President Gjorge Ivanov on Thursday urged Macedonians to boycott a referendum on changing the country’s name, saying making such a change would amount to “historical suicide.”
“On September 30, I will not go out and vote, and I know that you, my fellow citizens, will make a similarly wise decision,” Ivanov said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
Macedonians are being asked to change the name of their country to North Macedonia to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece and pave the way for the country’s admission into NATO and the European Union.
Athens has argued that the name belongs exclusively to its northern province of Macedonia and that using the name implies Skopje’s intention to claim the Greek province.
Greece has for years pressured Skopje into renouncing the country’s name, forcing it to use the more formal moniker Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the United Nations.
It has also consistently blocked its smaller neighbor from gaining membership in NATO and the EU as long as it retains its name.
Ivanov said giving into Athens’ demand would be a “flagrant violation of sovereignty.” He has steadfastly refused to back a deal reached between Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, that put the name change to a vote.
“This referendum could lead us to become a subordinate state, dependent on another country,” Ivanov said. “We will become a state in name only, not in substance.”