A referendum on changing Macedonia’s name won overwhelming support Sunday.
Results from more than 97% of polling stations showed 91.3% of voters approving the deal, which would pave the way for NATO membership. Under the deal, the former Yugoslav republic would amend its name to North Macedonia and Greece would drop its objections to the country joining NATO. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had hoped for a strong show of support in the referendum but turnout stood at just 36.8%. Opponents to the name change had called for a boycott of the vote. Supporters, led by Zaev, linked Sunday’s vote to Macedonia’s future prosperity. NATO and EU membership would be a major step for a country that less than two decades ago almost descended into civil war, when parts of its ethnic Albanian minority took up arms against the government, seeking greater rights.
The country is part of the Western Balkans, a region "in the line of fire" between Russia and the West, as then-Secretary of State John Kerry described it in 2015. Support for NATO among Macedonians remains high, with 77 percent saying they want to join the alliance, according to a poll last month. "Even a NATO in decline is better than the alternative for Macedonia," said Petar Arsovski, a political analyst in the country.