Athens, June 17 (IANS) Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) sealed a historic agreement on Sunday, putting an end to the dispute which started in 1991 over the use of the name Macedonia.
According to the preliminary accord signed by the two countries’ Foreign Ministers, they agreed to rename the Balkan nation the Republic of North Macedonia, despite strong protests over a deal from both sides, reported Xinhua.
The signing ceremony, broadcast live on Greek public broadcaster ERT, was hosted on the border at the Prespes lake region.
The move of the two neighboring states potentially paved the way for Skopje’s admission to the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“We are making an historic step, there will be only winners from now on,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said at the event.
“So that we can heal the wounds of the past, open a path for peace, friendship, cooperation and growth, not only for our countries, but for all Balkans and Europe,” he said as he and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev received a standing ovation from officials at the ceremony.
Both countries have been working towards settling the decades-old dispute over the past months. The issue began in 1991 when FYROM declared its independence from Yugoslavia, choosing the name Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek province.
Athens was worried that the use of the same name by the neighboring country could lead to territorial claims.
“Today we put an end to a problem, we put an end to long-standing differences which were raising walls and cast shadows on our neighborly relations,” Zaev said.
Sunday’s ceremony was held under draconian security measures as hardliners in both countries object to the deal because they regard it as a national sellout.