The Prespa Agreement was an accord that was reached between North Macedonia and Greece on June 12, 2018. This agreement settled the long-standing dispute over the name of North Macedonia. The agreement, also known as the Treaty of Prespa, Prespa accord, and Prespes Agreement, got its name from the serene and picturesque Lake Prespes region. It was ratified by January 25, 2019, and went into effect on February 12 of the same year. The name of the Republic of Macedonia subsequently changed to the Republic of North Macedonia. The Prespa Agreement will remain in effect indefinitely, and it cannot be revoked or superseded by other treaties or agreements.
Background of “Macedonia”
Macedonia was earlier a Yugoslav state which later became the Republic of Macedonia after declaring its independence in 1991. However, the name “Macedonia” became a source of dispute between the now Republic of North Macedonia and the neighboring Greece, due to its similarity with the latter’s southeastern province of the same name. Greece, citing irredentist and historical concerns, opposed the use of the name “Macedonia”, as a majority of its citizens feared that it could lead to territorial claims over the Macedonia region of Greece. Before the Prespa agreement was finalized, Macedonia was referred to as the “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FRYOM) by international organizations.
Moreover, Greece accused the Slavic people of the FRYOM of appropriating figures and symbols that were originally considered ancient Greek culture’s part, like Alexander the Great, and the Vergina Sun, among others. Greece also objected to promoting the concept of United Macedonia which in turn would bring up territorial claims on Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece. As a consequence, Greece had also scuttled its entry into the European Union (EU) and the NATO.
The Birth of the Agreement
Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, formally announced on June 12, 2018 that an agreement had been reached between him and Zoran Zaev, his “Macedonian” counterpart, on the dispute. He also declared that the agreement encompasses “all the preconditions set by the Greek side.”
The agreement dictated that the Republic of Macedonia would be renamed the Republic of North Macedonia. And the new name would be used at all events and purposes, such as in bilateral relations, domestically, and in all international and regional institutions and organizations. The agreement was signed at the geographically significant location of Lake Prespa. This water body makes up the partial common border between Albania, Greece, and the Republic of Macedonia.
Moreover, the agreement also encompasses that there would be a direct clarification that the country’s citizens are not related in any way to the ancient Macedonians.
Signing of the Agreement
Replacing the Interim Accord of 1995, the Prespa Agreement was signed on June 17, 2018 near Lake Prespa at a high-level ceremony. The event was held in attendance of two foreign ministers, Nikos Kotzia and Nikola Dimitrov, and also the Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev of Greece and the then Republic of Macedonia respectively.
On June 20, 2018, the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia ratified the Prespa agreement. There were a total of 69 MPs who voted in favor of the accord.
Thereafter, the Greek Foreign Ministry on June 25, 2018 informed the NATO and the EU that Greece is now in favor of the agreement and is not objecting any longer to the Euro-Atlantic accession of “Macedonia” under the new name. However, the very next day Gjorge Ivanov, the Macedonian President, began threatening the ruling coalition’s MPs and the Macedonian PM Zaev with imprisonment for voting in favor of the agreement. He also refused to sign the agreement. He was of the view that the agreement would put Macedonia in a subordinate position with respect to a foreign state.
This resulted in the EU approving the beginning of accession talks on June 27, 2018. On July 5, Macedonian parliament again ratified the Prespa Agreement, again with 69 MPs in favor of it.
The parliament of Macedonia on July 30, 2018, agreed to hold a non-binding referendum concerning the changing of the name of the country. There were 91% votes (with 37% turnout) in favor of the agreement. However, the referendum couldn’t be carried further, owing to the failure of the requirement to meet at least 50% turnout. Nonetheless, the government wanted to move forward with the change of the name, as it was crucial to inclusion in the EU and the NATO.
The parliament of Macedonia started to debate on the country’s name change on October 15, 2018. Wess Mitchell, the US Assistant Secretary of State, on October 16, 2018 sent a letter to opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski asking them to come on board with the name change. The parliament again took a vote on October 19, 2018 in order to begin the procedure of renaming the country. This time, as many as 80 MPs voted in favor.
On December 3, 2018, the Parliament of Macedonia agreed to a draft constitutional amendment with 4 abstaining, 23 voting against, and 67 lawmakers voting in favor. At that stage, all that needed was a simple majority.
Post some political wrangling, Macedonia’s all political parties, some members of the opposition, and governing Socialists cast their vote in favor of changing the name. And on January 11, 2019, all legal implementation of the accord was completed by the Macedonian Parliament. On January 25, 2019, the Prespa Agreement was approved by Greece’s Parliament with 153 votes in favor. Finally, NATO member states signed a protocol on February 6, 2019, paving the way for the entry of North Macedonia into the alliance.