ATHENS, Greece – The Latest on the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia (all times local):
Bulgarian officials have welcomed the agreement between neighboring Greece and Macedonia to resolve a long-standing dispute over the latter country’s name. But they warned that the deal should not be used for future territorial claims in the region.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Macedonia’s new name, Republic of Northern Macedonia, “opens the way for the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of our neighbor.”
Bulgaria was one of the first countries to recognize Macedonia in 1992 after it declared independence from Yugoslavia. But relations between Sofia and Skopje were strained for years over issues of identity, language and history.
A positive breakthrough in the relations was reached last year with the signing of a bilateral friendship pact in a region beset by ethnic and territorial disputes. Under the treaty, both countries have renounced territorial claims against each other, and Bulgaria has committed to back Macedonia’s bids to join the European Union and NATO.
The head of Greece’s main opposition party is criticizing a deal reached between Greece and Macedonia to end a decades-long dispute over the latter’s name, describing it as “deeply problematic.”
Conservative New Democracy party head Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on Greece’s president Wednesday to intervene so the deal can be debated in parliament before it is signed, instead of after. The agreement, under which Macedonia will change its name to Republic of North Macedonia, is expected to be signed this weekend.
The name dispute has poisoned the two countries’ relations since Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece wanted its northern neighbor to change its name, saying the term “Macedonia” implies a claim on the territory and ancient heritage of Greece’s province of the same name.