• Adrian Waters

The Truth about the Prespa Agreement

Prime ministers of Macedonia and Greece, Zoran Zaev (Right) and Alexis Tsipras (Left) Source: http://meta.mk/en/telephone-conversation-between-tsipras-and-zaev-the-prespa-agreement-is-a-priority/

Disclaimer: The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of the Institute for a Greater Europe.


The Prespa Agreement is the deal signed between the Macedonian and Greek foreign ministers in the presence of their respective prime ministers, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, on the 17th June 2018 as a way of resolving the long-standing name dispute between their countries. The Agreement itself is named after a lake shared between Macedonia, Greece and Albania, as it was signed in the village of Psarades in the Greek-controlled area nearby. Apart from supposedly easing tensions between Macedonia and Greece, the accord stipulates that the former would change its constitutional name to the Republic of North Macedonia in exchange for accession to both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with the permission of the latter. However, the practical implementation of this Agreement depends on the ratification by both Greek and Macedonian parliaments.[1] Three days later, on June 20th 2018, the deal was approved in the Macedonian assembly, but without the opposition parliamentarians who boycotted the session. The Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov stated that he would not support the deal, even after a threat of impeachment. The following days were marked by protests against the agreement involving hundreds of Macedonians in the capital city, Skopje.[2] Similarly, the deal faced fierce opposition in Greece from far-right, centrist and left-wing parties culminating in ultra-nationalist rallies.[3] Only the Western powers have unanimously hailed the treaty as a historic and positive step towards achieving peace and stability in the Balkans, with feelings of satisfaction high among EU and NATO member states who see it as a means of securing the pro-Western orientation of the government in Skopje and minimising Russian influence in Macedonia.[4] At this point, the reader might be asking himself/herself: what are the strengths and weaknesses of the Prespa Agreement? In order to provide a clear answer, a concise historical outline would be appropriate, followed by an explanation of the terms of the treaty.

Macedonia before 1991

The country known as the Republic of Macedonia came into existence in 1991, after the disintegration of Yugoslavia in which it was a federal unit called the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. In ancient times, its heyday was during Alexander the Great’s empire in 336-323 BC, but the territory later fell under the control of the Romans, the Byzantines, the Bulgarians, the Serbs and then by 1395 the Ottoman Turks, who enslaved the Macedonian people until the 1912-13 Balkan Wars.[5] During these conflicts Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria ‘liberated’ and then fought amongst each other for the spoils of war. At the 1913 Bucharest Treaty the warring parties split the lands where ethnic Macedonians lived. Serbia received the area around the Vardar river, i.e. Vardar Macedonia; Greece expanded its borders by seizing Aegean Macedonia (most of present-day Northern Greece), and Bulgaria was left with the mountainous Pirin Macedonia.[6] Albania, which ironically did not participate in the Balkan Wars, was awarded Mala Prespa, Golo Brdo and Pogradec.[7] During the inter-war period the Macedonians were subjected to oppression and a denationalisation process within the four occupying states.[8] In particular in Greece, the Aegean Macedonians were subjected to expulsion to Bulgaria or Turkey, persecution and the proscription of speaking or learning Macedonian, while at the same time colonising Aegean Macedonia with ethnic Greeks and replacing Macedonian toponyms with Greek versions.[9] The situation for the Aegean Macedonians worsened during the Greek civil war of 1946-49 since they supported the losing side (i.e. the Greek Left who promised them autonomy and equal rights). The majority of them were forced to flee to Yugoslavia and other East European countries. After the war, their property was confiscated and allocated to people loyal to the new regime who came mainly from the Greek hinterland. In the early 1980s, the Greek government allowed political refugees to return to their homes, but it only applied to people with Greek nationality.[10]

Vardar Macedonia eventually became a federal unit within socialist Yugoslavia, which acknowledged ethnic Macedonians as a distinct nationality and defended Macedonia’s status as a constituent nation and founding republic in relations with Greece and Bulgaria. [11] According to R. J. Crampton under socialism Macedonians were given a breathing space to develop a cultural identity and national consciousness. The Macedonian literary language was agreed upon in 1947 and an autonomous Macedonian Orthodox Church was founded in 1967.[12]

The Macedonian-Greek name dispute

The Greek establishment was very worried after Macedonia became independent in 1991, because it feared that it would have to recognise its previous policies of “forced Hellenisation” (especially during the Metaxas dictatorship) and mass expulsion of the Aegean Macedonians during the Greek civil war.[13] It accused Skopje of territorial ambitions and objected to the Macedonian flag because it incorporated the Star of Vergina, the resting place of Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great), which was in Greece. The new country was perceived as a threat to Greek national integrity, mainly because it shared its name with a province covering the Macedonian land they had previously annexed in 1913.[14] This province, however, was only named ‘Macedonia’ in 1988 to replace that of Northern Greece.[15] From then onwards Greek fears led to punitive measures. For instance, in January 1992 tons of humanitarian aid and medicine destined for Macedonia were held in Greece despite a serious influenza epidemic in the newly-born republic. As a result of this dispute, Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in 1993, despite opposition at home. In the following year Greece imposed a trade embargo on Macedonia (except for humanitarian items),which was condemned by the EU. It was lifted in 1995 in return for concessions from the Macedonian government, which changed the country’s constitution to adopt a flag with a yellow eight-branched sun on a red background.[16]

