This is the country that wants the UK’s place in EU – Alastair Stewart

A statue of Alexander the Great in Skopje, capital of the Republic of Macedonia, which is soon to be renamed the 'Republic of North Macedonia'. (Picture: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
A statue of Alexander the Great in Skopje, capital of the Republic of Macedonia, which is soon to be renamed the 'Republic of North Macedonia'. (Picture: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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Last week the Prime Minister of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev said Brexit made space for Macedonia in the EU. There’s been a week-long debate as to whether he was joking, but for a man not much known for his acerbic wit, it seemed oddly sincere, writes Alastair Stewart.

And why not? Zaev has been positively obsessive in his effort to secure Macedonia’s entry into Nato and the EU.

The Prespa Agreement with Greece – designed to end the long-running row over the name ‘Macedonia’ by using ‘North Macedonia’ instead – was signed last year in June and then bulldozed through both nations’ parliaments.

In Macedonia, 91 per cent of voters supported the deal in a referendum, but with only a 37 per cent turnout (the constitutional requirement of 50 per cent was ignored, and it passed 80 votes to 39 in parliament).

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras barely survived a no-confidence vote on the agreement, and the deal scraped through by 153 to 146 in its parliament.

Today Nato states have signed an agreement with Skopje which clears the way for the Republic of North Macedonia to become the military alliance’s 30th member.

If the addition of ‘North’ was all that was required to assuage Greek objections to Macedonia joining Nato (it was previously blocked by Greece a decade ago), many might consider it a price worth paying.

READ MORE: Alastair Stewart: North Macedonia? Don’t you ‘North Briton’ me!

But the smaller print on Prespa, likely to be lost to the bigger headlines of Nato membership, mandates the revision of school textbooks, includes a dubious provision not to incite any contentious history and forfeits the rights of ethnic Macedonians in Greece to promote their own cultural identity.

Within a month, a joint commission will be established to examine the two countries’ history texts to ensure there is an objective interpretation of the past.

To the best knowledge of this author, there has never been an objective interpretation of any historical event, and the descent into mindless politicking is dangerously likely in a region defined by its historical animosities.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Macedonians in Greece are in grave jeopardy of losing their freedom to self-expression because it contravenes the agreement, to say nothing of the casual introduction of censorship in Macedonia itself.

READ MORE: Greece and Macedonia sign deal that ends decades-long dispute

Access to Nato and EU membership, free of Greek objection, has come with a higher price tag than many are willing to acknowledge.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the signing was “a historic day” and Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov added that the country would change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia “in a matter of days”.

Each Nato member still needs to ratify the accession protocol, now free of Greek obfuscation.

The name-change row has run deep in both countries since Macedonia became a new country after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991.

Protests in Greece and Macedonia have ably demonstrated that Prespa satisfies no one. More than that, it’s a worrying trend to indulge in cultural capitulations in favour of institutional access. God is in the detail, and Prespa is full of it.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He writes regular features on politics and history with a particular interest in nationalism and the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart.