Macedonia: Name Change to Enter NATO, EU?

Ever since Macedonia became independent from Yugoslavia in 1991, its name has been the subject of a bitter dispute with its southern neighbor, Greece. Greece claims that the use of “Republic of Macedonia”, as Macedonia calls itself in its constitution, not only violates Greece's historic cultural claim to the name, but also implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of Macedonia.

Instead, Greece, and the U.N. by default, have continued to call Macedonia by the name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. As former B92 blogger Lucy Moore points out, “It’s an awfully long name for a tiny country, but you can call it FYROM for short”. To which she adds: “With Greece still hung up on a name from the third century B.C., Serbia's 1389 claim to Kosovo suddenly seems more reasonable”.

Do Not Fyrom Me
Photo by Tigertweet, used with permission.

Now the dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic could jeopardize its bid to join the EU and NATO, both of which Greece is a member. An invitation to join NATO is expected at the summit of the organization to be held in Bucharest in April, and after Kosovo's declaration of independence last month, Macedonian officials say the country (which has a sizable Albanian minority) needs membership in the security organization, and later in the European Union, to maintain stability.

However, Greece has threatened to veto Macedonia's membership bid if it does not change its current name (Republic of Macedonia). In addition to NATO, Macedonia is hoping to start accession negotiations with the EU in the fall, based on an EU progress report released last week. The only problem could be, again, its name. In the words of the EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, “If we can't settle this issue, I'm afraid it will have negative ramifications [for EU accession]”. Balkan Baby urges both sides to reach a compromise soon for maintaining stability in the region, with more flexibility on Greece's side:

Given the current instability which looms over the entire Balkan region, it seems highly irresponsible of the Greeks, as a relatively affluent country, to try and hinder the progress of Macedonia, a poor but democratically aspiring country which unlike Serbia wishes to bring itself closer to the West and encourages stability. Greek opposition is likely to infuriate Macedonian nationalists and this in turn could lead to a repeat of the bloody clashes that occurred in 2001 against the republic's Albanian minority. It seems that it is time for Greece to step down from its pedestal and start playing a more responsible and mature role in the region, something which for sometime it has tried to avoid as it promotes itself as a Mediterranean nation rather than being part of the Balkans. Out of defiance maybe Macedonia can ask for Greece to be forced to change its name to The Former Ottoman Hellenic Republic of Athens?

Dieneke's Anthropology Blog describes at great length the intricacies of the name issue, explaining why both sides have a right to the name:

The dispute centers around the issue of the use of the adjective “Macedonian”. This adjective has a geographical sense, describing someone who is from the geographical region of Macedonia. However, for the inhabitants of FYROM [Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia], it also has an ethnic sense, since many (or most) Slavic-speaking inhabitants of FYROM consider themselves to be Macedonian in an ethnic sense. […]
-The people of Greece are justified in wanting to deny exclusive rights to the Macedonian name to FYROM, because FYROM encompasses only part of Macedonia: geographically, the northern part; genetically, a subset of the Macedonian blood; linguistically, a Slavic dialect of the Macedonian region.
-The people of FYROM are justified in wanting to have some rights to the name Macedonian: they inhabit parts of Macedonia, they speak a Macedonian dialect of the Slavic group, and they have come to think of themselves as a separate nation from other Balkan Slavs.

Macedonia Greece
Demonstration in Thessaloniki for the name change of the Republic of Macedonia. Photo by Pappalicious, used under a Creative Commons license.

Both Macedonian and Greek bloggers feel very strongly about the name issue, which external observers like Greater Surbiton, find hard to understand:

…it may be difficult for a sane person to understand what is happening here: try to imagine the English fighting with the Welsh over whether Boadicea was ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’, or with the French over whether Richard the Lionheart was ‘English’ or ‘French’. Try to imagine the French fighting with the Germans over whether Charlemagne was ‘French’ or ‘German’. This is something that no mature, democratic nation would do. Yet in the twenty-first century, it is apparently possible for NATO expansion and Balkan stability to be jeopardized over something like this. In fact, the implications are even more dangerous: if Slavs are not allowed to share in the heritage of Alexander the Great, are British citizens of West Indian or Asian origin allowed to share in the heritage of Boadicea or Richard the Lionheart ? Are German Jews allowed to share in the heritage of Frederick Barbarossa, or Italian Jews in the heritage of Julius Caesar?

UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, who is tasked with helping Athens and Skopje find a solution to their 17-year-old dispute, has been busy since last month, negotiating the search for a name acceptable to both sides. He recently presented a set of 5 possible alternative names and has been meeting representatives of both countries. The proposed names were: Constitutional Republic of Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Macedonia, Independent Republic of Macedonia, New Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Upper Macedonia. The proposals were not very well received: a few Macedonian blogs circulated petitions against a name change, thousands of people protested in Macedonia, and there have been similar demonstrations in Thessaloniki, the capital of Macedonia in northern Greece.

The blog Say:Macedonia, whose author considers that “it is a basic human right to choose a name for yourself and to express your nationality,” comments on one of the most popular proposals amongst Greek media in an open letter to UN envoy Mathew Nimetz:

In relation to “Upper Macedonia”, while the Greek government has indicated its willingness to agree to this name (as the Greek media has reported in the last few days), it should be pointed out that this name is inconsistent with its official position. If an “Upper Macedonia” exists then logically there is also a “Lower Macedonia.” Therefore having this in mind, how can the Greek government argue, among other things, that the name “Republic of Macedonia” has irredentist claims on northern Greece, but the name “Upper Macedonia” would not?

Macedonia Ohrid
The Macedonian flag over the town of Ohrid
(Photo by rtw2007, used with permission

As NATO's summit in April is approaching, time is running out for a deal between Skopje and Athens to solve the 17-year-long dispute, so a few bloggers have made themselves useful by suggesting alternative solutions to the dispute. Here is Greek blogger's Eugenia Loli-Queru idea:

The solution is to make both countries, a single country. Call it “Macedonia and Greece”, or call it “Macedreece” or call it “Greedonia”, I don’t really care. The point is, these two cultures have MORE in common than they think they do. Ancient Macedonians were very similar in their culture and religion with the rest of Greece. It takes guts to merge two countries, but it has been done in the past, and it can be done again, peacefully. […]
My final argument is this: both cultures adore Great Alexander, and each one wants the hero to be their exclusive hero. And yet, all Great Alexander wanted for both, was a united Macedonia-Greece. By not having the wisdom to merge after 2,500 years, neither of you deserve him as its hero.

Other bloggers like Florian Bieber think that, following Macedonia's name proposals, generally republics should be required to add meaningful descriptive adjectives to their names:

“Smallish Republic of Montenegro” (SROCG)
“Kinda Democratic Republic of Serbia” (KDROS)
“Democratic Federal and Sometimes Confederal Republic of Three Equal Constituent People and Nobody Else of Bosnia and Herzegovina” (DFSCRTECPNEBH)

Now there's even a Facebook group where you can contribute to finding a solution for the dispute by suggesting a suitable adjective for Macedonia, which includes proposals like Post-Modern Republic of Macedonia (PoMoSoMa), The Not Even Remotely, Honestly not even a little bit, Hellenic Republic of Macedonia (NERHNELBHRM) or Ajvarska Republika Makedonija (ARM).


  • Andrew

    It’s simple…Greece is a member of the EU and NATO, “FYROM” is not. It’s ridiculous for FYROM to continue it’s stance on insisting to be called “Macedonia”. Any educated person knows the roots of Macedonia and Alexander the Great. It has always been Greek. If they want to be a part of NATO, quit insisting on a Greek name for this new nation. Good for Greece.

