Ahead of Sunday’s crucial referendum on changing the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the country’s political leadership gave conflicting messages to its citizens Thursday, with President Gjorge Ivanov calling for a boycott and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev urging people to get out and vote.
Addressing the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations in New York Thursday, Ivanov said the name deal signed with Greece in June – under which FYROM will be called North Macedonia – was tantamount to the country committing a “historic suicide.”
The call by Ivanov for people not to vote was a boost for those in FYROM who are opposed to the deal, including the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which have stated that they will not accept the result of the referendum if participation is not more than 50 percent.
“On September 30, I will not go out and vote, and I know that you, my fellow citizens, will make a similarly wise decision,” Ivanov told the UN General Assembly, describing the country’s name change as “a flagrant violation of sovereignty.”
He went on to denounce the deal signed last June as a “noose,” claiming that it will allow Greece to compromise his country’s political independence and that it violates the rights of its citizens to self-determination.
He also slammed US and EU officials for suggesting during recent visits to Skopje that the name change is FYROM’s only hope of ever joining NATO and the European Union.
His statements were in stark contrast to those of the country’s premier, who urged people in a recorded video message Thursday to vote “yes” in the referendum on the country’s future name.
“On Sunday you will face a historic decision. You should make a choice. Remember, it is not a choice between two political parties,” Zaev said.
“It is a choice for your future, the future of your country.”
He added that accepting a geographical qualifier in the country’s name is a compromise but insisted the deal safeguards his country’s national identity.
The name deal, along with the Cyprus issue, was on the agenda of the scheduled meeting last night between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Meanwhile in Athens, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterated that the conservatives will not ratify the deal as it was drafted without the knowledge of Greek Parliament.