North Macedonia’s new president provokes Greece at inauguration ceremony

North Macedonia’s new president provokes Greece at inauguration ceremony
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje May 12, 2024

North Macedonia’s newly elected President Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova sparked a crisis in relations with Greece when she pointedly used her country’s old name — Macedonia instead of North Macedonia — during her swearing-in ceremony. 

In 2020, North Macedonia gained Nato membership following its name change, which introduced the prefix ‘North’, as requested by Greece. This ended a longstanding dispute with Athens that had also held up Skopje’s progress towards EU accession. 

Siljanovska-Davkova’s decision to avoid using the constitutional name North Macedonia could potentially lead to new tensions with neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria, both of which imposed conditions on the country's Nato and EU membership processes.

Athens objects 

Immediately after Siljanovska-Davkova used the old constitutional name of the country at the ceremony on May 12, Greek ambassador Sophia Philippidou exited the assembly hall.

According to TV 24, the Greek embassy confirmed that Philippidou, following instructions from the Greek Foreign Affairs Ministry, departed the legislature immediately after Siljanovska took the oath.

Both Siljanovska-Davkova and the VMRO-DPMNE party, which backed her for president and won the general election held simultaneously with the presidential election runoff, object to the change of the country’s name. 

Following the twin victories for Siljanovska-Davkova and VMRO-DPMNE, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed concerns regarding the implementation of the Prespa Agreement on the name change, and the omission of the term ‘North’ in the country's name.

According to eKathimerini, Mitsotakis said on May 11 that he is following with “concern some of the statements” made by VMRO-DPMNE party officials regarding their pledges not to honour the Prespa Agreement of 2018 that settled the dispute with Greece over the country’s name.

“I will wait for the official position of the acting prime minister to see how [new Prime Minister Hristijan Mickoski] will refer to the name of his country. I personally disagreed with the Prespes Agreement … Despite my disagreement, I had to respect it,” Mitsotakis said.

“The same demands exist now from the leadership of North Macedonia. I want to hope that what was heard before the election will not be heard after the election. If that happens, we will have issues,” he added. 

Election issue 

The concessions made by North Macedonia to both Greece and Bulgaria were among the main topics of the election campaign. 

As well as the demands made by Athens, Bulgarian politicians also said that North Macedonia should amend its constitution to advance its EU progress and to uphold the good neighbourhood treaty between the two countries.

Bulgaria subsequently hindered the country's EU integration path, setting criteria related to identity and language, which boiled down to the demand for recognition of its minority of 3,500 people in the North Macedonia's constitution as a constitutional nation. 

VMRO-DPMNE opposed these changes, declaring that constitutional amendments would only be entertained after the country achieves EU membership.

Many Macedonians agree with this stance, as well as being disillusioned by the former Social Democrat (SDSM) government’s failures to tackle issues such as corruption and high inflation. 

In the second round of voting for North Macedonia’s next president on May 8, Siljanovska Davkova secured 65.14% of the votes (561,000), surpassing SDSM candidate Stevo Pendarovski, who garnered just 29.25% of the vote, according to the state election commission.

First woman president 

Constitutional law professor Siljanovska-Davkova, aged 71, is the sixth president of the country and the first woman to be elected to this office.

Siljanovska-Davkova delivered an unconventional speech in the parliament, focusing on the empowerment of women and their role in society. However, she did not touch upon critical subjects such as foreign policy.

In her speech, she emphasised feminist ideals and called for the rule of law, competence, and the "feminisation" of politics. She expressed her intention to form a team of women based on professionalism and competence, irrespective of religious, ethnic or other affiliation.

“I will serve as the president for both the left and the right side [in the parliament]. I will represent all citizens and refrain from making any distinctions, whether based on ethnicity, religion, gender, or any other difference," the new president stated.

Siljanovska-Davkova previously ran as the presidential candidate of VMRO-DPMNE in the parliamentary elections in 2019, when she was defeated by Pendarovski. Since August 2020, she served as a MP for VMRO-DPMNE in North Macedonia’s assembly.

Her extensive experience in public service includes roles such as a member of the Constitutional Commission of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia (1990–1992) and minister without portfolio in the first cabinet of former president Branko Crvenkovski (1992–1994).

She has also served as a UN expert and vice president of the Independent Local Self-Government Group of the Council of Europe, as well as a member of the Venice Commission (2008-2016).