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Macedonians split on name issue, survey shows May 31, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia.
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Macedonian public opinion opposes changing the country’s name, but divisions run along ethnic lines on whether the government should continue seeking a compromise on the name dispute with Greece, according to a poll conducted for Macedonian daily Dnevnik

A majority of those surveyed – 51 percent – said their government should walk away from discussions with Greece on the name issue. The neighbouring states have been at loggerheads for years now over Macedonia’s official name, which Greece rejects.

Prime minister Nikola Gruevski promised a referendum on the issue in his pre-election campaign.

Athens fears the name “Republic of Macedonia” may imply territorial claims over the Greek province Macedonia. To get Macedonia to change its title, Greece is blocking its neighbour’s applications for membership in NATO and the European Union. The two countries have been unable to reach agreement since 1995 when they started bilateral talks under UN mediation.

Ethnic Macedonians are much more concerned about the name issue than their Albanian compatriots, the survey shows. Among self-declared Macedonians, 63 percent of those polled were against further negotiations with Greece. Among ethnic Albanians, the figure is just 18 percent. About 79 percent of Macedonia’s largest minority believe negotiations with Athens should continue, according to the survey.

One explanation for the divergent opinions is that a majority of Macedonians believe their country can make it into NATO and the EU even if it does not change its name and stops talks with Greece. Asked whether they fear failure to reach agreement with Athens can endanger Macedonia’s future existence, only 30 percent of Macedonians gave a positive answer – as opposed to 56 percent of the country’s Albanians.

The survey confirms that Macedonia’s public opinion is divided alongside ethnic lines. Sixty one percent of self-professed ethnic Macedonians support their government’s policy toward Greece on the name dispute. Meanwhile, 82 percent of ethnic Albanians disagree with the government’s stance.

Prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s party VMRO DPMNE has advocated finding a compromise name, but only if it “would not affect national identity.” Greece has suggested that its neighbour adds a geographical determinant to its name, but Macedonians fear this would threaten their identity by changing the name of their language and nationality.

The survey result hints at what may be the outcome of the referendum on the name issue that Mr Gruevski’s government promised in its pre-election campaign. A majority of the country’s population – 62 percent – is in favour of calling a referendum, the poll demonstrated. Among those who oppose a referendum is a group of “hardliners”, who believe no compromise should be considered on the country’s name. Still, 77 percent of Macedonian citizens said they would vote if a referendum is organised.

The survey comes three weeks after Mr Gruevski said he would vote no in a referendum where people were asked to approve renaming their country to “Northern Macedonia.”

If changing the name was inevitable, “Northern Macedonia” would still gain the largest support (19%). Just 2 percent would agree to “Upper Macedonia.” Over 67 percent of the population would accept neither option.

The younger generation is much more flexible on the name issue, the poll indicated. Asked whether they would accept a compromise with Greece if the solution “guarantees their identity”, 52 percent of interviewees aged between 18 and 29 years gave a positive answer.

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