However this did not a stop an extensive propaganda campaign by the Greek establishment and historians to discredit Macedonia and its people. For example, they claimed that ancient Macedonians were akin to their Hellenic counterparts, despite the fact that ancient Greeks never saw Macedonians as equals and that the ancient Macedonians were proud of their nationality and felt contempt for their neighbours. Moreover, ancient Greek, Roman and Jewish historians, geographers and orators wrote about Macedonians as a distinct nation.[17] Because of this dispute Greece vetoed Macedonia’s entry into the EU and NATO until 2018.

Macedonia’s ‘Colourful Revolution’ 2014-2017

It is important to understand that the Prespa Agreement was the product of a tortuous political process that has overwhelmed Macedonia during the past few years. It began, arguably, in late 2014 when university staff and students protested against government-planned, state-supervised exams for graduates, which they saw as unconstitutional and a threat to university autonomy.[18]

In January 2015, the Macedonian prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, who had been in power since 2006 as leader of the centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party made an announcement. He was being urged to resign by Zoran Zaev, the leader of the opposition group SDSM, who had been given incriminating information from foreign intelligence services about him. Instead, the VMRO-DPMNE administration prepared to prosecute Zaev and his colleagues for plotting a coup, forcing the SDSM leader to release recordings from a wiretapping operation carried out by the premier against the opposition, which exposed widespread government corruption.[19] This led to mass protests in May-June 2015 and in 2016 when President Ivanov decided to pardon the officials who had been implicated in criminal cases exposed by the wiretaps.[20] When the first demonstrations occurred, Russia’s foreign ministry accused “Western organizers” of attempting to start a “color revolution” in Macedonia.[21] They had a good reason to think so. Gruevski’s government refused to participate in the US sanctions against Russia following the Ukrainian crisis and backed the Russian Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline that was supposed to bring Russian gas to Europe via Turkey. According to Paul Craig Roberts this was disliked by Washington as it would not have any control over the flow of Russian energy and would prefer to have a natural gas pipeline that would supply Europe from Azerbaijan as a way of diminishing Russia’s influence.[22]

Despite the fact that these anti-government protests had had the highest turnout in Macedonian history, a significant part of the general public was indifferent to the political drama. Firstly, because “a vast number of citizens” seemed to be caught up in the corrupt networks.[23] Secondly, since the tapes came from the press centre of SDSM (whose leadership carefully selected and edited some of the leaks), the crisis was considered a struggle between the two main parties. Consequently, many people kept their distance because they rejected the VMRO-SDSM divide and this limited the impact of the demonstrations.[24]

In late 2015 the EU (with US support) brokered a deal between the government and the opposition so that Gruevski would step down in January 2016 and be replaced with an interim administration until new parliamentary elections were held, and that a special prosecutor would investigate the scandal. Although the premier did quit his job at the set time and a provisional government was formed, President Ivanov jeopardised the agreement by pardoning those who were involved in the wrongdoings as mentioned above. Mass protests took place again until July when the EU negotiated a new accord between VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM which led to a general election in December. Gruevski won his fourth consecutive vote and went on to portray foreign embassies and George Soros, the founder of the Open Society Foundation, as enemies of Macedonia.[25] As a matter of fact, VMRO-DPMNE and its supporters pursued a concerted anti-Soros campaign, seeing in the U.S.-based philanthropist a powerful foreign patron of government opponents.[26] While it cannot be denied that many who demonstrated against Gruevski were people who were genuinely unhappy about his government for understandable reasons, it can also be said that some of these protests were manipulated in an attempt to topple a legitimate administration that had lost the support of the West.

Although VMRO-DPMNE emerged as the largest party after the December 2016 elections, it did not have enough seats to form a majority government. It could have returned to power with their former coalition partner, DUI, the main political organisation representing Albanians - the largest ethnic minority in Macedonia. However, DUI chose to join forces with SDSM which had pandered to the Albanians during the election campaign. When President Ivanov refused to give them a mandate, Macedonia was plunged into another political crisis. Ivanov explained that SDSM violated the country’s constitution by agreeing to a platform signed by the Albanian minority parties in the Albanian capital Tirana, whose demands included making Albanian the second official language of Macedonia (even though most ethnic Albanians lived in the western areas of the republic). The EU and the US stepped in again to persuade Ivanov to change his mind, while Russia backed VMRO-DPMNE’s denunciations of foreign interference.[27]