    -Annoyed American with this “name issue”

  • Anonymous

    Hi Elia,

    I liked you article. Very informative. You covered both points of view very diplomatically and professionally.
    I am Macedonian living in Canada and of course I have been following the recent (2 months) events regarding Macedonia’s NATO entry. I have to say that ethnicity and names aside Greece’s threat to veto Macedonia’s entry is nothing more than a bluff and if not that, then definitely “un-lawful”. The reason is the following: The Interim Accord that was signed between Greece and Macedonia says:
    “Upon entry into force of this Interim Accord, The Party of the First Part[Greece] agrees not to object to the application by or the membership of the Party of the Second Part[Macedonia] in international, multilateral and regional organizations and institutions of which the Party of the First Part is a member; however, the Party of the First Part reserves the right to object to any membership referred to above if and to the extent of the Party of the Second Part is to be referred to in such organization or institution differently than in paragraph 2 of the United Nations Security Council resolution 817 (1993)[which is by the name of former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia].”
    Here is the link:

    In essence, by vetoing Macedonia’s entry into NATO, Greece would be breaking the above mentioned agreement which was in fact established to “cool down” relations bilaterally and to create the necessary atmosphere to enter into negotiations regarding the “name dispute”. Breaking the agreement would not be the appropriate action for Greece at this moment, especially because it recently started getting harsh critics regarding its actions.

    Another reason why I don’t believe Greece will veto is because I read that there are unofficial reports that Turkey has threatened to put a veto on Croatia and Albania if Greece vetoes Macedonia’s entry. And this are again “unofficial”, and I stress unofficial because they might be false and/or any such dispute withing an international organization such as NATO would threaten its credibility.

    Well, I guess that’s all I have to say. I felt it was important to mention the Interim Accord because noone seems to mention this fact which I believe plays a very important role in the whole issue.

  • Hank

    This article failed to mention how the whole thing truly started and why Greece objects to FYROM calling themself Republic of Macedonia. First of all The Ancient Macedonia claim to be Greek, have Greek names, worship Greek Gods and speak Greek. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia(FYROM) used to be called Southern Serbian and then was change to Vardar Banovina and then in year 1949 change to The Peoples Republic Of Macedonia. FYROM speak a Bulgarian Language, have a slavic history which immigrated into Europe in the 6th century AD. Ancient Macedonia have a Greek history which has lasted for 4000 years. Today Greece have every right to object to FYROMs demands. The person that wrote this article need a history lesson.

  • Dan Asta

    I have no idea why people who have no knowledge of the issue feel compelled to weigh in and offer their insight by reducing it to the crudest level. And no, I’m not talking about the writer of the article, but basically about the likes of Lucy Moore or the person making Barbarossa jokes.

    I’ll try to make this as simple as I can why this is an issue for Greeks, but first I’d like to say that I do agree with the Macedonians that people should call themselves what they wish, in the final analysis. That being said, I don’t know why the Macedonians aren’t amenable to a name such as New Macedonia, given the fact that there are other Macedonias out there.

    Let’s be clear about one thing: this isn’t about the heritage of Alexander the Great. People outside the region do not seem to understand that many wars were fought over this chunk of land in he 20th century, beginning with the First Balkan War. At the time, Greek speakers comprised about 1/3rd of the population, Slav speakers another 1/3rd and Jew and Turks the rest. With the population exchanges of the 1910s and 1920s, the region was full with Greek refugees from the ex-Ottoman territories. Coupled with the annihilation of the Jews in the region in ww2 by the Nazis, the region began becoming more Greek in character much to the consternation of the Bulgarians and Macedonian Slavs.

    Ultimately,the region previously known by the adjective of Vardar in Yugoslavia was renamed Macedonia at precisely the exact time when Tito was supporting the communist rebels in the Greek Civil War. At the time, the US and much of Europe saw this as a clear attempt to redraw some of the losses from the Balkan wars. The Salv speakers in the entire Macedonian region sided with the Communists. In the midst of such a bloody war, and coming off losses of a million dead in WW2, this was a trying time in the entire Macedonian region. When the Royalists and Republicans won the war, many Slavs and also Greek speaking Communists (including 12 year old boys and girls conscripted into the Communist ranks) were purged from Greece. This was an ideological purge as much as it was an ethnic one, and really it was much more a Communist purge.

    It’s probably difficult for outsiders to understand that the name of the Republic of Macedonia is forever linked in the Greek historical consciousness to Tito’s attempt to takeover the Aegean part of the Macedonian region. When Macedonia was declared independent in 1992, they adopted symbols associated with the Aegean part (the White Tower of Salonica for instance) and so the old memories were reignited. I have no doubt that many nationalists and irredentists exist on both sides of the divide. That being said, I do agree that Macedonia presents a minimal threat to Greece for now, and it might well be ignored.

