Did the president of North Macedonia violate an international agreement?

Newly elected president Gordana Siljanovska Davkova during the swearing in ceremony when she said “Macedonia” instead of “Republic of North Macedonia” while taking oath of office. Photo: official Facebook page of Parliament of Republic of North Macedonia.

Newly elected president Gordana Siljanovska Davkova during the swearing in ceremony when she said “Macedonia” instead of “Republic of North Macedonia” while the taking oath of office. Photo: Parliament of Republic of North Macedonia.

This article was first published by Meta.mk on May 13, 2024. An edited version is republished on Global Voices under a partnership agreement.

International public actors and some domestic political actors issued public reactions after the new president of North Macedonia Gordana Siljanovska Davkova failed to utter the constitutional name of the state, Republic of North Macedonia, during her inauguration on May 12, 2024. They consider this act as violation of the Prespa Agreement, which was concluded with United Nations mediation in 2018, ending the name dispute with Greece which lasted 28 years.

From 1991 to 2018 Greece disputed use of the name “Macedonia” for the then newly independent Republic of Macedonia, prohibiting its entry in international institutions, including the UN, NATO, and the EU. The dispute was a major source of instability in the Western Balkans. It ended with change of the constitutional name, adding the geographical designation “North” to the name, to appease the Greek demand to differentiate the neighboring country from its region which is also called Macedonia.

Greek ambassador to North Macedonia Sophia Philippidou left the session of the parliament used for the presidential swearing in ceremony in protest after Siljanovska Davkova said “Macedonia” instead of “Republic of North Macedonia.”

And, while the Greek media filled their front pages with articles about Siljanovska Davkova's move, an important reaction came from the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who used X (formerly Twitter) to send a message that North Macedonia should continue with its accession to the European Union (EU) by implementing reforms and adherence to concluded agreements, including the Prespa Agreement.

This reaction came only a few hours after Von der Leyen tweeted congratulations for Siljanovska Davkova as the first woman president of North Macedonia.

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued official reaction in the form of official announcement.

This act is a flagrant violation of the Prespa Agreement and the Constitution of our neighbouring country, which has been brought into line with North Macedonia’s international obligations. In spite of the objections it voiced as an opposition party during the ratification of the Prespa Agreement, the current Greek government respected as ratified the international agreement, which overrides any other provision of law.

In this context, Greece categorically stated that further progress in its bilateral relations with North Macedonia, as well as progress in the latter’s path to joining the European Union, depends upon the full implementation of the Prespa Agreement and principally the use of the country’s constitutional name.

In a much-quoted reaction published on Facebook in Macedonian and Albanian, the outgoing Minister of Justice in the Government of North Macedonia Krenar Lloga claimed that Siljanovska Davkova made her oath null and void.

▪︎ Непочитувањето на уставното име на државата ја прави ништовна заклетвата на Силјановска.
▪︎ Mos respektimi i emrit kushtetues të shtetit e bën betimin e Siljanovskës NUL (të pa vlefshëm)
▪︎ Или повторување на постапката или функцијата претседател на државата треба да ја преземе Јован Митревски (претседател на собрание), како В.Д.
▪︎ Ose përsëritje e procedurës ose Jovan Mitrevski (Kryetar i Kuvendit) duhet të marrë funksionin e Kryetarit të Shtetit si ushtrues detyre.

▪︎ Disregarding the constitutional name of the state makes Siljanovska's oath null and void.
▪︎ Either the swearing in procedure needs to be repeated or the position of president of the state should be taken over by Jovan Mitrevski (president of the parliament), as acting president.

Will the US activate the Executive Order to sanction persons obstructing the Prespa Agreement? 

A month ago, the US State Department spokesperson stated for Voice of America in Macedonian that US expects North Macedonia to uphold the spirit of the Prespa Agreement, and public discourse to remain fact-based.

“As the US remains committed to the Prespa Agreement, we expect North Macedonia to maintain this spirit, and for public discourse to remain fact-based and rooted in the dedication to North Macedonia's future in the EU,” responded a US Department of State spokesperson when questioned about US concerns regarding potential undermining of the Prespa Agreement.

In 2021, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on blocking property and suspending entry into the United States for persons violating or obstructing the Prespa Agreement and the Ohrid Framework Agreement, i.e. persons who obstruct peace and security in the countries of Western Balkans.

This document is named “Executive Order on Blocking Property And Suspending Entry Into The United States Of Certain Persons Contributing To The Destabilizing Situation In The Western Balkans.

The US Department of State further clarified that the executive order applies not only to persons within Western Balkan countries who pose a threat to the Prespa Agreement but also to those in other countries. They noted that “the Executive Order 14033 allows sanctions against persons undermining the stability of the Western Balkans, wherever they may be, provided they meet the relevant targeting criteria.” 

The executive order stipulates sanctions in the following case:

To be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged in, a violation of, or an act that has obstructed or threatened the implementation of, any regional security, peace, cooperation, or mutual recognition agreement or framework or accountability mechanism related to the Western Balkans, including the Prespa Agreement of 2018; the Ohrid Framework Agreement of 2001 …

The leader of then-opposition party VMRO-DPMNE and the most probable future mandatary of the new government Hristijan Mickoski, during a pre-election debate with the head of then-incumbent ruling party SDSM, Dimitar Kovačevski, that he will refer to the  country only as “Macedonia,” regardless of the 2018 Prespa Agreement.

Stevo Pendarovski and Gordana Siljanovska Davkova. Photo: Cabinet of the President of Republic of North Macedonia.

During the election campaign in April, then incumbent president Stevo Pendarovski reiterated that revocation of the Prespa Agreement would mean that the country would be excluded from the NATO membership.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned on May 13 that further violations of the name agreement signed between the two countries could jeopardize Skopje’s ambitions for EU membership. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev echoed these sentiments, underlining that North Macedonia's European aspirations hinge upon the meticulous adherence to international treaties and the negotiation framework endorsed by the European Council in July 2022, which is not subject to revision.

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