The Macedonia name dispute: Will it ever be solved? Vlatko Perkovski/Idependent.mk
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Athens

The breakup of Yugoslavia during the 1990s created instability, uncertainty, nationalistic tensions, conflict and a drastic change of borders in the Balkans. Countries became independent and new states were formed; the constitutional name ‘Republic of Macedonia (Република Македонија)’ or the United Nations provisional name‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ (F.Y.R.O.M), a new state that gained its independence from being a Yugoslav unit ‘Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ in 1991, reignited an existing dispute dating back to the Balkan Wars, regarding the Slav-speakers in the greater region of Macedonia with Greece. Since F.Y.R.O.M gained its independence there has been an ongoing name dispute in bilateral and international relations regarding the usage of the name “Macedonia”.

The dispute has escalated to the highest level of international mediation, involving numerous attempts to achieve a resolution. In 1995, the two countries formalized bilateral relations and committed to start negotiations on the naming issue, under the auspices of the United Nations. Until a solution is found, the provisional reference "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" F.Y.R.O.M is used by international organizations and states which do not recognize translations of the constitutional name Republic 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.

Despite the name dispute with Greece, F.Y.R.O.M faces a very serious internal existential crisis. Following the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski the country is facing a long-running political crisis that has divided the country, entering a new and more dangerous phase that has had a dramatic turn for the worse, transforming a crisis of corruption and governance into a crisis of state. Early parliamentary elections were held on 11 December 2016, as part of an agreement brokered by theEuropean Union to end the protests against the government of Nikola Gruevski. The demonstrations were sparked by the wiretapping scandal involving high ranking politicians and security personnel. From 20 October 2015, a transitional government was installed including the two main parties, VMRO-DPMNE and the Social Democratic Union(SDSM). A new special prosecutor was appointed to investigate Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and government ministers. According to the Przino Agreement signed in mid-December 2015, Gruevski was required to resign as Prime Minister 120 days before the elections. However, neither VMRO-DPMNE nor the SDSM won enough seats to form a government, even with the main Albanian party (DUI) which lost much of its support because of its long association with VMRO-DPMNE. Instead the balance of power was held between two new Albanians parties, Besa and the Alliance for Albanians which campaigned on a platform of enhanced rights for Albanians in what they argued was a state run primarily in the interests of the Ethnic Slavic Macedonian majority. President Gjorge Ivanov refused to give a governing mandate to a diverse coalition of political parties whose state objective is a stronger status for the large Albanian minority. Temporally or perhaps permanently the Albanians have been shut out of the political process with potentially serious consequences. Unable to form a government without the help of Besa and the Alliance for Albanians, the main Albanian party turned for help to Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama who summoned the leaders of various Albanian parties to a summit in Tirana. What emerged from the summit was a joint delectation which set out their conditions for entry into government with either VMRO-DPMNE or SDSM. The declaration demanded that F.Y.R.O.M would be redefined as a binational state comprised of Ethnic Slav Macedonians and Albanians, rather than Slav Macedonian Nation-State with an Albanian Minority. Also the declaration demanded the official use of the Albanian language everywhere in the country, not just in the Albanian majority areas, revision of the flag, anthem state symbols, Albanians involvement in a resolution of the dispute over Macedonia’s name with Greece, implying also abandoning the name Macedonia. Ethnic Slav Macedonians would never accept those demands, negotiations have failed and any attempt of discussion and problem solving with the Albanian minority is far and very dangerous for the stability of the country.

