Road signs replaced to reflect North Macedonia name change

It's official: the Republic of North Macedonia has replaced Republic of Macedonia as part of a historic deal with Greece.

The government gazette formally published the name deal Wednesday, opening the way for the renamed country's accession to NATO and eventually the European Union.

As a first practical move, workers were replacing road signs on the border with Greece to reflect the name change, which ends a nearly three decade-long dispute with Greece over use of the term "Macedonia." Later, the country will change signs at airports and on official buildings, web pages and printed materials.

Vehicle registration plates will also change, while passports and currency will be replaced over the coming years.

The dispute dates back to the country's 1991 declaration of independence from Yugoslavia. Athens argued the name implied claims on the northern Greek province of Macedonia and usurped its ancient Greek heritage. Although more than 130 countries did recognize the country as Macedonia, the United Nations and other international bodies used the cumbersome moniker "Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia," agreed in an interim accord in 1995.

Hundreds of rounds of United Nations-brokered negotiations floundered until last year, when Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras agreed to a compromise.

The deal was has been met with vociferous objections by large sections of the public on both sides of the border, with critics in both countries accusing their respective governments of conceding too much to the other side.

As their country's new name became a reality, reactions were mixed in Skopje.

"I'm glad that we are moving forward. After 30 years of difficulties and isolation, my country has a future," said Suzana Alcinova Monevska, a 55-year-old meteorologist. "I'm already feeling that with the new name, obstacles are removed. My company has already got many invitations in recent days to participate in EU-sponsored projects."

But others were angered by the name change.

Skopje resident Marinna Stevcevska, 55, said she was "deeply disappointed and emotionally hurt" by the change.

"I will not change my passport as long as I can and I'm hoping that something will change to have the old name back," she said. "I've promised to myself that if Macedonia changes its name, I'll be leaving the country. I'm still thinking where to move."

Among the first practical steps North Macedonia must now take is to inform the United Nations and all the countries that had previously recognized it as Macedonia that its name has now changed.

The country's customs administration will change all its digital records to reflect the new name within three days, while signs at airports and border crossings will be changed. Vehicle license plates will be changed within four months, while new passports will start being issued at the end of the year.

New currency will also be printed, but not quite yet. North Macedonian authorities say the National Bank will create a plan for the gradual replacement of the currency, with the first new banknotes being drawn up early next year.