SKOPJE (Reuters) – The Macedonian parliament approved an amendment to the constitution on Friday to rename the Republic of Northern Macedonia, in line with an agreement with Greece to end a 27-year dispute.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev addresses parliamentarians during a vote to approve constitutional amendments to allow the Balkan country to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia, in Skopje, Macedonia, on January 11, 2019. REUTERS / Tomislav Georgiev
The countries have reached agreement on the new name in June, but Macedonia will start using it only after the Athens parliament has ratified the agreement.
Eighty-one deputies in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor. The representatives of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, who opposed the agreement with Greece, boycotted the vote.
"This evening a new historical chapter has been written in our nation," the Macedonian government said in a statement.
"It makes two of our major state interests absolutely plausible: NATO membership and the EU," he said.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev to congratulate him, said his office in a written statement.
Greece has blocked the aspirations of its neighbors to join the EU and to NATO for the use of "Macedonia", which has said territorial implications in a Greek province of the same name.
The implementation of the agreement, from the name of the neighboring city of Prespa in which it was signed, is intended to put an end to the dispute.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn hailed the vote.
"NATO strongly supports the full implementation of the agreement, which is an important contribution to a stable and prosperous region," Stoltenberg wrote on his Twitter account.
"My most sincere congratulations to the political actors and citizens of the hope that soon will be Northern Macedonia for Parliament's vote on constitutional changes," commented Hahn.
"(I) I hope this historic decision will create a positive dynamic for reconciliation across the Western Balkan region," Hahn said.
Several hundred people have protested against the parliament before the last three days. The Macedonian opposition parties and the nationalists argue that changing the name of the country and the national symbols is too high a price to pay for NATO membership.
The VMRO-DPMNE opposition party called for early elections.
"The vote on the constitutional amendments that changed the name, identity, history and culture was done against the constitution: it was illegal, violent and done in a criminal way," Hristijan Mickoski told reporters after the vote .
Signaling of Kole Casule; Additional reports by Lefteris Papadimas in Athens and Robin Emmot in Brussels; written by Ivana Sekularac; John Stonestreet editing