by Leila Dayan, Intern
On February 6th 2019, Macedonia signed an accord to join NATO, clearing the way for the country to become the military alliance’s 30th member. This comes after a 27-year naming dispute between the former Yugoslavian country and their southern neighbor, Greece. Now, with the addition of one word to their constitutional name, the Republic of North Macedonia will hopefully be cleared to join NATO and the European Union, ambitions that Greece has quashed because of the country’s name. In 1991 after the collapse of Yugoslavia, Macedonia became an independent republic along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. The newly independent country chose to name itself The Republic of Macedonia, a choice that has caused almost 30 years of tensions with Greece.
Many Greeks were enraged when the newly formed republic –a Slavic country– chose a Hellenic name that dates back to antiquity, a name that many nationalists believe to be a part of their heritage. The disagreement stems from the ambiguity in nomenclature between the Republic of Macedonia, the Greek region of Macedonia, and the ancient Greek kingdom Macedon, birthplace of the legendary Alexander the Great, widely considered to be an intrinsic part of Greek heritage. Originally, Macedon was a small part of the present-day Greek province of Macedonia, but expanded, and areas as far as Turkey became dependant territories of Macedonia. It was under the rule of King Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great, that the Greek mainland subdued to Macedon.
Map of Greece and North Macedonia, outlining the
Macedon region within Greece.
Nationalists in Greece have heavily opposed allowing the country to use the name Macedonia at all, even with the geographical qualifier, for fears that the country will attempt to lay territorial claims to the Greek region of the same name, where their second largest city, Thessaloniki, resides. There have been protests in both countries over the name change, with Greeks saying that “Macedonia is Greece”, while Macedonians feel they should not have to change their name if part of their country was originally a part of the Kingdom of Macedon.
Mediation over the dispute has risen to the highest international levels, with many attempts at a resolution, though no tangible change had been made until the Summer of 2018. For over 20 years the country has been negotiating under the auspices of the United Nations, and until a solution is made, the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM) is how the country is referenced by international organizations and states that do not recognize the constitutional name “Republic of Macedonia”.
Last September a referendum was held voting on whether or not renaming the country the “Republic of North Macedonia” was popular, and while 94% of people backed the deal with Greece, the vote was invalidated because not enough of the electorate voted. This mattered little though, as Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of Macedonia brought the question before parliament, which approved the constitutional amendment with 81 of the 120 seats voting in favor, securing the required two-thirds majority. Zaev’s Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras faced immense pressure to back down from the agreement, but the deal to end the diplomatic dispute was met with 153 votes in favor by Greece’s parliament, which will allow for the name change.
Sun of Vergina