Macedonian president urges voters to boycott name referendum

Gjorge Ivanov says Macedonians are being asked to commit ‘historical suicide’ in Sunday’s referendum on name change.

Greece-Macedonia naming dispute
'Voting in a referendum is a right, not an obligation,' Macedonia's president told the UN General Assembly [Besar Ademi/Anadolu Agency]

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov called on voters to boycott this weekend’s referendum on a name change, saying the country was being asked to commit “historical suicide”.

Macedonians vote on Sunday on whether to add “North” to their country’s official name in an effort to overcome a 27-year-old argument with neighbouring Greece.

Athens has refused to recognise Macedonia‘s name since the Balkan country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, arguing it belongs solely to its northern province called Macedonia.

In protest, Greece has blocked Macedonia from NATO and the European Union, although a “yes” vote should pave the way for entry into both organisations.

“Voting in a referendum is a right, not an obligation,” Ivanov told the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

“On September 30, I will not go out and vote and I know that you, my fellow citizens, will make a similarly wise decision.”

Athens has also forced the country to use the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at the United Nations.

‘Noose around our necks’

Speaking on the third day of debate at the annual UN General Assembly meeting, Ivanov – whose position is largely ceremonial and is not a member of the governing party – said the Macedonian people were effectively being asked to commit “historical suicide,” likening the referendum to a “noose around our necks”.

“This referendum could lead us to become a subordinate state, dependent on another country,” he said. “We will become a state in name only, not in substance.”

The referendum comes as a result of an agreement reached between Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras in June.

Ivanov is a member of the right-wing nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, which has been heavily critical of the deal.

The president vetoed the Zaev-Tsipras accord back in June after it was initially voted through by legislators, but he was obliged to approve the referendum the following month after a second vote in parliament. 

Source: News Agencies