The region of Macedonia is very historical, very well known for its ancient history as a Greek Kingdom. The modern geography of Macedonia formed by the Ottomans when the Balkans were part of the Ottoman Empire, relies between Greece, Bulgaria, F.Y.R.O.M, however the geography of the ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedonia mostly relies within the borders of the Macedonia region which belongs to Greece(Greek Macedonia). The first steps of the name dispute begin because Greece claims that due to historical, cultural and geographical reasons Macedonia belongs to Greek national history and cultural identity and that its neighboring country has no right to use the name Macedonia. They therefore consider that only Greeks have a historical right to use the name today, since the modern southernSlavsarrived in the Balkans 1,000 years later, lacking any relation to ancient Macedonia or its Greek culture. Efforts by “ethnic Slav-Macedonians” to construct a narrative of ethnic continuity linking them to the ancient Macedonians in various ways and symbolic actions underlining such claims, such as the public use of theVergina sunsymbol as their national flag or the renaming ofSkopje Airportto "Alexander the Great Airport" meet strong criticism from the Greek side. Millions of Greeks identify themselves asMacedonians, unrelated to the Slavic people who are associated with the F.Y.R.O.M. The question is does F.Y.R.O.M have the right to use the name based on geography? It is very highly debated. Based on how the Ottoman Turks formed the geography of Macedonia, we could say yes, but based on the historical geography of ancient Macedonia, and then we could say no. The Greek view also stresses that the name Macedonia as a geographical term historically used to refer typically to the southern, Greek parts of the region (including the capital of the ancient kingdom,Pella), and not or only marginally to the territory of modern F.Y.R.O.M. They also claim that the territory was not called Macedonia as a political entity until 1944, but ‘Vardar Banovina’ within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Greece opposes the use of the name "Macedonia" by the F.Y.R.O.M without a geographical qualifier such as "Northern Macedonia" for useby all and for all purposes. Greece further objects to the use of the term "Macedonian" for the neighboring country's largestethnic groupand itslanguage. F.Y.R.O.M is accused of promoting theirredentistconcept of aUnited Macedonia, which involves territorial claims onGreece,Bulgaria,Albania, andSerbia. Many historians emphasize the late emergence of a "Macedonian" nation, often pointing to 1944 as the date of its creation underJosip Broz Tito, discounting earlier Slavic roots in the 19th and early 20th century.

During theGreek Civil War 1947-49, the Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito created and first usedthe "new term, Aegean Macedonia", (also "Pirin Macedonia"), was introduced by Yugoslavs which this indicates that this was part of the Yugoslav offensive against Greece, laying claim to Greek Macedonia. Tito's wartime representative to Macedonia, General Tempo (Svetozar Vukmanovic), is credited with promoting the usage of the new regional names of the Macedonian region for irredentist purposes. Concerns over territorial implications of the usage of the term "Macedonia" were expressed as early as 1944. Greece suspects that the F.Y.R.O.M hasterritorial ambitionsin the northernGreek province of Macedonia. This has been a Greek concern for decades as far back as 1957, the Greek government expressed concern about reported Yugoslav ambitions to create an "independent" People's Republic of Macedonia with the Greek city of Thessaloniki as its capital, ambitions that now exist amongst citizens of the F.Y.R.O.M. Loring M. Danforthascribes the goal of a "free, united, and independent Macedonia" including "liberated" Bulgarian and Greek territory to a fraction of extreme ethnic ‘Slav Macedonian’ nationalists, whereas more moderate ethnic ‘Slav Macedonians’ recognize that borders will not change but regard the presence of ethnic ‘Slav Macedonians’ in the neighboring countries as an issue of minority protection. Greek analysts and politicians have expressed concerns that globally the dispute is underestimated on its seriousness regarding the territorial threat and tend to misunderstand the conflict as a minor issue over just a name. The concerns are growing by the fact that extremist ethnic ‘Slav Macedonian’ nationalists of the "United Macedonia" movement have expressed irredentist claims to what they refer to as "Aegean Macedonia".

The naming issue has not yet been resolved after so many years considering its complexity since it’s not only regarding the name itself but various disputes behind the name. At the moment but it has effectively reached a stalemate. Various names had been proposed over the years, for example a double name: "New Macedonia", “North Macedonia”, "Upper Macedonia", "Slavo-Macedonia", "Nova Makedonija", "Macedonia (Skopje)" and so on, that would both incorporate the name “Macedonia” based on geographical purposes to satisfy the demand of F.Y.R.O.M but also to differentiate and separate the given name from its Greek historical heritage to keep the Greek side satisfied. However, these proposals had failed because the initial Greek position is that no permanent name incorporating the term "Macedonia" is acceptable. Greece had counter-proposed the names "Vardar Republic" or "Republic of Skopje", but the government and opposition parties in F.Y.R.O.M had consistently rejected any solution that eliminates the term "Macedonia" from the country's name. Following these developments, Greece has gradually revised its position and has accepted of a composite appellation, with a geographical qualifier,erga omnes(the incorporation of the term "Macedonia" in the name, but with the use of a disambiguating name specification, for international and intergovernmental use). The name “Macedonia” itself is not the major problem, the problem begins with what it represents historically. The only way for this to be resolved is with radical rhetoric to be down, a double name to be agreed that would clearly be based on geographical purposes that would separate and differentiate F.Y.R.O.M from the Greek historical heritage of Macedonia in order to avoid historical forgery.