In Depth

Republic of North Macedonia born amid mass protests

Alexis Tsipras survives no confidence vote to bring end to long-running saga with northern neighbour one step closer

The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has survived a vote of no confidence and signed a historic accord with neighbouring Macedonia to settle a long-running dispute over its name.

Last week it was announced the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia had agreed a deal with the Greek government to rename itself the “Republic of North Macedonia”.

What’s the controversy?

Greece has been in dispute with Macedonia since 1991, arguing its name could imply territorial claims over the Greek province of Macedonia and an appropriation of ancient Greek culture and civilisation.

Political opponents had accused Tsipras of making too many concessions over the deal, leading thousands of Greeks to protesting against the accord outside parliament on Saturday and calling the prime minister a “traitor”.

Reuters says the storm of protest over “a deal seen as a national sellout by some on both sides” has laid bare the intense opposition to the accord in both countries.

An opinion poll by the Proto Thema newspaper found up to 70% of Greeks object to the compromise, with Macedonian nationalists vowing to defend the country's name and pride.

What was at stake?

Had Tsipras lost the confidence  vote, it would most likely have signalled early elections, with the issue of Macedonia’s name change front and centre of the campaign.

His narrow victory enabled the foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia to sign the accord at a ceremony on Sunday in the presence of representatives from the UN and EU.

What happens next?

The agreement still requires the approval of both parliaments and a referendum in Macedonia.

Reuters says “that approval is far from assured, as it faces stiff opposition from the Greek public, and Macedonia’s president has vowed to block the deal”.

Under the deal, Greece will lift its objections to the renamed nation joining the EU and Nato, a move which will be opposed by Russia.

“There will be fears that Russia may now try to somehow influence the vote,” James Ker-Lindsay, professor of politics and policy at St. Mary’s University in London, told Reuters. “Given recent allegations of Moscow’s involvement in other elections and referendums, this will be a real concern for Nato and the EU.”

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