Hailing what he described as a diplomatic success, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday in a televised address that an agreement had been reached for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to be called North Macedonia.
Tsipras said the deal covers all the preconditions the Greek side had set, namely that the name will be used erga omnes – nationally and domestically – and that Skopje will revise its constitution.
He also said it “secures the historic heritage of ancient Greek Macedonia” and promotes stability and cooperation in the Balkans, confirming Greece’s role as pillar of peace, security and growth.
The next step, he said, is for the deal to be signed by the foreign ministries of both countries. According to reports this will most likely take place at Prespes in northern Greece on Saturday.
Tsipras added that once Skopje ratifies the deal in Parliament and revises its constitution to rid it of anything that could be construed as irredentist, then Athens will lift its objections to FYROM’s European Union accession and its induction to NATO.
United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz welcomed the news, expressing confidence that the agreement will strengthen relations between the two Balkan neighbors “and especially between their people.”
Describing the deal as “historic,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged the two countries to finalize it so that it “sets Skopje on its path to NATO membership.”
“It will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans,” he said.
However, several critics said the deal is problematic in certain areas – citing gray areas and the extensive time frame which includes several obstacles.
In addition, the name North Macedonia will be used internationally in English instead of Severna Macedonia as some hoped.
Critics also said that loose ends with regard to the name’s commercial use also remain, while the transition phase until the deal is completed in its entirety may take up to two years.
Controversially for some, the deal also states that Greece recognizes a Macedonian language – even though Tsipras said that a clear distinction will be drawn in FYROM’s constitution between the “Macedonian” identity of FYROM’s citizens and ancient Greek Macedonia, and will link it to Slavic settlements in the area in the 6th century.
It will stress that the Macedonian language belongs to the South Slavic group of languages, Tsipras said. According to a non-paper that was distributed, the deal doesn’t recognize a Macedonian “ethnicity.”
However, the issue drew the ire of New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakias, who called it “a bad deal.”
“Accepting the ‘Macedonian language’ and the ‘Macedonian ethnicity’ constitute a non-acceptable national concession,” he said on his official Twitter account.
“The solution that was agreed is a bad agreement. It is against the [interests of the] majority of Greeks,” he added, arguing that Tsipras “does not have any political legitimacy” to commit the country to a deal that is not approved by his junior government coalition partner, Independent Greeks (ANEL).
His remarks drew a scathing response from Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who insisted that the deal is “good.”
“The opposition is bad,” Kotzias said in a tweet, accusing New Democracy of wanting “to divide the country in order to disguise inner-party division” over the issue.