Reasoning Behind Opposition to S. Res. 602

On June 12thof this year, Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, of Greece and Macedonia respectively, signed the Prespa Accord[1] to bring a resolution to the 27-year name dispute between the two countries. The proposed agreement would rename the country “Republic of North Macedonia,” thereby mandating attendant constitutional changes in the country. In order for the agreement to be ratified, it would require approval from both countries’ parliaments as well as a referendum in Macedonia. On September 30th, 36.91% of voters turned out to approve the proposal by a margin of 91.5%.[2]

On September 30th, the government organized a consultative referendum on the name change agreement signed three months prior. The 2005 Law on Referendums and Civil Initiative[3]stipulates that a consultative referendum may be announced for issues of broader significance to the citizens and the Republic and the decision made on the Consultative Referendum shall not oblige the Assembly (Article 6); a referendum may be announced for a need of ratification of international agreements (Article 4) and a referendum shall be mandatory for the decision for joining or abandoning an alliance or unity with other states (Article 3). The spirit of the consultative referendum is to gauge the support of the people before the signing of potential agreements, not to legitimize them ex post facto. The September 30threferendum violates both the letter and spirit of this law.

Article 46 of the Law on Referendum and Civil Initiative requires that referendum questions be formulated “precisely and unambiguously.” The wording of the September 30threferendum, however, which asked citizens to indicate if they were in favor of “European Union and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between Macedonia and Greece,” eschews the model of referendums provided for by the constitution. With three separate questions being raised, on EU membership, NATO membership, and the Prespa Accord respectively, the referendum creates eight separate possible configurations of support, which is not in line with the simple and clear instructions according to Article 46 of the Law on Referendum and Civil Initiative.

Articles 13 and 14 of the Law also include a provision that on issues of border changes or questions of “joining, or withdrawing from, unions with other countries,” referendums must be binding, not consultative. Most significantly, Article 73[4] of the Constitution holds that in order for referendums to be legitimate, at least 50% of registered voters must turn out to vote. With a turnout of 36.91%, the September 30threferendum fell short.

According to the Law on Referendums, (Article 59) state budgetary funds can only be used for the logistical costs of the referendum, but not for any campaigning activities. The current government’s campaign, entitled “For a European Macedonia,”[5]misleadingly guaranteed EU and NATO membership should the referendum be approved – but no formal guarantees have been provided by the European Union.

137+ countries, including the United States, have already recognized Macedonia by its constitutional name. Pressuring a sovereign nation to change its constitutional name because one country has a province with the same name is asymmetrical and unjust treatment. This treatment is in contradiction to Article 1, point 2 from The UN Charter I[6]enshrining the right to self-determination. Prime Minister Zaev’s government came to power in 2017 on a campaign explicitly promising not to change the constitutional name of the country. The subsequent referendum turnout on Zaev’s proposal reflects this lack of will among the people to change the constitutional name.

Macedonia strongly desires integration into the EU and NATO alliances, but only if this is based on equitable treatment and respect by the international community for the popular will to preserve the constitutional name of Macedonia. A turnout of 36.91% does not represent a mandate to change the country’s constitutional name and does not reflect the will of the Macedonian people.

Therefore, we appeal to all U.S. Senators not to support Senate Resolution 602.

Express your opposition to S. Res. 602 by sending a letter to your Senators HERE.

[1]http://vlada.mk/node/15057?ln=en-gb

[2]https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_G9gC9lV8iRjW7n9i6MFnkcmrwblGyjq/view(official report by State Election Commission in Macedonian); https://www.npr.org/2018/09/30/653138345/low-turnout-threatens-the-result-of-macedonias-vote-on-whether-to-change-its-nam(CNN article)

[3]http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/UNTC/UNPAN019018.pdf

[4]http://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/mk/mk014en.pdf

[5]http://izlezi.mk/

[6]http://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-i/index.html

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