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Fresh Momentum for the Balkans

There can be little doubt that the last few decades have brought more frustration than progress to the Balkans. It would be ironic and deeply gratifying to see a region wracked by ethnic nationalism build bridges when so many others are building walls.

MADRID – As autumn comes to Europe, it is time to reap the fruits of months of hard diplomatic work across the Balkan Peninsula. On September 30, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will hold a consultative referendum that could lead the country to change its name to “Republic of North Macedonia.”

This is no mere linguistic exercise. If the referendum passes, it could put an end to 27 years of bickering between the Macedonian and Greek governments. Greece vehemently opposes its northern neighbor’s use of “Macedonia” without a qualifier, because a region in Greece bears the same name. Moreover, the ancient kingdom of Macedonia has great cultural and historical significance for modern-day Greeks.

If a large share of the Macedonian electorate turns out and votes in support of the name change and related matters, the required constitutional amendments will be more likely to pass in Macedonia’s parliament. In that case, the last word would go to Greece’s parliament, which would also have to vote on the change.

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