Macedonians Vote in Name-Change Referendum

Macedonians voted Sunday whether to change the name of their country – a move that could pave the way for it to join NATO and the European Union.

Following a deal with neighboring Greece after decades of dispute, Macedonians voted on whether to change the country’s name to North Macedonia.

Nationalists, including Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, urged a boycott of the vote Sunday, resulting in low voter turnout.  Macedonia’s electoral commission said two days ago the referendum results would be declared invalid if less than 50 percent of the eligible voting population went to the polls.

Even if the referendum vote passed and turnout exceeded 50 percent, Macedonia’s Parliament would have to pass the name change with a two thirds majority to amend the constitution. 

Athens has argued that the name “Macedonia”  belongs exclusively to its northern province of Macedonia and using the name implies Skopje’s intentions to claim the Greek province.

Greece has for years pressured Skopje into renouncing the country’s name, forcing it to use the more formal moniker Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the United Nations.   Greece has consistently blocked its smaller neighbor from gaining membership in NATO and the EU as long it retains its name.

President Ivanov said giving into Athens’ demand would be a “flagrant violation of sovereignty.”  

He steadfastly refused to back the deal reached between Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras that puts the name change to a vote.

“This referendum could lead us to become a subordinate state, dependent on another country,” Ivanov said.  “We will become a state in name only, not in substance.”

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