One of Europe’s most enduring political disputes came to a formal end Friday, with Greece’s parliament approving an agreement that allows Macedonia to change its name and eventually join NATO and the European Union.
The Greek vote, approved by 153 votes in the 300-seat chamber, was the final step in a precarious seven-month process that has included street protests, nationalist opposition, alleged Russian attempts at interference, and testy paths to ratification in both countries.
Widely supported by the United States and European Union leaders, the agreement calls for Macedonia to change its name to North Macedonia, while Greece, in exchange, drops long-held opposition that has prevented its neighbor from integrating more formally with Europe.
U.S. officials have said the deal has the chance to transform and stabilize the Balkans, a region that lags economically behind the rest of Europe and one where Russia battles with the West for influence. But polls indicate that nearly 7 in 10 Greeks oppose the accord, and many accuse Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of pulling his party away from its populist roots while ramming through a deal that has won him acclaim from abroad.
The dispute over Macedonia’s name has burned for nearly three decades, since the country was formed in the rubble of Yugoslavia’s collapse. The name issue may seem obscure, but it has become a proxy for a wider debate over national identity in a region with a proud and deep history.
Ancient Macedonia encompassed a broad area — an empire once ruled by Alexander the Great — and today an area of northern Greece is also known as Macedonia. Greece, before this vote, referred to their northern neighbor as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM. Some Greeks say that Macedonians are making unjust claims over Greek territory or heritage.
Chico Harlan writes for the Washington Post.