A historic deal ending a decades-long dispute between neighbors Greece and FYR Macedonia over the latter’s name met with mixed reactions in both countries Wednesday, with some welcoming the agreement and others horrified at what they see as unacceptable concessions.
Under the deal reached between the two countries’ prime ministers Tuesday, FYR Macedonia will change its name to Republic of North Macedonia, and will amend its constitution. The agreement is expected to be signed this weekend.
The name dispute has poisoned the two countries’ relations since FYR Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, with Greece arguing that the term “Macedonia” implied a claim on the territory and ancient heritage of its own northern province of the same name.
The dispute has roused strong emotions and nationalist sentiments on both sides for years, and on Wednesday reactions to the deal were mixed on the streets of both capitals.
“We lost the country, this is a disaster,” 45-year-old lawyer Mila Ivanovska said in Skopje, the FYR Macedonia capital, and began to cry.
In Greece, opponents were equally angry.
“You, Slavs from Skopje through the centuries, you have never been true Macedonians,” said Athenian resident Konstandinos Goutras.
Nonetheless, the agreement should pave the way for the former Yugoslav republic to begin the process of acceding to NATO and the European Union, and was welcomed by international officials.
The dispute was deadlocked for years, but hope for a resolution was rekindled after left-wing Zoran Zaev became FYR Macedonia’s prime minister last year, replacing conservative Nikola Gruevski who had served as prime minister for a decade.
Reaching a deal was highly contentious in both countries, where mass rallies had been held in recent months to protest any compromise. New calls were circulating on social media in both countries for renewed street protests, with opponents on both sides arguing their prime ministers had given up too much to reach the deal.
Zaev and his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, have also faced political dissent.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is the coalition partner in Tsipras’ government, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote. This would leave the left-wing prime minister dependent on support from political opponents to ratify the deal in parliament.
In Skopje, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov had said before the deal was announced that he opposed writing the new name into the constitution, a move intended to show the change is permanent and binding for domestic and international use.
On Wednesday, the head of Greece’s main opposition party described the agreement as “deeply problematic.”
Conservative New Democracy party head Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on Greece’s president to intervene so the deal can be debated in parliament before it is signed, instead of after.
But for others it marks a welcome end to a protracted dispute.
“North Macedonia is acceptable for me,” said Svetlana Jancevska, a 55-year-old music teacher in Skopje, adding that it does “not damage my identity as Macedonian. The language remains Macedonian and that makes me happy. It was high time for the problem to be solved.”
Opponents in Greece objected to any use of the term “Macedonia” in their northern neighbor’s name, fearing territorial claims and seeing the use of the name as a usurping of Greece’s ancient heritage. Opponents in FYR Macedonia disagreed with any modification to their country’s name, seeing it as a threat to their national identity.