Eventually the President gave in and by June 2017 Zaev became prime minister and promised to hasten accession to both the EU and NATO.[28] However, instead of trying to meet popular expectations, which meant solving economic and social problems, the new premier almost immediately turned to foreign policy matters. Firstly because he was committed to Euro-Atlantic integration in return for Western support, and secondly, for any government in a weak state (like Macedonia) NATO membership is much easier to achieve than bringing prosperity and fulfilling the people’s demands.[29] Since at least 2008 (when Greece vetoed Macedonia entering NATO at a summit in Bucharest, Romania) some Western elites decided that, while acknowledging Macedonians as a distinct nation, efforts for the Balkan republic to become an EU and NATO member should be strengthened. The question then became: which state will be easier to pressure into agreeing a compromise, Greece or Macedonia? The answer was the latter, meaning that it had to modify its name and identity.[30]

The key terms of the Agreement

It is abundantly clear right from the preamble of the Prespa Agreement that Macedonia will have to make the most changes. The document refers to the signing countries as the First, i.e. Greece, and the Second Party which is supposed to be Macedonia but it is not mentioned. According to Article 1 the latter would have to change its constitutional name to the ‘Republic of North Macedonia’ and its people would be classified as Macedonians/citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia. This would also mean that the country’s licence plates would be marked NM or NMK. Article 6 states that the two Parties should discourage and prevent any actions from state agencies or private entities that would incite violence, hostility, irredentism or revisionism against either Party.[31] The problematic aspect of this section is how these possible acts would be defined and how they would be dealt with, as it would depend on the subjectivity of the Greek and Macedonian governments.

The most controversial part of the Agreement is Article 8. It affirms that if either Party believes that any symbols that belong to its historic or cultural patrimony is being utilised by the other Party, then the latter would have to take corrective action. Moreover, once the accord is signed the two Parties would have to establish a Joint Inter-Disciplinary Committee of Experts on historical, archaeological and educational matters which would have the power to revise school textbooks and materials (e.g. atlases) used in both Parties if deemed appropriate. Furthermore Macedonia would no longer be allowed to employ in any ways the symbol of its former flag and each Party would have to prioritise endonyms (internal denominations) over exonyms (external denominations) when using geographical names and toponyms in their respective territories.[32]

So in short, although this is not explicitly written in the Agreement, it is evident that Macedonia would have to make more significant alterations than Greece. The former would have to not just change its constitutional name, but also its licence plates, official documents, passports, identification cards, banknotes and coins. Effectively Greece would force the modification and/or removal of monuments, public buildings and infrastructure in Macedonia and amend school textbooks or materials that they consider to have any irredentist or revisionist references. The Macedonian government would have to prosecute anyone who disagrees with the Agreement and prohibit any further use of the Star of Vergina. In addition, Macedonians would have to refer to Salonica and other cities in Aegean Macedonia by their Greek names. For example they would have to say Thessaloniki instead of Solun. The only significant change that Greece needs to make in this treaty is to grant permission for Macedonia to become an EU and NATO member.[33]

The issues regarding the Agreement

As the reader can see, there are some significant issues within the Agreement. It absolves the Greek state of its past crimes against the Aegean Macedonians, which include the forced Hellenization of non-Greek cultures, the liquidation and internment of Macedonian community leaders, the bans on free movement, minority languages and ethnic markings and the expulsion of people from the land where they had lived for centuries.[34] The deal is also an affront to the right to national self-determination and therefore if the state name is determined externally and not internally, it defies the will of the population.[35] As highlighted by the United Macedonian Diaspora, the Prespa Agreement was signed without any serious public debate, involvement from Macedonian academia or transparency in the negotiation process.[36]

If the Agreement is implemented, then Macedonia would have to make adjustments to the constitution, official documents, passports, licence plates etc. All of this will take time and money that could be spent instead on policies that would improve the country’s standard of living. Moreover, the deal ignores the fact that 92% of United Nations members recognise Macedonia as the Republic of Macedonia, which already makes it seem worthless.[37] Furthermore, it would deny Macedonia the right to constitutional sovereignty as the final say on the treaty is given to the Greek MPs and the teaching of history would be decided by government bodies rather than by scholars. Consequently, the Prespa Agreement proves that Macedonia has been subjected to arbitrary international engineering against its wishes and with limited public support for the deal within the two Parties, it will only deepen internal divisions, not defuse them.[38]

Consequently, the deal does not unite Macedonians but splits them apart since it does not preserve their unique identity and countries with bitterly divided citizens could not contribute to the stability of the EU and NATO. Some commentators, like Jason Miko, think that even if Macedonia does alter its constitution “there is the issue of Bulgaria and Albania (and possibly other countries) who are now emboldened to ask Macedonia for further concessions before ratifying the treaty”.[39] In addition, there is a chance that the Agreement would not be approved by the Greek parliament. Panos Kammenos, the Greek defence minister and leader of the Independent Greeks, i.e. Tsipras’ right-wing coalition partners, has stated that his party will not vote for the accord, hence it might not be ratified.[40]

