By FOX News Radio's Simon Owen in Skopje, Macedonia
Lidija Karakamcheva marked her ballot in support of changing her country's name, but did so with a heavy heart.
"It is very emotional," she told Fox News outside a polling centre in Macedonia's capital Skopje. "But it is for the future of our country."
Voters across this small Balkan state went to the polls Sunday in a referendum on whether Macedonia should become North Macedonia -- a government-proposed switch intended to settle a 27-year dispute with neighboring Greece, and pave the way for Macedonia to join NATO and, potentially, the European Union. The United States supports the change.
But while preliminary results suggested a resounding "yes" vote -- with 98% of polling centers having returned results, 91% of voters were in favor, according to Macedonia's State Election Commission -- it also seems that turnout was tepid at around 36% -- a far cry from the massive show of support the government had hoped for.
An opposition group had called for a boycott. Macedonia's president had said he wouldn't vote, denouncing the proposal as a "flagrant violation of sovereignty."
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, frontman for the name change campaign, insisted he would not be deterred and urged parliament to back him, calling the balloting a "success for democracy and for a European Macedonia." The U.S. State Department welcomed the results, urging lawmakers to "seize this historic opportunity to secure a brighter future for the country."
But opponents celebrated. As news of the low turnout emerged, around 2,000 people opposed to the change gathered outside the Macedonian parliament, dancing, singing and waving Macedonian flags. "The fact is that the agreement with Greece did not receive a green light," said Hristijan Mickoski, head of the opposition VMRO party.
Earlier in the day, some "yes" voters had cast their ballots with a spring in their step. Viktorija Stefkova, 48, a pharmacy worker, saw the name change as a reasonable price to pay if it yielded EU membership. She hoped that might afford her child the chance to study abroad.
"I know what Europe is, especially for young people, and the opportunities the European Union can give them," she told Fox News. "Life is compromise, family is compromise, marriage is compromise. Nobody is a winner, nobody is a loser, if you have a compromise."
That sentiment was echoed by Macedonian Finance Minister Dragan Tevdovski. After casting his vote, he told Fox News: "In the Balkans, it's good to make a compromise," noting the wars that have ravaged parts of this region in the recent past.
But others were resolutely opposed. Venko Vchkov, a 60-year-old math teacher, called the proposed name change "stupid." He told Fox News: "My grandfather, all of my ancestors, they were Macedonian, they live in Macedonia, and this is Macedonia."
The U.S. had warned that Russia was playing a covert role in the referendum campaign, hoping to encourage a "no" vote in a bid to thwart further NATO expansion, but Mr Vchkov dismissed that. " don't care," he said. "They haven't cared for centuries."
Russia denies meddling in the campaign.
The dispute with Greece hinges on suspicions of territorial ambitions. Ever since Macedonia separated from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has argued that its choice of name implies a claim to its own Macedonia province, and has blocked Macedonia's efforts to join NATO. It says it will drop its objections if Macedonia becomes North Macedonia.
As both sides claimed success in the referendum, it seemed not everyone was surprised by the inconclusive result.
"In the Balkans," one man told us, "everything is complicated."
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