Athens and Skopje reportedly reach deal in name dispute - English

Jean Claude Juncker Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras

Jean Claude Juncker Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras

Macedonia agreed to change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia after reaching a historic deal with Greece on their decades-old dispute over the ex-Yugoslav republic's name, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Tuesday.

"There is no way back", Zaev told a news conference after a telephone conversation with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras.

Skopje and Athens announced they can resolve their long and bitter dispute by agreeing on the composite name "Republic of North Macedonia" for Macedonia - a deal expected to unlock Skopje's European Union and NATO bids.

"The two countries have agreed to the name Republic of Northern Macedonia, as opposed to the current UN-recognized name 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", pending the approval of the Greek and Macedonian parliaments.

Macedonia will change its name after a 27-year dispute with Greece.

"Macedonia will be called the Republic of Northern Macedonia [Severna Makedonija]", Zoran Zaev, the country's prime minister, announced Tuesday. "We strongly believe that at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit on July 12 in Brussels, Macedonia will receive an invitation for membership".

However, previous administrations in Macedonia's capital, Skopje, have resisted demands to change or modify the name. The country was also accepted to the United Nations in 1993 as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

But Macedonia feared that a name change could have a negative impact on the national identity of its people, the majority of whom simply call themselves "Macedonians".

Protests in Greece have existed for decades but were renewed earlier this year following UN-mediated talks between the two countries to try and resolve the issue that did not yield an agreement.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev
GETTYThe tiny Balkan country has repeatedly tried to join both the EU and Nato

In 2001, Greece, the only country in the region with EU, NATO and eurozone membership, expressed support for Skopje, faced by an armed conflict with ethnic Albanian rebels.

But nationalist forces could try to upset the apple cart in Macedonia, with the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party in Skopje rushing to denounce the deal.

"I am keeping my fingers crossed", he said.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of northern Greece's biggest city Thessaloniki on Sunday (21 January), police said, in a long-running row between Athens and Skopje over the use of the name Macedonia. European Union President Donald Tusk congratulated the leaders of the neighbouring states, while signalling that more work was needed to finish the deal.

"[Macedonia] can not and will not be able in the future to claim any connection with the ancient Greek civilization of Macedonia".

But Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is Tsipras' junior coalition partner, said he would reject the name agreement in a parliamentary vote.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the deal and Macedonia's possible membership "will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans".

The dispute has meant Greece has blocked the former Yugoslav republic from becoming part of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or the European Union.

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