Macedonia-Greece naming dispute

  28-Jun-2018 14:05:32


Macedonia naming disputeis a political dispute over theuse of the name "Macedonia"between thesouth-eastern Europeancountries ofGreeceand theRepublic of Macedonia, formerly a region withinYugoslavia.

The dispute arises from the ambiguity innomenclaturebetween the Republic of Macedonia, the adjacentGreek region of Macedoniaand the ancient Greek kingdom ofMacedon(which falls mostly within Greek Macedonia). Citing historical andirredentistconcerns, Greece opposes the use of the name "Macedonia" by the Republic of Macedonia without a geographical qualifier such as "Northern Macedonia" for use "by all ... and for all purposes". As millions of ethnic Greeks identify themselves asMacedonians, unrelated to the Slavic people who are associated with the Republic of Macedonia, Greece further objects to the use of the term "Macedonian" for the neighbouring country's largestethnic groupand itslanguage.

The dispute has escalated to the highest level of international mediation, involving numerous attempts to achieve a resolution. In 1995, the two countries formalised bilateral relations and committed to start negotiations on the naming issue, under the auspices of theUnited Nations. Until a solution is found, the provisional reference "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (sometimes unofficially abbreviated as FYROM) is used by international organisations and states which do not recognise translations of the constitutional nameRepublic of Macedonia. UN members and the UN as a whole have agreed to accept any final agreement on a new name resulting from negotiations between the two countries.

On 12 June 2018, an agreement was reached between the GreekPrime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev, where the Republic of Macedonia could be renamed the "Republic of North Macedonia". “After months of negotiation we have managed to reach a deal that will solve our longstanding difference over the name of our neighbour,” said the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras. “They have agreed to rename their country the Republic of North Macedonia, a change that will apply in their international and bilateral relations and domestically.”

The new name not only made a clear distinction between Greek Macedonia and the country’s northern neighbour but put a decisive end to the irredentism the country’s erstwhile title had conveyed, he said.

“The deal that we have reached for the first time ensures that they do not have, and in the future can never claim, any relationship to the ancient Greek civilisation of Macedonia. I am deeply convinced that this agreement is a great diplomatic victory, but also a historic opportunity ... a historic moment for the Balkans and our peoples.

The aim is to get Macedonia's parliament to back an agreement before EU leaders meet for a summit on 28 June. Greece will then send a letter to the EU withdrawing its objection to accession talks and a letter to NATO too. That will be followed by a Macedonian referendum in September or October. If Macedonian voters back the deal, their government will then have to change the constitution, a key Greek demand.

The deal will finally have to be ratified by the Greek parliament. That may not be straightforward. Greeks are generally opposed to any name that includes Macedonia and some political parties are unlikely to back this.

Large protests against a deal were held in some 25 Greek cities earlier this month, from Pella to Thessaloniki. When big crowds descended on the centres of Athens and Thessaloniki in February, renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, 92, said the neighbouring northern state was illegitimate. "Macedonia was, is and will forever be Greek," he insisted.

Greece says the name "Macedonia" suggests that the country has territorial ambitions over Greece's own Macedonia - a province in the north of the country - and is a blatant attempt to lay claim to Greece's national heritage. It should be called something like "Skopje" instead, Greece argues - Skopje being Macedonia's capital city.

Macedonia, by contrast, argues that you can trace its people back to the ancient kingdom of Macedon, once ruled by Alexander the Great - and that the name "Macedonia" is, therefore, the obvious choice.

But still, there is a long way to go before this transition actually takes place.

FYROM's president, Gjorge Ivanov, said he would not sign the deal claiming it violated the constitution. "My position is final and I will not yield to any pressure, blackmail or threats. I will not support or sign such a damaging agreement," he told a news conference.

Ivanov, who as president has the backing of the nationalist opposition VMRO-DPMNE and has the right to veto the deal, said FYROM's possible future membership of the European Union and NATO was not sufficient to sign such a "bad agreement".

An opposition party filed a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras over the deal. The prospect of an agreement between the two countries has also had people out on the streets in recent weeks. There were protests in northern Greece in early June and by several thousand supporters of the VMRO-DPMNE party in FYROM.