European Union and NATO officials are urging Macedonia to move forward with procedures to change its name, which would pave the way for the country to join both entities.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a tweet that he expects “all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted: “I urge all political leaders and parties to engage constructively and responsibly to seize this historic opportunity,” adding that NATO’s door is still open to Macedonia “but all national procedures have to be completed.”
The United States also supported moving forward with the process. “We urge leaders to rise above partisan politics and seize this historic opportunity to secure a brighter future for the country as a full participant in Western institutions,” the State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
According to the electoral commission’s official count, more than 90 percent of those casting a ballot favored the name change to North Macedonia, although only one third of the electorate voted.
Macedonia’s electoral commission had said two days ago that the referendum results would be declared invalid if less than 50 percent of the eligible voting population went to the polls.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who had said he would resign if a vast majority of eligible voters did not approve the referendum, described the vote as a clear success, despite the low turnout.
Zaev said he would not resign because a “vast majority” of those who turned out Sunday approved the measure.
He urged lawmakers to ratify the necessary changes to the constitution, which would finalize the deal.
Macedonian nationalists, including President Gjorge Ivanov, had urged a boycott of the vote.
In a statement Sunday, the Greek Foreign Ministry said the “contradictory” vote — overwhelming approval, yet low turnout — would require Macedonia to move carefully to “preserve the positive potential of the deal.”
Athens has always argued that the name “Macedonia” belongs exclusively to its northern province of Macedonia and that Macedonia’s use of the name implied Skopje’s intentions to claim the Greek province.
Greece’s objections forced Macedonia to use the awkward-sounding ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ in the United Nations. Greece has consistently blocked its smaller neighbor from membership in NATO and the EU as long it retained its name.
Macedonian President Ivanov had said giving in to Athens’ demand would be a “flagrant violation of sovereignty.”
He steadfastly refused to back the deal reached between Prime Minister Zaev and his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras that put the name change to a vote.