Macedonian parliament narrowly greenlights name change for ‘brighter future’ with NATO & EU

Barely eking out the required majority and casting aside the failed popular referendum, Macedonia’s parliament has approved the country’s name change for the sake of a “brighter future” reserved for NATO members.

The Macedonian population largely boycotted the referendum, despite the best efforts of its US-backed government, which tried to entice voters by phrasing the question as innocuously as possible: “Are you in favor of membership in the European Union and NATO by accepting the deal between the Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Greece?” Only 36.9 percent of eligible voters participated, rendering the referendum invalid.

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Opponents of the Macedonia name change referendum, September 30, 2018 © Reuters / Marko Djurica

Opposition MPs facing terrorism charges were reportedly offered amnesty if they voted with the ruling party to amend the Constitution, and the release of one of those MPs on bail lent weight to suspicions their votes were being bought.

A US diplomat even stepped in to remind opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski he knew better what was good for the Macedonian people, writing to say how “disappointed” he was in the party’s failure to bring its positions into alignment with those of the US and NATO. Wess Mitchell, US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, lectured the VMRO-DPMNE leader that Macedonians “strongly support NATO and EU accession, and have done so since independence” and that only a leader lacking in “courageous leadership and maturity” would stand in the way of joining such august political bodies.

Mitchell ended his letter on an even more patronizing note, calling the US “a true friend and supporter” of Macedonia and promising to “secure a brighter future” – if only Mickoski would set aside his country’s “partisan” interests to advance those of the US and NATO.

Many opposition MPs also chose to boycott the parliamentary vote. The ruling coalition was barely able to secure the required majority of 80 out of 120 votes in order to ram the measure through.

Macedonia’s ruling party, led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, made a deal with Greece in June to change the country’s name to North Macedonia in return for smoothing the process of integrating the Balkan nation into the EU and NATO.

Not all in Greece are satisfied with the compromise by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who barely survived a no-confidence vote over his handling of the matter. The country’s right-wing Defense Minister Panos Kammenos has threatened to quit the governing coalition if the matter goes to a Greek vote.

Macedonia’s conflict with Greece stems from a province in the country that shares its name. Macedonia – the Greek province, at least – is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Alexander the Great, whose empire reached from Greece to India. Modern Greece accuses Macedonia of cultural appropriation and territorial aggression through its use of the name, which has been a sore point since the country became independent in 1991.

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