Announcing the agreement reached with neighbouring Greece over the change of name, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said resolving the long-standing issue would open his country's access to NATO and the European Union.

Dancers wearing traditional costumes perform in front of the statue of Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, in Thessaloniki on June 12, 2018. Skopje and Athens resolved on June 12, 2018, a longstanding row after Macedonia's prime minister agreed to rename his country the Republic of North Macedonia, ending a 27-year dispute.
Dancers wearing traditional costumes perform in front of the statue of Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, in Thessaloniki on June 12, 2018. Skopje and Athens resolved on June 12, 2018, a longstanding row after Macedonia's prime minister agreed to rename his country the Republic of North Macedonia, ending a 27-year dispute. ( AFP )

Macedonia agreed to change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia after reaching a historic deal with Greece on their decades-old dispute over the ex-Yugoslav republic's name, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Tuesday.

Zaev said resolving the long-standing issue would open Macedonia's access to NATO and the European Union.

TRT World's Ben Said has more.

"There is no way back," Zaev told a news conference after a telephone conversation with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras.

Earlier, the Greek prime minister announced the breakthrough on the name, saying the accord would allow a clear distinction between Greece's Macedonia province and the country.

"The name change will be implemented not only [to] the country's international relations but also domestically," Tsipras said adding that Skopje would need to revise its constitution.

TRT World spoke to Achilles Skordas, professor of international law at the University of Copenhagen for his analysis.

Long-standing issue

Since Macedonia's independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has argued that the young country's name implied a claim to the territory and ancient heritage of Greece's northern region of Macedonia – birthplace of ancient warrior king Alexander the Great.

Previous administrations in Macedonia's capital, Skopje, resisted demands to change or modify the name. The dispute poisoned relations between the two neighbours, and the United Nations appointed a special envoy to mediate.

Resolving the dispute would see Greece lift its objections to Macedonia's accession to NATO and the European Union. 

In Skopje, the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, said Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had informed party leader Hristijan Mickoski that he had "achieved a solution with Greece."

Tsipras' comments came shortly after a much-anticipated phone call with Zaev.

"A short while ago we reached an agreement with the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the disagreement our two countries have" over the name issue, Tsipras told President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

"We have a good agreement that covers all the preconditions the Greek side had set," he said, adding that Macedonia would revise its constitution for the name change and that the deal secures the historic heritage of ancient Greek Macedonia.

Greece is to ratify the deal in parliament after Macedonia has made the necessary changes to its constitution, Tsipras said.

The compromises to resolve the name issue have faced dissent in both countries, threatening to split Greece's governing coalition and provoke a rift between Macedonia's prime minister and president.

Opposition to the deal

Greek opponents of the deal say it would not go far enough.

Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is Tsipras' governing coalition partner, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote, meaning the left-wing prime minister will need to seek support from political opponents.

In Skopje meanwhile, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said earlier in the day that he remained opposed to a constitutional change that would likely be included in the draft deal, to provide an assurance that the name change was permanent and binding for domestic and international use.

Greece's Conservative New Democracy party head Kyriakos Mitsotakis criticised the deal, describing it as "deeply problematic." 

He called on Greece's president Wednesday to intervene so the deal can be debated in parliament before it is signed, instead of after.

Deal is welcomed  

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is welcoming the agreement between Greece and Macedonia to end their longstanding dispute over the Macedonia name as "a demonstration of leadership to the wider region and beyond."

Dujarric said the secretary general "hopes that parties to other protracted conflicts may be inspired by this development to work towards negotiated settlements without further delay."

Officials in Albania are hailing the agreement as good for the whole Western Balkans region.

Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati congratulated "our neighbours & friends" for a "breakthrough agreement" that he said would lead the Balkans region to become part of the "Euro-Atlantic family."

European Union and NATO officials also welcomed the deal. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday's "historic agreement" was "testament to many years of patient diplomacy," and called on the two countries' prime ministers to finalize the deal.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted his "sincere congratulations" to Greece's Alexis Tsipras and Macedonia's Zoran Zaev. Tusk said, "Thanks to you the impossible is becoming possible." 

Mixed reactions from locals

The deal was met with mixed reactions in both countries, with some welcoming the agreement and others horrified at what they see as unacceptable concessions.

New calls were circulating on social media for renewed street protests, with opponents on both sides arguing their prime ministers conceded too much to reach the deal.

"We lost the country, this is a disaster," 45-year-old lawyer Mila Ivanovska said in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, and began to cry.

Greek opponents were equally angry.

"You, Slavs from Skopje through the centuries, you have never been true Macedonians," said Athenian resident Konstandinos Goutras.

But for others the deal marks a welcome end to a protracted dispute.

"North Macedonia is acceptable for me," said Svetlana Jancevska, a 55-year-old music teacher in Skopje, adding that it does "not damage my identity as Macedonian. The language remains Macedonian and that makes me happy. It was high time for the problem to be solved."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies