North Macedonia’s new president seeks to sidestep disputes with EU neighbors

North Macedonia, a European Union candidate, is seeking to calm disputes with Greece and Bulgaria after the election victory of a conservative-backed president and coalition.

North Macedonia’s new president seeks to sidestep disputes with EU neighbors

European Union candidate North Macedonia sought Monday to calm disputes with EU neighbors Greece and Bulgaria that flared up following the landslide election victory of a conservative-backed coalition and president.

North Macedonia changed its name from Macedonia after a 2018 landmark agreement with Greece that ended a years-long quarrel over the name, which had been claimed by Greece for one of its regions. At a swearing in ceremony Sunday, President Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova referred to her country as "Macedonia," prompting a heated response from Athens.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the remarks "illegal and unacceptable," in an online post Monday, adding: "We declare categorically that we will not accept any further missteps of this nature."

Siljanovska-Davkova’s comments also drew criticism from the European Commission and a warning from Bulgaria that North Macedonia would be held to the terms of international agreements it had signed up to.

The president’s office said Monday that Siljanovska-Davkova would respect the country’s international obligations but added that she retains "the right to use the name Macedonia as a personal right of self-identification."

The geographical region of Macedonia is divided by the national borders of Greece, Bulgaria and North Macedonia. The name dispute delayed the former Yugoslav republic’s long-standing efforts to join the European Union and NATO.

The country joined the military alliance in 2020.

North Macedonia’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE won a landslide twin presidential and parliamentary election last week and is set to lead the next government after emerging from years in opposition.