Greek lawmakers have ratified a deal with FYR Macedonia, ending a nearly three-decade-long dispute between the neighbors in which the Balkan country will be renamed North Macedonia.
Greece’s parliament narrowly passed the agreement, 153-146, on Friday. The deal normalizes relations between the two countries and paves the way for North Macedonia to join NATO and the European Union.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the ratification and praised the Greek government for its “vision, courage and persistence” in pushing ahead with the historic agreement.
Top EU officials also hailed the deal. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the vote took “political courage” while European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted, “Mission impossible accomplished.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he looked “forward to the future Republic of North Macedonia joining NATO.”
The accord comes despite street protests and months of nationalist opposition in both Greece and FYR Macedonia.
Greece has long protested the name Macedonia, adopted by its northern neighbor after it split from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece has argued the name represents an attempt to appropriate Greek identity and cultural heritage, because Macedonia is also the name of Greece’s northern province made famous by Alexander the Great’s conquests.
Protests in Athens against the agreement turned violent earlier this week, with police saying at least 25 officers and dozens of people were injured.
The agreement has also caused protests in Macedonia, with critics there saying the government gave up too much in the deal.
The accord led to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras losing his four-year coalition in parliament after his nationalist allies defected to protest the agreement. Following the upheaval, Tsipras narrowly won a confidence vote in parliament last week.
Tsipras praised parliament’s ratification of the deal Friday saying, “This is a historic day for Greece, ending a pending issue which was a burden on our foreign policy.”
The Greek prime minister and his FYR Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, brokered the compromise in June to end the 27-year name dispute between the two neighbors.
Earlier this month, Zaev led the effort for FYR Macedonia’s parliament to approve a constitutional revision to change the country’s name.
Zaev congratulated Tsipras Friday in a Twitter post: “Congratulations my friend, Alexis Tsipras. Together with our peoples we reached a historical victory. Long live the Prespa Agreement! For eternal peace and progress of the Balkans and in Europe!”
Tsipras has argued the Macedonia deal will bolster stability in Europe’s Balkan region. EU countries had also strongly backed the deal.