AFP/United Nations, United States
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov called on Thursday for voters to boycott this weekend's referendum on a name change, saying the country was being asked to commit ‘historical suicide.’
‘Voting in a referendum is a right, not an obligation,’ Ivanov told the UN General Assembly.
‘On September 30, I will not go out and vote and I know that you, my fellow citizens, will make a similarly wise decision.’
Macedonians are due to go to the polls on Sunday to vote on whether to add ‘North’ to their country's official name in an effort to overcome a 27-year-old argument with neighboring Greece.
The government in Athens has refused to recognize Macedonia's name since the Balkan country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, arguing that the name belongs solely to its northern province called Macedonia.
In protest, Greece has blocked Macedonia from NATO and the EU, although a yes vote should pave the way for entry into both organizations.
Athens has also forced the country to use the clunky name FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) in the UN.
Speaking on the third day of debate at the annual General Assembly meeting, Ivanov -- whose position is largely ceremonial and is not a member of the governing party -- said the Macedonian people were effectively being asked to commit ‘historical suicide,’ likening the referendum to a ‘noose around our necks.’
‘This referendum could lead us to become a subordinate state, dependent on another country,’ he said.
‘We will become a state in name only, not in substance.’
The referendum comes as a result of an agreement reached between Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras in June.
Ivanov is a member of the right-wing nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party which has been heavily critical of the deal.
The president vetoed the Zaev-Tsipras accord back in June after it was initially voted through by lawmakers, but he was obliged to approve the referendum the following month after a second vote in parliament.
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