Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev urged citizens and the opposition on May 19 to accept the proposed new country name, Ilinden Macedonia, which was discussed recently with his Greek peer as part of efforts to find a solution to the long-standing name dispute between the two countries.
Greece objects to the use of the name Macedonia as it has a province with the same name in the north and fears that Macedonia has irredentist aspirations, a claim denied by Skopje many times. Because of this, Greece has blocked Macedonia’s bid to join Nato and the EU. Since coming to power in 2017 Zaev’s government has been actively seeking a compromise with Athens that will enable the country to move forward towards membership of both international groups.
The new proposal came as a surprise for the Macedonian public as Social Democrat Prime Minister Zaev said earlier that an acceptable solution for Macedonia would be a composite name with a geographic qualifier. However, after the latest meeting with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras in Sofia on the sidelines of EU-Western Balkan summit, the two officials discussed a new proposal Republic of Ilinden Macedonia. Ilinden is a national holiday in Macedonia, which commemorates the 1903 uprising of Macedonians and other ethnic groups against Ottoman rule. According to Greek media, the new composite name was proposed by Zaev.
“Republic of Ilinden Macedonia is the name for which a compromise with Greece is possible,” Zaev said following a leaders’ meeting in Skopje, which was attended by President Gjorge Ivanov and the leader of main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickovski. The meeting was called by the prime minister to inform politicians about the new proposal.
He underlined that the European Commission will recommend the launch of EU membership talks for Macedonia in June and the country will be invited to become part of Nato at July summit — if others in the country accept the proposal.
“The new name would make a complete delineation of the Macedonia region in Greece and it is an indication that we have no territorial aspirations towards our neighbours,” Zaev said.
“Once again I confirm that we have no territorial claims and respect the legacy of the Greek people and Greece,” he added.
The prime minister also stressed that the Macedonian identity will stay untouched and the language will continue to be called “Macedonian”. He claimed that if the new proposal is accepted Macedonia will keep its international codes MK and MKD.
“With this possible solution, we preserve the dignity, we confirm and strengthen our Macedonian identity. Ilinden is a guarantee for multiethnic Macedonia,” the Macedonian PM said.
“I am a Macedonian and I stand behind this solution. Follow me, and let's all together support this solution that will lead us forward. This is a historic opportunity,” Zaev said, adding that the Greek prime minister had accepted that Macedonia would conduct a referendum on the issue.
Zaev explained that the name change for internal use would be implemented in several stages depending on the progress in the anticipated EU membership talks, and will be supported by a referendum and through constitutional amendments.
The Macedonian PM said that during the course of this week, another meeting with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz will be scheduled, after which, if accepted by both sides, the proposal will be drafted in New York.
“If we fail, we will remain committed to finding a solution," Zaev said.
President Ivanov said he will announce his opinion once he receives the proposal in written form and has consulted international legal experts.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Mickovski said that his party is adhering to its position that is against a change to the Constitution and accepting erga omnes, which means using the new name internationally and locally, which are the two key Greek demands for a solution.
“Today, we were introduced to the proposal for the first time and it will be presented to the party’s bodies,” Mickovski said, adding that the whole process was kept “secret and exhibitionist”.
Zaev also has a tough task ahead to convince ordinary citizens to accept the name change. In Macedonia, most people are against the new proposal, though for some it is an acceptable solution.
The Greek opposition also rejected the new proposal as irredentist, according to Greek media.
This is the first time the new name proposal has been announced, though on May 17, Zaev said in Sofia that he had discussed several “creative” options for finding a solution to the name dispute with Tsipras, of which one was “acceptable for both sides”.
The most problematic for Macedonians are Greece’s demands for the Macedonian constitution to be amended to reinforce the name change and to accept erga omnes, which means the use of the name by all sides, including internally.
Asked if he likes the new proposal 'Republic of Ilinden Macedonia', opposition leader Mickovski said: “I like 'Republic of Macedonia’."