It seems that the biggest problem with the deal itself is that it was pushed by the US and the EU. The expansion of NATO was reactivated in 2014 when the Ukrainian crisis began, which led to Montenegro joining the military alliance three years later. At the same time attentions turned towards Macedonia, especially after Zaev took charge.[41] The Western powers saw it in their interests to bring the country within the Euro-Atlantic sphere. Tsipras was useful in this task since he was beholden to the West after accepting harsh austerity measures imposed by the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) to resolve Greece’s debt problem in contrast to the wishes of his compatriots.[42] Macedonia’s admission into NATO would facilitate the US strategic aim of overcoming Serbia’s neutral foreign policy and curtailing Russian influence in the Balkans.[43] The Prespa Agreement was concocted with this as its principal goal.[44]

Western support for the treaty was crystal clear in the run-up to a referendum on the deal held on the 30th September 2018 in which Macedonians were asked: “Are you in favour of membership in NATO and the European Union by accepting the deal between the Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Greece?”. By holding a public vote about joining the two organisations, Zaev hoped that most Macedonians would ignore the agreement’s inherent flaws in favour of Euro-Atlantic integration. Again, the West proceeded to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. Leading US and EU politicians, such as the German chancellor Angela Merkel and American Defence Secretary James Mattis, visited Macedonia to persuade voters into supporting the deal. The NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg stated that the Macedonian defence minister could sit at the NATO table in early 2019 if the referendum was successful and the EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that if Macedonia missed this “window of opportunity” [to become an EU member] then it would be “closed for decades...if not forever”.[45] Thus international pressure was applied exclusively to the weakest nation.[46] Instead of admitting this openly, Mattis condemned Russian influence in the referendum. Zaev, surprisingly, rebuked him by declaring that he had no proof to back this claim and stressed that the Russian Federation is against Macedonia entering NATO, but not the EU.[47]

Paradoxically, the landlocked republic is already close to both NATO and the EU. Macedonia has been sending troops on missions to Iraq and Afghanistan (without any parliamentary discussion though).[48] As a matter of fact, the only limitation is that it cannot vote at the North Atlantic Council, i.e. NATO’s decision-making body.[49] The EU is Macedonia’s largest trading partner, accounting for 60 % of the country’s exports and 48 % of its imports. Macedonian citizens are also allowed visa-free travel across the Schengen area (which includes most EU states).[50] Nonetheless, an estimated 100 000 Macedonians have obtained Bulgarian passports in order to live and work within the EU.[51] It must also be mentioned that EU and NATO membership will not necessarily benefit Macedonia. One can simply look at the country’s neighbours to understand why. Bulgaria is chronically poor, has weak rule of law and is being crippled by constant emigration.[52] Greece is suffering from externally-imposed austerity measures, economic stagnation and, just like Bulgaria, the exodus of highly-qualified young people.[53] Moreover, if Macedonia joins NATO it would almost certainly have to increase the defence budget and allow US forces to have military bases on its soil.[54] This would mean less money for the government to spend on its citizens and it would turn Macedonia into another pawn in NATO’s struggle against Russia’s attempt to create a multipolar world. It would be better off staying neutral and acting as a bridge of peaceful dialogue between the two sides.

The referendum and its aftermath

In the end the referendum did not produce the results expected by Zaev’s government and the West. Only 36.91% of registered voters went to the polls. Of them, 91.46% voted ‘For’ the name deal as well as EU and NATO membership, while 5.66% were ‘Against’ and 2.89 of votes were invalid.[55] Legally, a referendum in Macedonia necessitates a minimum 50% turnout in order to pass. In essence this outcome should not come as a surprise. Only the governing coalition parties championed a vote ‘For’ the accord and Euro-Atlantic integration.[56] As always, some people did not vote because of indifference, but at the same time there was a highly-effective decentralised grassroots movement that campaigned for a boycott of the referendum in order to render it illegitimate. It was based on the need to defend the country’s national identity and was driven by a heterogeneous group of political forces, including leftists and Russophile right-wing nationalists. Although VMRO-DPMNE opposed the Prespa Agreement, its leader, Hristijan Mickoski, did not officially appeal for a boycott.[57] Nonetheless, the majority of party members and supporters either abstained or voted ‘Against’ in the referendum.[58] The wording of the referendum question itself encouraged the convergence of various forms of opposition as it asked voters whether they were in favour of the name deal and Macedonia joining the EU and NATO. This question took the membership of these organizations as a given rather than a possible consequence.[59] Essentially it was one question combining three different alternatives and many who refrained from voting were people who wanted their country to become either part of the EU or NATO, but were against the Agreement.

