The small Balkan nation of Macedonia has voted to officially change the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia. The measure passed by barely meeting the two-thirds majority needed, with a total of 81 members of the 120-seat Parliament supporting the constitutional amendment. The amendment was in line with an agreement with Greece to put an end to a 27-year-old dispute. The countries struck the deal on the new name in June, but Macedonia will start using it only after the parliament in Greece also issues its approval.
The dispute began back in 1991, when Macedonia declared independence as part of the breakup of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Greece has long viewed the name as historically wrong and says the name implied territorial claims to a Greek province of the same name. As long as they called themselves Macedonia, Greece vowed to block the nation’s bid to join NATO. Since NATO requires unanimity to accept a new member, the move effectively kept Macedonia out of the security alliance.
The issue remains deeply divisive in both countries. The issue has regularly brought tens of thousands of Greeks into the streets in protest. In Macedonia, hundreds of people have protested in front of parliament against the deal this week. The opposition says NATO accession is not worth changing the name of the country and its national symbols.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece and his right-wing coalition partner, Panos Kammenos, have been in a public conflict over the issue. Kammenos has threatened to leave the government over the issue, meaning he would abandon his current job as defense minister. The move could potentially force early elections, as Tsipras suggested he would call snap elections rather than lead a minority government should Kammenos withdraw.
Despite the issues still at hand, western leaders have been very supportive of the deal. Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, called the vote a historic moment and a victory for the Macedonian people. Stoltenberg said, “NATO strongly supports the full implementation of the agreement, which is an important contribution to a stable and prosperous region.”