    Given the example of Kosovo, however, you never know how quickly you might fall out of favor and how small KLA-like trouble-makers can suddenly lead to a loss of land. hard to trust the EU given the example in Kosovo.

    The main reason why the name issue should be negotiated however is that in Greece, Macedonian describes an entire region to which many ethnic groups belong. Read Mark Mazower’s book “Salonica” to get a real sense of identity politics in the region. A univocal description of what it means to be Macedonian deprives others of this opportunity. In other words, Macedonians are not only Slavs from the Republic, but they are also many others. how would one advertise tourism in Greek Macedonia, for instance, when the ancient heritage of the region includes Phillip’s tomb and artifacts from Alexander’s time?

    That’s why I think New Macedonia would distinguish it from other parts of Macedonia pretty well. Think of how the Mexicans would take it if New Mexico suddenly changed its name to Mexico.

    As for the interim accord, there were codicils attached that nullified the agreement if the Republic of Macedonia undertook new provocations, and that’s what got the ball rolling again. Even the ex-Macedonian PM criticized then intentional naming of the airport as a form of unnecessary prodding of the Greek side.

    Ultimately, I don’t think that Greece is threatened in the immediate future by Macedonians sticking to their guns.

    I do think that some of the non-Slav Macedonian identity will be lost however if only one ethnic group is referred to univocally by the description. You can still be called Macedonians even if your country is known as New Macedonia.

  • Anita

    I want to just inform NATO, that the name issue is not the real problem between Macedonia and Greece. What is of most importance, that even if we change moderatelly the name, the problems will still be present and NATO will blow its head from Macedonian and Greeks problems after we enter into the organizations. greece current opresion towards Macedonians is that infact greece doesn’t want us to enter NATO at all. Because it has Macedonian minority in its country who is supposed to be recognized, and also it has property to return to the Macedonians which greece expeled after the greek civil war (45-48). So NATO do not undermine the real problems and be concentrated with the name. After all NATO is not Greece personal toy and all the countries now to be mobilized to press us to change the name. By the way with that pressure you re breaking the basic international laws in UN of interfering in national-self determination. If Greece has problems with its identity, we Macedonians do not have that kind of problem. After all if you allow Greece to put VETO on such a stupid matter, it is NATO’s problem, it is not Macedonia’s problem at all. We want to enter NATO free and with dignity like all the countries that are inside.

  • AleksandarMakedon

    NO NO NO for changing the name!NO NATO NO EU!!OUR name is not for SALE!!!!



      You mean your fake name!!!!!!!!!!!!! Macedonia is Greek and always will be!!! You are not a Macedonian!!! You are a Slavic Bulgarian!!!!! If you call yourself a Macedonian then you are calling yourself a Greek!!!! Your ancestors were Bulgarian!!!! There were no Ancient Macedonians. Those were Greeks!!!!!!!! Alexander The Great was born in Thessaloniki which is the capital of the original Macedonia!!!! Do your history!!!! Your Government are telling lies!!!!!!!!!!!! MACEDONIA IS IN THE MOTHERLAND OF GREECE!!!!!!!!

  • peter givens

    I am macedonian from the greek part of florina ( lerin)When i was in my own country we spoke only macedonian. I knew no greek . The greek language is totaly foren to me. Greece has adopted the macedonian history (highjact) as their own, and now they can not revers it it is a big problem for them. There were NO greeks in so caled northern greece prior to 1913,and they know it. I have one question for greece; if Alexander the great was greek ,does that mean Goce Delcev was greek? Was Jane Sandanski, Pitu Gule, Nicola Karev greek? Was the uprising of August 2 1903 the Krushevo Republic was this greek? The Macedonian history stoped on August 2 1913 the Bucharest unfair agreement thanks to president Woodrow Wilson, England and France who signed this agreement without regard to the vast majority of Macedonias living on its own teritory. Greece became a country in 1832, Macedonia existed and exists for three thousand eiht hundred years. NATOand EU should let Macedonia under its constitutionalname into these bodies for the security of the Balkans and to prove they are responsible bodies, stop vaselating same issue with no end to it. In 1867 i believe a British parlamenterian called for ” Macedonia for the Macedonians”.Todays call is the same.