Ultimately, the boycott movement was more in tune with the sentiments of the population and its success showed that most Macedonians were annoyed by the bullying and arrogant behaviour of their government and the Western powers. However Zaev and his associates regarded the referendum a success because most voters supported the Agreement and Euro-Atlantic integration. This reaction was mirrored by outside actors, e.g. Tsipras.[60] Before polling day Western diplomats suggested that even if the turnout was lower than 50%, a strong vote for the Agreement would be a mandate for change.[61] Therefore instead of resigning as he had promised to do if the referendum failed, Zaev decided to push the deal through parliament (knowing that if he was unsuccessful he would have to hold an early general election).[62] His government coalition needed a two-thirds majority to start amending the constitution, meaning that some opposition MPs would have to vote for the changes. The US State Department urged VMRO-DPMNE to back the Agreement in parliament.[63]

Around mid-October 2018 several VMRO-DPMNE parliamentary representatives were held under house arrest for allowing party sympathisers to storm the parliament in April 2017 after Zaev had nominated an ethnic Albanian as a speaker. It was reported that the premier wanted to grant amnesty for those MPs involved in the incident in exchange for their votes to alter the constitution. Suspicions were fuelled when one opposition deputy was released from house arrest on bail.[64] The VMRO-DPMNE general secretary affirmed that fellow party members in parliament were offered money by the government in an attempt to gain their support.[65]

These speculations were confirmed subsequently on 19th October 2018. Late at night, with 80 votes in favour and 39 against, the Macedonian parliament approved a government motion to initiate the renaming process after a long day of inter-party deliberations behind closed doors and marked by tensions and uncertainty.[66] Seven VMRO-DPMNE and one Socialist Party MPs backed the ruling coalition, thus reaching the necessary two-thirds majority. Mickoski later announced that the VMRO-DPMNE leadership had expelled the rebels who disobeyed party directives to vote against the bill. This voting received praise from Stoltenberg, Hahn, Tsipras and others.[67] In reality it was a dark night for Macedonian democracy. Some of the eight opposition representatives were under investigation for abuse of power, financial mismanagement and for instigating the mob attack that happened the previous year. They were either in prison or under house arrest, but were released in time for the vote.[68] Eventually the government had bribed, blackmailed and coerced these parliamentarians into authorising the first step towards the implementation of the Prespa Agreement. So far this illegal behaviour has only been condemned by the Russian foreign ministry which released a statement asserting that the US had orchestrated an “unfair vote” in the Macedonian parliament.[69] This political act against the popular will was perfectly described as an example of démon-cratie européenne (European demon-cracy) by the French-Serbian analyst Nikola Mirkovic.[70]

These tragic occurrences were only the beginning of a long parliamentary process that is not yet over. In early November Zaev’s government submitted draft constitutional amendments to parliament, thus launching the second phase of the renaming process. One draft amendment envisages the addition of the term ‘North’ to the country’s name and another one stipulates that Macedonia will respect the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of its neighbours. Zaev claimed that this text would be realigned according to European standards so that it addressed Greek worries of irredentism and possible interferences in their political affairs.[71] Ironically, the Prespa Agreement enables both Macedonia and in particular Greece to intervene in each other’s internal matters. These draft amendments were subsequently adopted by parliament at the beginning of December.[72] At this point the government started preparing the final constitutional amendments which will be debated in parliament for at least 30 days before a third and final vote that will again entail a two-thirds majority.[73] Zaev hopes that this procedure will be completed by the end of January 2019.[74]

As discussed above, the implementation of the Prespa Agreement could still be put into jeopardy both in Macedonia and in Greece. So far seven constitutional amendments have been submitted in parliament. One of these was suggested by the eight former opposition MPs and it said that all institutional changes would be reversed if Greece failed to honour its obligations. The new amendments were sent to the Parliamentary Committee on constitutional affairs.[75] VMRO-DPMNE politicians walked out of the Committee room proclaiming that they would boycott any further debate on the proposed amendments which they labelled as “farcical”.[76] However, the Committee ended up accepting the four amendments to alter the country’s name to Northern Macedonia.[77] Recently Zaev admitted that he was about five votes short of the 81 required for a majority. The leader of BESA, one of the Albanian minority parties, warned the prime minister that if he did not fulfil their demands then they would not back the constitutional amendments. Other parliamentary groups have also raised various requests. In order to compensate, Zaev passed several instances of amnesties for the former VMRO-DPMNE MPs as a way of maintaining their support.[78] Nonetheless, he acknowledged that some of them may change their minds, especially as the amnesty is still incomplete.[79] Theoretically, all constitutional changes need the approval of the head of state, i.e. President Ivanov, who is categorically opposed to the Prespa Agreement. The Parliamentary speaker, Talat Xhaferi (an ethnic Albanian), remarked that if the president refused to sign the constitutional amendments to change Macedonia’s name, then they will be published in the official gazette with his (Xhaferi’s) signature. Legal experts have agreed that this would be invalid and would damage the legitimacy of any alterations adopted by the parliament.[80]

