Macedonia will hold a high-stakes referendum on its name on 30 September. Macedonians are going to vote on a proposed name change that could help them pave their way to the EU and NATO memberships. In June, Skopje and Athens finalized a historic deal to rename the small landlocked country to “Republic of Northern Macedonia” in an effort to put an end to the 27-year naming conflict. Greece has objected to its neighbor being called Macedonia because its northern province carries the same name, thus essentially accusing Skopje of territorial ambitions and appropriating Greece’s cultural heritage. Greece’s historical region of Macedonia was the birthplace of Alexander the Great, whose empire stretched from Greece to India.
Earlier this week a total of 68 out of the 120 Macedonian legislators approved the referendum question supported by the cabinet of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, which is, however, still vague about the new name. On 30 September the public will be asked the following question: “Are you for EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?” The opposition, however, argues that the question is unclear, ambiguous and multifaceted and as such manipulative.
Igor Janusev, a leading member of VMRO-DPMNE, commented that a “yes” vote would involve more than changing the constitutional name, “Republic of Macedonia”. Mr. Zaev’s socialist government will have to remove the mentions of references to the “Macedonian people” as an indigenous race, implying ancient heritage. He will also have to remove any references to past struggles to unite all Macedonians from Skopje to the Aegean, implying irredentist claims on Greek territory. Then, Athens would have to ask its parliament to ratify the agreement by the end of this year and lift its veto in the EU and NATO to make it possible for Macedonia to join both organizations.