Macedonia will change its name. Here's why it matters

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras celebrates after the Prespa Agreement is ratified in the Greek Parliament on Friday.

(CNN)In what may be the most significant diplomatic step in the Balkans since the end of the Bosnian war, a bitter, decades-long bilateral dispute has been put to rest in Europe Friday. After 27 years of mutual mistrust, a name deal has been sealed between Athens and Skopje.

Under the agreement, Greece's neighbor will stop using the name "Republic of Macedonia," a name it chose for itself when it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. It will instead call itself "Republic of North Macedonia." Following months of street protests and heated debate in both countries, the name deal has overcome the last of a number of hurdles in Athens Friday, with 153 votes in support in the 300-seat parliament.
The change is significant because Greece, a member of both NATO and the European Union, has been blocking Skopje's membership to NATO and the beginning of accession talks with the EU until the name dispute is resolved. Under the deal, Greece will lift its objections paving the way for its neighbor's integration.

    How we got here

      Both countries have been under pressure to resolve the dispute, as Western nations see the further integration of Balkan countries into the EU and NATO as a way of improving the region's stability. The move will perhaps even serve as a compromise that can ease other regional disputes. But Moscow openly opposes Macedonia's aspirations, having long been a major player in the region.
      The agreement, first ratified in Skopje, follows the defeat of Macedonia's nationalist conservatives by the social democrats. It has significantly improved the climate between the two neighboring countries after decades of strong nationalist rhetoric on both sides.
      Since the early 1990s, maps have widely circulated in Greece with the landlocked state's borders extending to the port city of Thessaloniki, Greek Macedonia's capital, funneling territorial fears. A giant statue of the ancient Macedonian King Alexander the Great erected in Skopje's central square fueled further claims of cultural plunder.
      In summer 2018, the easing of relations led to a joint declaration by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev that the name dispute was finally over. In a ceremony high in symbolism, held by Lake Prespa where the borders of Greece, Albania and Macedonia meet, the two men signed the landmark agreement, known as the Prespa accord.

      Deal seen as PM's legacy project

      The deal has been faced with widespread criticism in both countries in the steps leading to its ratification. A referendum in Skopje saw low turnout and the Greek government has survived two no confidence votes in seven months and the loss of its junior coalition partner over the deal.
      Macedonia sees low turnout in name change referendum amid disinformation campaign