    • Gabi

      1832? omg Have you ever studied ancient history?? Greece it the first sivilization in Europe from the encient years and Macedonia was the north part of it wake up…

  • Macedonia=Hellas

    It never ceases to amaze me with the depth of depravity and wanton disrespect to the Hellenic peoples and Hellas that is displayed on a global basis. How easily people become recalcitrant and antagonistic to a people that were it not for, would still see humanity swinging from the trees throwing their excrement at each other and cannibalising themselves in their wretched caves. To be blunt, the Hellenic peoples have stomached far too much prejudice, intolerance and injustice, suffered from campaigns of genocide and occupation and yet still have an identity; an identity that they did not usurp and do not need to given the richness of their own.

    Should one actually possess so little as a brain-stem and do some reading, they will find that Alexander the Great was Hellenic; I suggest reading Herodotus, Rufus and Arrian for a start, wherein he states clearly that is Hellenic and fighting for Hellas to avenge the insults of the Persians; not a Slav. Moreover, this so-called anti-Macedonian sentiment that my FYROManian friends try to utilise as an argument to justify the difference between the Ancient Macedonians and the other Ancient Hellenes is simply laughable given that at the time Hellas was a loose confederation of Hellenic states thereby any antagonism directed to any other people was primarily from the perspective of the Athenians who regarded other Hellenes as barbarians; so with that line of logic one could suggest that the Spartans (because te Athenians viewed them as barbarian) were not Hellenes and likewise the Thebans, Thessalians, Arcadians which would be absolutely ridiculous in the extreme. Yet, it is fascinating that a completely unrelated people, who have not one drop of Hellenic blood have tried to lay claim to an identity that is clearly not theirs amd never will be.

    In fact, should one delve further into history, you will find that the Slavic language did not possess an alphabet until two Hellenic monks by the names of Cyril and Methodius devised it for them much later. The simple truth of the matter is that Slavic people who inhabit FYROM are attempting to usurp Hellenic history given the lack of their own history. Moreover, should one talk about the so-called uprising of 1903 etc. you will find that the FYROManians were actually fighting under the auspices of Bulgaria and identify themselves as much; their leadership often referred to their Bulgarianness and the following url should dispel whatever mythical claims that FYROM have to the name Macedonia:

    I wish all who look at that happy reading. I imagine that will more than adequately sum up the evidence proving without any doubt the truth of the matter. Personally I blame Tito for fabricating this heinous myth of a Slavic Macedonia- an affront to human history.

    I conclude then by posing a challenge to my FYROManian friends: if they are correct in calling themselves Macedonina they should see no problem answering the following:

    What does the name Phillip mean?
    What does the name Alexander mean?
    And what is the sigificance of the 16 points on the Star of Vergina?

    Any Macedonian worth their salt would know the answer to these, just like I or another Hellene would. But then I propose a solution to the problem; FYROM is welcome to call itself Dardania, Paionia, Southern Serbia (as it was once known) or Vardarska or Vardar Banovina (as it was also known). I will even throw up the possibility of the Vardar Republic- because even FYROM was too big a compromise 17 years ago when these people did not come into that region until thousands of years after the Ancient Macedonians- refer to Kiro Gligorov’s remarks, these will further vindicate this point.

    And with that I urge people to stop the theft of Hellenic identity and show a little respect to the great philosophers and democratisers who launched people unto the path of logic and reason from base animality. Never did the Hellenic people try to usurp anybody’s cultural identity nor act with aggression unless in self-defence yet the wanton jealousy of the nations of the world mist come to an end. I personally have nothing against FYROM, some of my closest friends are descended from there, but the truth must come out and not be obscured by lies and propaganda.

  • Anita

    Republic of Macedonia as a country and the Macedonian nation has unconditional right to self-determination,and that MUST NOT BE put in any kind of “bargain” concerning EU and NATO bids. Has Greece and the two LEADERS of Democracy in the western world(EU,USA,therefore NATO) forgot the basis on which the post WW2 world was created?
    What about the UN Charter?UN convention for human rights?
    Let me remind all the readers of this blog, that this kind of attitude Greece shows MUST NOT BE tolerated, cause it breaks and disturbs the basic international laws and values built in our societies over the years,and stands as a burden on the genesis of the values on which our Democratic societies were built,and need to be developed in the future.

