World Bulletin / News Desk
Greece's leftist-led government was expected Saturday to shrug off a censure vote and protests as it prepares to sign a landmark preliminary deal to end a 27-year name row with Macedonia.
"The agreement to resolve the longstanding dispute over the name issue with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a victory of historic importance for Greece," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said late Friday.
"We proved that where there is a will, a decades-old dispute can be resolved in a balanced way," he said.
The agreement, which will eventually see Greece's northern neighbour renamed the Republic of North Macedonia, has been welcomed by the United Nations, the European Union and NATO.
Athens had long objected to it 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 to modern-day Greeks.
But earlier this week, Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev reached a deal to end the dispute, which dates from Macedonia's declaration of independence in 1991.
Senior EU officials are to attend Sunday's ceremony in the Prespes Lakes district, according to Greek reports.
The Macedonian parliament should start debating the agreement next week.
Officials in Athens says the deal will help stabilise the historically volatile Balkan region, permitting Greece to focus on other regional challenges, Turkey among them.
- United in dissatisfaction -
But from the moment the details emerged, a political storm erupted in both countries.
Greece's main opposition conservatives tabled a censure motion while Macedonia's pro-nationalist President Gjorge Ivanov has pledged to exercise a one-time veto to delay the deal.
Skopje hopes to secure a date to begin European Union accession talks at an EU summit in late June and an invitation to join NATO in mid-July.
In Athens, there is anger over the government's acceptance that its neighbour will be able to refer to its language and ethnicity as "Macedonian".
"Nobody can be called Macedonians except the Greeks," protest organiser Michalis Patsikas told state agency ANA.
But to Macedonians, who have espoused this identity since the days of Yugoslavia's Marshal Tito, the notion of revising their name and constitution is anathema.
"This is an absolute defeat of the Macedonian diplomacy in every possible way," Hristijan Mickovski, who heads the main opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, said this week.
- Divisions and discontent -
Tempers flared in Greece's parliament on Friday, with a lawmaker from neo-Nazi Golden Dawn calling on the Greek army to topple the government.
The protesters plan to remain outside parliament until the censure vote, while another demonstration will be held on the border on Sunday.
Tsipras' domestic critics say he has bargained away Greece's diplomatic advantages -- the power of veto over EU and NATO accession -- for a deal that could backfire.
"There is no chance that those speaking a 'Macedonian' language will be called 'North Macedonians'," said New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
"We will not divide the Greeks in order to unite the (Macedonians)," he said.
Opposition is even stronger in Greece's north, where Greek and Bulgarian guerrillas fought a bitter four-year war in the early 20th century for dominance over Orthodox Christian populations in then Ottoman-held Macedonia.
"Let me remind you that your debt is to the homeland, not to your leader," conservative MP Vassilis Kikilias told government deputies on Saturday.
"Greeks lying dead on Macedonian soil look upon you with anger," he said.
In a paradox, Tsipras' nationalist coalition partners, the Independent Greeks party, are expected to support the government on Saturday but reject the Macedonia deal whenever it goes to a vote.
The agreement still needs to be approved by Macedonia's parliament and pass a referendum there as well as being ratified by the Greek parliament, a process likely to take months.
Last Mod: 16 Haziran 2018, 14:30