majority of Greek people.” The vote is to take place late on Saturday.

To survive, the government needs at least 151 of its 154 MPs to vote against the censure motion in the 300-seat chamber. If it should fail to garner the votes, it would fall and an election would be called.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday announced that the two governments agreed to rename the former communist state Severna Makedonja, or Northern Macedonia.

The deal was the result of six months of talks, and comes after a 26-year standoff between the two countries.

Greece has objected to the former Yugoslav state calling itself Republic of Macedonia, which implies territorial aspirations on its northern region of the same name.

If the two countries ratify the deal, Greece will lift its veto on Northern Macedonia’s membership in the European Union and NATO.

European leaders welcomed the deal, which comes as the EU tries to pump new energy into the accession processes of Serbia, Albania and Northern Macedonia.

WATCH: Severna Macedonia is born – Athens and Skopje announce ‘name’ deal

“We hope this unique opportunity to re-launch the wider Western Balkan region’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration will not be wasted,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and European Council leader Donald Tusk said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

“This agreement sets an example to others on how to consolidate peace and stability across the region.”

But in Athens, the mood was sour. Since the fall of communism, Greeks have called the country to their north Skopje, after its capital city, and its people and their language as Skopjan.

The deal would sanction the country’s Macedonian language and nationality, albeit with the proviso that they are of Slav, not ancient Greek, origin.

Northern Macedonia would agree that its “official language and other attributes … are not related to the ancient Hellenic civilisation, history, culture and heritage of the northern region of [Greece].” It would make constitutional changes to remove claims on Greek soil.

“When these Slav Macedonians travel abroad, are they really going to introduce themselves saying, I am a Macedonian of Slavic background and my language is Slavic and I really have nothing to do with Alexander the Great?” asked Health worker Konstantina Teneketzi.

“These things are difficult to guarantee. Why didn’t they pick another name? Like America for example?”

Many Greeks fear that once Northern Macedonia has the green light to enter the EU and NATO, it will return to its old habit of claiming an ethnicity with descent from the ancient Macedonian kingdom of Alexander the Great.

“I don’t think those people will ever stop claiming our territory,” said pensioner Christos Hadjiliadis.

“They think it’s all theirs. Once they’re in NATO and the EU, what are we going to do? They won’t keep their promises.”

Not everyone in parliament is implacably opposed to the deal. Socialist leader Fofi Gennimata said it “constitutes a step but not a comprehensive solution.”

WATCH: In Macedonia, Greece is torn between history and realpolitik

She felt that the agreement “could be accepted if the constitutional amendment by Skopje included the adjustment of language and nationality in accordance with the new name.”

Centre-right Potami leader, whose party controls six seats, was positive, calling the agreement a “necessary first step… the step we must make.”

Legal experts pointed out that it’s not up to the Greeks to disallow the Macedonian designation of language and nationality.

“The name of a state can be the object of a diplomatic negotiation,” said Pention University’s human rights professor Dimitris Christopoulos on his Facebook page.

“The name of a nation – the identity of a people, where they feel they belong – cannot, because it is not a question of rules but of conscience.” 

WATCH: Inside Story – What is in a name?

Source: Al Jazeera