    UN Charter Chapter I(Article 1.2) citation: “# To develop friendly relations among nations based on RESPECT for the principle of EQUAL-RIGHTS and SELF-DETERMINATION of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;”

    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
    Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by
    General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966
    entry into force 23 March 1976, in accordance with Article 49″ citation
    “Part I-Article 1
    1. All PEOPLES have the RIGHT OF SELF-DETERMINATION. By virtue of that right THEY FREELY DETERMINE THEIR POLITICAL STATUS and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

    Greece and Republic of Macedonia has already signed an Interim Accord, which is still IN FORCE.

    -“Interim Accord between the Hellenic Republic and the Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia
    Article 11

    1. Upon entry into force of this Interim Accord, The Party of the First Part(Greece)agrees not to object to the application by or the membership of the Party of the Second Part(Republic of Macedonia) in INTERNATIONAL, MULTILATERAL and REGIONAL organizations and institutions of which the Party of the First Part is a member; however, the Party of the First Part reserves the right to object to any membership referred to above if and to the extent of the Party of the Second Part is to be referred to in such organization or institution differently than in paragraph 2(as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) of the United Nations Security Council resolution 817 (1993).”

    Which legal basis Greece has about this irrational bilateral issue with Republic of Macedonia, besides the hysteria, paranoia, and some undetermined historical claims that a nation(ancient Hellenes or Macedonians)can survive for 3000years,and be reborn as they were in 21st century as Modern Greeks??
    What about Byzantium?Ottoman empire, where people(including ethnic Greeks and ethnic Macedonians) lived without borders mixing eachother,on a biological, cultural,economic level???

    What will happen tot he International LAW if we allow this kind of situations continue to happen?
    “The Arguments are Force,but the Force its not an Argument itself” So Greece, please stop using the Force and Blackmail as valid argument, there is no place for it, in todays modern world of real values and well defined laws!

  • Anonymous

    A short response to Dan.

    I’m glad your point of view matches mine, however to answer your question as to why Macedonians aren’t amenable to a name such as New Macedonia. Historically speaking, yes there was a territorial region in the past known as Macedonia and yes they were a people known as the Macedonians. What is wrong to do at this point is to try and assign those past territories the institutional attributes that constitute today’s countries and societies. We are talking about tribes which were the vague start of institutions we today know as countries and governments.
    History and archeology shows there existed a people which called themselves Macedonians. I grant you there were people like the Spartans and other tribes from that era. Hellenization ( and I mean this from a cultural stand point) was present throughout this region. Yes, the Macedonians spoke Greek and worshiped Greek gods, but they also had a language distinguishable from the Greek as well as a culture of their own. So making the inference that the Macedonians were Greek or that they weren’t might be subjective in nature.

    To answer your question, regarding New Macedonia, it would imply to people that there is an old Macedonia or other Macedonia. I grant you there is a province in Greece called Macedonia, but that province was created only 3-4 years before Macedonia’s separation from Yugoslavia. On the other hand Macedonian people throughout centuries have cherished this name and fought and died over it. To simply say that this is something new is to say that what people had fought for was and is a lost cause.

    Another reason why Macedonia should not change the name or add adjectives to it is because it has the right to choose its own name. The only exception or rather problem that there would be is if there is another country with the same name. Anything else, or rather the issue with a situation such as this, would or should just be a marketing problem. What I mean is product advertisement. Is that product from the country, the province or the city. Example: Champagne. The drink and the region.

    And if we do change the name to New Macedonia, do you really think we could still be called Macedonians? Or would we have to refer to ourselves as
    1) the people from New Macedonia
    2) Newmacedonians
    There will have to always be a clarification as to which Macedonian people one is referring to, and the answer will always be present. New Macedonia. I would have to disagree with you on that point and say that this I consider unacceptable.

    As far as the Interim Accord goes, the clause is still present and the agreement is still viable and was affirmed in 2005.

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