Tsipras hails ‘historic’ Macedonian name change vote

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. (AFP pic)

ATHENS: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday hailed as “historic” the Macedonian parliament’s vote in favour of changing the country’s name, a source of tension with Greece for decades.

Macedonia’s parliament on Friday voted to start the process of renaming the country the Republic of North Macedonia after a tense week of debate and back-room negotiations in Skopje where it was unclear until the last moment whether the government could secure the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

“Today is a historic and symbolic day … it is a day of joy which proves the dynamic role Greece plays (as) a factor in the stabilisation of the Balkans and southeastern Europe,” Tsipras said.

Tsipras was speaking at a ceremony to take on the foreign affairs portfolio after minister Nikos Kotzias — who helped him broker the deal with Skopje — resigned earlier this week.

Kotzias quit after clashing with Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, the coalition partner holding up Tsipras’ government.

Tsipras said his taking on the foreign minister’s job was proof of his “determination” to push the accord through.

The accord has raised strong objections in both countries.

Greece also has a northern province named Macedonia, the heart of Alexander the Great’s ancient kingdom.

Many Greeks fear the deal will enable Skopje to lay claim to their cultural heritage but Tsipras sees it as ending years of stalemate and helping both sides and the region move on.

The Macedonian government hopes the agreement will allow it to pursue membership of the European Union and Nato, cementing its place in western Europe despite Russian hostility.