Greece and Macedonia yesterday signed a historic preliminary agreement to rename the small Balkan nation the Republic of North Macedonia, ending a row that has poisoned relations between the two neighbours since 1991.
Since 1991, Athens has objected to its neighbour being called Macedonia because it has its own northern province of the same name, which in ancient times was the cradle of Alexander the Great’s empire, a source of intense pride for modern-day Greeks.
“This is a brave, historic and necessary step for our peoples,” said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “We are here to heal the wounds of time, to open a path for peace, fraternisation and growth for our countries, the Balkans and Europe,” he said.
“Our two countries should step out of the past and look to the future,” said Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. “By signing the agreement… we have really moved mountains,” he stressed.
After the signature, Tsipras crossed over to the Macedonian side of Lake Prespa for lunch, becoming the first Greek prime minister to visit the neighbouring state. The two premiers, born just months apart in 1974, have bucked strong hostile reactions at home to push ahead with the agreement.
But as the two countries’ foreign ministers signed the deal Greek protesters clashed with riot police, who beat them back with tear gas near the small village of Pisoderi, 25 kilometres (16 miles) away from the ceremony.