Meanwhile in Greece, Tsipras’ coalition partners have threatened to leave the government if the Agreement came to the Hellenic parliament. Opinion polls show that more than 50% of Greeks are against the name deal since the ruling administration recognised the Macedonian ethnicity and language in return for a constitutional name change. Aris Hatzis, an Athens University law professor and political commentator, explained that Tsipras is determined to implement the Agreement at all costs because it would solidify his transformation from radical leftist to a western partner who can deliver both on foreign affairs and the economy[81] (at the expense of the well-being of his citizens though). The main opposition force in Greece, New Democracy, has also stated that it will not approve the treaty. Its spokeswoman, Maria Spyraki, declared that it would oppose it in the next parliament, after the autumn 2019 elections in which New Democracy is widely expected to win. Spyraki added that if the Independent Greeks withdraw from the government it will spark a vote of no confidence in Tsipras, meaning that he would have to ask for a new parliamentary majority.[82] In any case if the deal reaches the Greek parliament, it will bring about new political developments, including the possibility of anticipated elections.[83]

Both the Macedonian and the Greek governments are currently under pressure from NATO to ratify the Prespa Agreement by 15th February. Stoltenberg has written letters to Skopje and Athens, calling for the process to be completed as soon as possible so that NATO could invite Macedonia to become a full member. The military alliance has also agreed that a Greek vote to accept the name deal would be separate from a vote on lifting the Greek veto on Macedonia’s membership bid.[84] As a matter of fact the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer announced that the Balkan republic could be NATO’s 30th member by Spring 2020 if it implemented the accord.[85] This is further evidence that the deal is propelled by the Western powers as a means of subjugating both Greece and Macedonia. There is less certainty about possible European integration if the deal is accepted in both countries because some EU members have reservations about enlargement in general. Eurosceptic populists and nationalists are getting stronger and stronger by the day and if they win many seats in the European Parliament after elections in May 2019, doubts over EU expansionism will be reflected in the new European Commission, which might end up not having a Commissioner on Enlargement at all.[86]

Final remarks

As explained in this article, the Prespa Agreement is an accord that is deeply unpopular in both Macedonia and Greece and, contrary to what its supporters say, it will not improve relations between the two countries. The reason is that it was developed from a top-down, imposed from above, instead of a bottom-up or grassroots approach.

A survey showed that over half of Macedonian citizens are against renaming their country and believe that the former opposition representatives voted for constitutional changes under pressure.[87] Zaev’s government pursues a proactive foreign policy to hide its lack of reforms. It has done nothing for young people or raised living standards in Macedonia. An opinion survey conducted by the International Republican Institute in the summer of 2018 demonstrates that more than half of the Macedonian population believes that the economic situation will be the same or worse in the next two years. It also concluded that 49% of Macedonians think that the performance of the SDSM-led government is the same or worse than its VMRO-DPMNE predecessors.[88] In fact the Zaev administration has not detached itself from the practices of the previous rulers. President Ivanov claimed that he and his family have been wiretapped by the secret services.[89] Moreover, a prominent critic of the premier was beaten up in the town of Strumica, where Zaev used to be the mayor and still holds major influence as all companies in the city belong to his bank.[90]

It is clear to see that the current Macedonian and Greek governments have done nothing beneficial for their respective countrymen and that the Prespa Agreement is simply a smokescreen for their failures and betrayals which will only exacerbate antagonisms within and between the two countries. Better foreign relations are a great goal to aspire to, but they must not be pursued at the cost of undermining a nation’s identity, sovereignty and popular will.

[1] Sinisa Jakov Marusic, ‘Macedonia, Greece Sign ‘Historic’ Name Deal’, Balkan Insight <http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonia-greece-sing-historic-name-deal-06-17-2018 > [accessed 21st December 2018].

[2] Sinisa Jakov Marusic, ‘Macedonia’s Parliament Ratifies Historic Deal With Greece’, Balkan Insight <http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonian-parliament-approves-greece-name-deal-06-20-2018> [accessed 21st December 2018].

[3] Patrick Strickland, ‘Calls for coup, firing squads: Greek far right angry at name deal’, Al Jazeera <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/06/greek-furious-north-macedonia-deal-180615104730316.html > [accessed 21st December 2018].

[4] Antonis Klapsis, ‘The Prespes agreement: A critical (re)evaluation’, Kathimerini English Edition <http://www.ekathimerini.com/233095/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/the-prespes-agreement-a-critical-reevaluation > [accessed 21st December 2018].

[5] Zachary T. Irwin, ‘Macedonia since 1989’, in Sabrina P. Ramet (ed.) Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989 (Cambridge University Press, 2010), p.328.

[6] ‘Macedonia: Balkan wars & division of Macedonia 1912-13’, Makedonija <http://makedonija.name/history/division-of-macedonia-balkan-wars > [accessed 21st December 2018].

[7] ‘Mala Prespa, Golo Brdo & Pogradec since 1913 – Macedonians in Albania’, Makedonija <http://makedonija.name/history/mala-prespa-and-golo-brdo > [accessed 21st December 2018].

[8] Facts about Macedonia (The Secretariat for Information, 1974), p.29.

