Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has arrived in the North Macedonian capital Skopje to mark a “new chapter” in relations after the resolution of a bitter and decades-old dispute earlier this year.
“This is a historic day. Until now, we only watched opportunities go by and time waste away,” Zaev said on Tuesday.
The North Macedonian prime minister was exceptionally cordial, welcoming Tsipras outside the government building and even taking a selfie with him after formally posing for cameras.
Zaev then showed Tsipras around his office and pointed to photos of his son and various memorabilia.
“Our nations are showing how courageous decisions turn what was yesterday an impossibility today becomes reality,” he said after the meeting.
Tsipras is the first Greek prime minister to visit the neighbouring country since Macedonia was established first as a federal Yugoslav republic in 1945, then as an independent country in 1991.
He arrived less than two months after Macedonia agreed to rename itself to North Macedonia on February 12, ending a 28-year diplomatic dispute.
Greece claims the name Macedonia for its ancient northern province and its legacy, but eventually agreed to allow its neighbour to use the name with a geographic qualifier added.
The row had led to Greece blocking Skopje’s entrance into international organisations, including NATO.
The two countries are now “starting a new chapter” on the “solid ground” provided by the name agreement, Tsipras said.
The two leaders pushed the agreement through in spite of fierce opposition from nationalists on both sides of the border, each feeling that their country had conceded too much.
In an interview with the North Macedonian news agency MIA published on Monday, Tsipras said the deal carried a steep political price.
It was now up to him and Zaev to show that their people “can only benefit from the path now opened”.
Reporting from Skopje, Al Jazeera’s Maja Blasevska said that the two leaders were focused on the future, with economic cooperation a priority.
“Both prime ministers said that this is a very important message about this region, about the region and Europe, that countries need to go forward and not look to history,” she said.
“Dozens of contracts have been signed today. Greek and Macedonian sides are expecting to boost economic cooperation. A business forum will be opened today in Skopje. Both prime ministers will attend the opening, which also be attended by representatives from more than 400 companies from both countries.”
Additionally, Greece is to assume the policing and protection of the North Macedonian airspace.