Landmark Macedonian referendum to change its name declared a success despite low voter turnout
By admin October 4, 2018

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Macedonian voters took to the polls on the last weekend of September to determine whether or not to change the name of their country – in a move that would pave the path towards entry into NATO and the European Union. However, low voter turnout almost threatened these potential outcomes.

Macedonians voted on whether to change their country’s name to North Macedonia. Greece insists Macedonia designate itself as the “North” to differentiate itself from Greece’s own province of Macedonia. The dispute stretches back to the early 1990s, after Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Greece is protective of their own region of the same name and resent what they regard as Macedonian appropriation of Hellenistic culture.

President Gjorge Ivanov announced that he would not participate in the vote and a concomitant boycott campaign cast doubts on whether or not the referendum could reach the minimum 50 percent for the results to be binding. After the voting period was over and polls closed, only 34.6 percent of voters had turned out to vote, which was below the minimum requirement for it to pass.

Despite tension between both neighbors, a majority of Macedonians leaned in favor of the vote. Of the 34.6 percent who voted in the referendum, an overwhelming 90 percent backed the name-change deal.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev still declared it a victory and the name-change deal will go before the Macedonian parliament for approval as originally intended. If lawmakers fail to approve the agreement, Zaev stated he would call for early elections.

Supporters of the referendum argue that it is worth the possibility of a name change if it means admission into bodies such as the EU and NATO. Prime Minister Zaev believes that NATO membership will bring much needed investment to Macedonia, which is currently marred by high levels of unemployment. If the deal is approved by parliament, it must then be ratified by lawmakers in Athens, where Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is facing backlash from those opposed to the deal. Similarly, protestors in Macedonia have been advocating for a boycott and see the referendum as a violation of sovereignty. Those who oppose appeasing Greece feel that a name change would strip them of their culture, ancestors, language, and identity.

Given the outcome, the referendum’s failure would have represented a major pitfall to the policy of the pro-Western Macedonian government since its rise to power in May of last year.

More information:

Macedonians head to the polls in key name change referendum that could offer EU and NATO accession

Macedonia’s messy referendum puts name deal at risk

Macedonia name referendum throws Macedonian name change into question

Macedonia facing crisis after name change referendum hit by low turnout

Low turnout in referendum throws Macedonian name change into question

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