[9] ‘Aegean Macedonia 1913-1945’, Macedonia for the Macedonians <http://www.makedonija.info/aegean.html > [accessed 21st December 2018].

[10] ‘Aegean Macedonia since 1946’, Macedonia for the Macedonians <http://www.makedonija.info/aegean3.html > [accessed 22nd December 2018].

[11] Irwin, ‘Macedonia since 1989’, p.331.

[12] R. J. Crampton, The Balkans since the Second World War (Pearson Education Limited, 2002), p.246.


1)Anastasia Karakasidou, ‘Politicizing Culture: Negating Ethnic Identity in Greek Macedonia’, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 11:1 (1993), 1-28.

2) MichaIis Kaliakatos, ‘Ion Dragoumis and “Machiavelli”: Armed struggle, Propaganda, and Hellenization in Macedonia and Thrace (1903-1908)’, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 31:1 (2013), 53-84.

3) Philip Carabott, ‘Aspects of the Hellenization of Greek Macedonia, ca. 1912-ca. 1959’, Cambridge Papers in Modern Greek, N.13 (2005), 21-61.

4) Loring M.Danforth, The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World (Princeton University Press, 1997).

5) Loring M.Danforth and Riki Van Boeschon, Children of the Greek Civil War: Refugees and the Politics of Memory (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

6) Loring M. Danforth, ‘Ancient Macedonia, Alexander the Great and the Star or Sun of Vergina: National Symbols and the Conflict between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia’, in Joseph Roisman and Ian Worthington (ed.) A Companion to Ancient Macedonia (Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2010), pp.572-598.

7) Loring M. Danforth, ‘The Macedonian Minority of Northern Greece’, Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine <https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/macedonian-minority-northern-greece > [accessed 9th January 2018]. Direct quote: “The Greek government has consistently denied the existence of a Macedonian minority in northern Greece and has adopted a policy of forced assimilation toward the Slavic-speaking inhabitants of Greek Macedonia. After 1913, all Slavic personal and place names were Hellenized, and all evidence of the existence of Slavic literacy was destroyed. As a result of the population exchanges which took place between Greece and Bulgaria and Greece and Turkey in the 1920s, the number of people in Greek Macedonia who had a sense of Greek national identity increased substantially. Under the Metaxas dictatorship of 1936-40 repression of the Slavic speakers, who by this time had increasingly begun to identify themselves as Macedonians, was particularly severe: people who spoke Macedonian were beaten, fined, and imprisoned. During the Greek Civil War (1946-49), many Macedonians supported the Communist resistance. Its goals were to detach territory. Its goals were to detach territory in Greek Macedonia from the Greek state and establish there a “Free Greece” within the framework of the Balkan Federation, envisioned by leaders of the Communist Parties of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. After the Civil War, some 35,000 Macedonians fled to Yugoslavia and other countries in eastern Europe under extremely difficult circumstances. In the decades that followed, conservative Greek governments continued this policy of persecution and assimilation. Perhaps the most egregious examples of this were the “language oaths” administered in several Macedonian villages, which required Macedonians to swear that they would renounce their “Slavic dialect” and from then on speak only Greek.

8) Michael Martens, ‘Griechenlands Sündenfall Die Geschichte einer (fast) vergessenen’ (The Sin of Greece – History of a (Almost) Forgotten Expulsion), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2nd August 2012. Direct English quotes: “One main reason Athenian diplomats get so irritated when the Macedonian minority is mentioned should be sought in the past. In Greece, in 1949, an ethnic cleansing took place, which is not really something that’s been discussed or reviewed until present day… a dark chapter in recent Greek history.” “Almost one century ago, in the First Balkan War, Greece had annexed a large part of Macedonia from the Ottoman Empire. The other part . . . was annexed by Yugoslavia, and only a small piece . . . went to Bulgaria. The Greeks were a minority in most parts of their newly occupied territory . . .(and, the Macedonians) remember their oppression and abuse in Greece during the Greek civil war . . .Tens of thousands were evicted from their homes, forced to run, and were not allowed to ever return…After the war, the Greek state continued its aggressive campaign of forced Hellenization against the (Macedonians) still living in Greece, … to eradicate ‘bilingualism.’ Stalinist-style public confessions took place, like the following statement by a woman from Greek-occupied Macedonia, who was officially converted to Hellenism: ‘It is well known to all upright Greeks now that the (Macedonians), these murderers of the human dignity and the human race, are the most ruthless enemies of our Greece. (They) are abnormalities of the human race, and intent to destroy everything that is Greek… Therefore, I … distance myself from my husband … who, despite my repeated requests, … remains faithful to these monsters…’”

“(After 1974’s) general amnesty by the Papandreou government, which allowed all left-oriented Civil War refugees to return, the (Macedonians) were left specifically excluded, and the relevant law is still in force today… Former Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis (remarked in 1995 that) the “name issue” has never interested him. His aim had always been to ‘avoid a new minority problem in West Macedonia,’ and the main goal of the name dispute was to “make this republic (Macedonia) publicly confirm that there is no (Macedonian) minority in Greece.”

