Macedonia changes its name: Why this matters to Greece

Macedonia changes its name: Why this matters to Greece

The move raises the possibility of snap elections and came after Defence Minister Panos Kammenos resigned in protest over an agreement to end the 27-year Macedonia name dispute. Parliamentary elections are scheduled in October but local media speculate that polls could be held in May, coinciding with European parliament and local elections, or even sooner.

Ahead of the vote in Athens, two news websites alleged that a prominent member of Greece's main opposition New Democracy party - which rejects the name deal - called on its members to phone MPs of the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party and urge them to vote against the agreement.

"I thanked the prime minister for the cooperation and I explained to him that for this national issue we can not continue", he said, adding that his Independent Greeks party "is pulling out of the government".

The newspaper, however, noted that there are now difficulties in the Greek parliament, which also needs to ratify the Prespa agreement. As a result the Greek government - a sketchy coalition at best - has gone into a tailspin.

Tsipras hopes to rely on lawmakers from the small pro-EU To Potami (The River) party to get the agreement approved, while some of ANEL's lawmakers also remain ambivalent to the deal.

Kammenos said that any deal including "Macedonia" in the name of the Balkan state to Greece's north was unacceptable as the name was irrevocably tied to Greek civilization and culture.

In a press conference that followed his resignation, Kammenos made it clear that he and his party will vote against the government confidence motion, as well as the Macedonia name deal, when it comes up for ratification. Two other lawmakers, one an ally who is not a party member, have long declared they will vote for the Macedonia name deal.

Greek Orthodox nuns holding Greek and Byzantine flags protest the Macedonia name deal
Greek Orthodox nuns holding Greek and Byzantine flags protest the Macedonia name deal

Tsipras added that Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, who held the post of the chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff since 2015, will replace Kammenos as the new defense minister.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's political future is on the line this week after a coalition breakdown prompted him to call a confidence vote in parliament, raising the risk of an early election.

In exchange, Greece would lift its objections to the country joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

"Our parliament found the strength but it wasn't easy". The controversial agreement would also allow Macedonia to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

Zaev said on January 12 that the lawmakers had "made history", adding: "I know how hard that was". For the Greeks, Macedonia is significant as the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire.

Fearing Macedonia would try to annex Greek Macedonia, the Greece Government refused to accept the new country's name, and faced the United Nation to refer to it as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

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