Where Do We Stand With The Macedonia Naming Dispute?

Great Prespes Lake on the Greek-Macedonian border | © George Pachantouris/Flickr
Great Prespes Lake on the Greek-Macedonian border | © George Pachantouris/Flickr
Photo of Ethel Dilouambaka
3 October 2016

FYROM, or the Republic of Macedonia, or simply Macedonia, recently celebrated 25 years of independence – but the celebrations were weak. Besides a gloomy civil situation and a general sense of hopelessness, another issue is still plaguing the advance of the young nation: the issue of the Macedonian naming dispute with its neighbor Greece. What is it exactly and when did it all start? Let’s have a look.

Map showing the bordering Macedonias | WikiCommons

When the country declared its independence from Yugoslavia, in 1991, it called itself the Republic of Macedonia, which strongly angered many Greeks, who felt their neighbors had stolen the designation from the northern Greek region of the same name, located directly south of the Macedonian-Greek border. The issue escalated quickly until in 1995, through international mediation, the two nations committed to find a solution. And so for 21 years, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (abbreviated as FYROM) has been used by countries and international institutions which do not recognize the constitutional name Republic of Macedonia.

Road to Prosilio Village, Kozani in Greece's West Macedonia region | © Nikos Koutoulas/Flickr

Both countries cite historical and territorial points to support their claims – and while their positions appear to be valid, it is clear that it would be in the interest of both parties to find a permanent solution.

In June 2016, Nikola Gruevski, the Macedonian Prime Minister, declared he was willing to reopen a dialogue on the issue with Greece as long as the name proposition be put to a referendum in Macedonia.

From the beginning, Greece has accused Macedonia of stealing aspects of Greek culture to build itself a national identity, including the sun symbol which adorns the Macedonian flag, as well as proclaiming ‘ownership’ of Alexander the Great, after whom the main Macedonian airport is named. The dispute drove Greece to block the accession of its neighbor to the EU and NATO. The various name propositions included adding “upper” or “new” to Macedonia’s formal description without success.

Alexander The Great | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr

The last series of UN-backed negotiations to find a solution took place in July 2014, when Matthew Nimetz, a veteran mediator in the talks, arrived in the region. He later admitted that both countries had not come with any proposals.

Despite positive signs towards a possible breakthrough in this long-standing issue, with Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias visiting Skopje in June 2015, followed by his counterpart Nikola Poposki returning the favor in December of the same year and again this year, the situation, as of 2016, seems to be at a standstill.

Dojran Lake on the Greek-Macedonian border | © Aleksandar Lazovski/Flickr

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