[14] John Phillips, Macedonia: Warlords and Rebels in the Balkans (I.B. Taurus, 2004), p.53.

[15] John Shea, Macedonia and Greece: The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation (McFarland, 1997), p.282.

[16] Phillips, Macedonia: Warlords and Rebels in the Balkans, pp.54-59.

[17] ‘Ancient Quotes on the Macedonians as Distinct Nation’, History of Macedonia <http://www.historyofmacedonia.org/AncientMacedonia/AncientEvidence.html> [accessed 22nd December 2018].

[18] Sinisa Jakov Marusic, ‘Student Protest Blocks Macedonian Capital’, Balkan Insight <http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/mass-student-protest-clogs-skopje > [accessed 23rd December 2018].

[19] Chris Deliso, ‘Macedonia’s Crisis Isn’t Going Away’, The American Interest <https://www.the-american-interest.com/2017/03/05/macedonias-crisis-isnt-going-away/ > [accessed 23rd December 2018].

[20] Adela Gjorgjioska and Anastas Vangeli, ‘Macedonia in Crisis’, Jacobin Magazine <https://jacobinmag.com/2017/02/macedonia-corruption-ethnic-politics-levica-protests > [accessed 23rd December 2018].

[21] Jason Bush, ‘Russia accuses West of trying to destabilize Macedonia’, Reuters <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-macedonia-crisis-russia/russia-accuses-west-of-trying-to-destabilize-macedonia-idUSKBN0O10M520150516> [accessed 23rd December 2018].

[22] Paul Craig Roberts, ‘A Color Revolution for Macedonia’, Paul Craig Roberts <https://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/05/22/color-revolution-macedonia-paul-craig-roberts/ > [accessed 23rd December 2018].

[23] Gjorgjioska and Vangeli, ‘Macedonia in Crisis’.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Paul Reef, ‘Macedonia’s Colourful Revolution and the Elections of 2016. A Chance for Democracy, or All for Nothing?’, Südosteuropa, 65:1 (2017), 170-182 (pp.171-173).

[26] Aubrey Belford and Saska Cvetkovska, ‘How Macedonia’s Scandal-plagued Nationalists Lobbied America’s Right and Pulled Them Into an Anti-Soros Crusade’, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) <https://www.occrp.org/en/spooksandspin/how-macedonias-scandal-plagued-nationalists-lobbied-americas-right-and-pulled-them-into-an-anti-soros-crusade/ > [accessed 9th January 2018].

[27] Deliso, ‘Macedonia’s Crisis Isn’t Going Away’.

[28] ‘Macedonian MPs vote in new government after deadlock’, BBC News <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40115708 > [accessed 23rd December 2018].

[29] Biljana Vankovska, ‘A diplomatic fairytale or geopolitics as usual: a critical perspective of the agreement between Athens and Skopje’ (to be published in OSCE Yearbook 2018).

[30] Jason Miko, ‘The renewed push to change Macedonia’s name and identity’, Medium <https://medium.com/@Miko_Janos/the-renewed-push-to-change-macedonias-name-and-identity-a342de132d73 > [accessed 23rd December 2018].

[31] ‘Macedonia-Greece Agreement’, Virtual Macedonia <https://vmacedonia.com/politics/macedonia-greece-agreement.html > [accessed 26th December 2018].

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ivan Slatinski, ‘The Agreement explained simplified’, Virtual Macedonia <https://vmacedonia.com/politics/opinions/prespaagreement-explained-simplifiedpart1.html > [accessed 26th December 2018].

[34] ‘Levica: a left case for boycott of the referendum on the Macedonia name dispute’, Lefteast <http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/levica-a-left-case-for-boycott-of-the-referendum-on-the-macedonia-name-dispute/ > [accessed 27th December 2018].

[35] Dragan Plavsic, ‘Macedonia, without Additions: why we must oppose the Tsipras-Zaev agreement’, Lefteast <http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/macedonia-tsipras-zaev/ > [accessed 27th December 2018].

[36] ‘UMD: “Republic of North Macedonia”-a fiasco for the Macedonian identity, history and future’, United Macedonian Diaspora <http://umdiaspora.org/2018/06/14/umd-republic-of-north-macedonia-a-fiasco-for-the-macedonian-identity-history-and-future/ > [accessed 27th December 2018].

[37] Ivan Slatinski, ‘The Agreement (the Final Solution for those pesky Macedonians) explained’, Virtual Macedonia <https://vmacedonia.com/politics/opinions/agreement-explained-part1.html > [accessed 27th December 2018].

[38] ‘Academics Take Issue With Prespa Agreement – Letter to the Editor’, Macedonia News <https://macedonia-mk.blogspot.com/2018/08/academics-take-issue-with-prespa.html > [accessed 27th December 2018].