UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Macedonia "Name Issue"

Macedonia's parliament approved a constitutional amendment that renames the country the Republic of North Macedonia. Eighty-one deputies in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor, securing the required two-thirds majority. Representatives of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE boycotted the vote that took place on 11 January 2019. The name change would help resolve a decades-long dispute with neighboring Greece -- opening the way for Skopje to join NATO and the European Union.

The office of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a statement that "the prime minister congratulated Mr. Zaev on the successful conclusion of the process to revise the constitution of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." Tsipras said earlier this week that Greece's parliament would also be asked to ratify the agreement by the end of the month. "Within 10 days, in any case as soon as the [Macedonian parliamentary vote] result is notified to us and if we see that everything is in order, we will vote [to approve] the Prespes agreement," he told Open TV.

On the 12th February 2019, following the entry into force of the Constitutional Amendments and of the Final Agreement, the new name and terminology used for the country, for all usages and purposes is as follows:

  • The official name of the country: “Republic of North Macedonia”; Short name: “North Macedonia”.
  • Nationality (citizenship): Macedonian/citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia.
  • Official language: “Macedonian language”.
  • Country codes: MK and MKD.
  • Adjective: “Macedonian” or “of North Macedonia”

Macedonian voters held a non-binding referendum 30 September 2018 on the proposed name change of their country to the Republic of North Macedonia. A number of Western politicians have visited Macedonia ahead of the referendum, calling on the country's population to opt for endorsing the deal. As many as 91.46% of the total number of voters (more than 609,000 people) cast their ballos in favor of an intergovernmental treaty with Greece on changing the Balkan nation’s name to North Macedonia, while 5.65% voted against.

The name agreement with Greece must be passed by Macedonian parliament with a two-thirds majority in order to become valid, and on Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev called on opposition members of parliament to support him. Failing this, he has threatened to call new elections in December. Government officials say they have 71 deputies ready to approve a constitutional amendment accepting the name change, short of the two-thirds majority, or 80 deputies, needed to amend the constitution.

According to experts, many Macedonians intended to boycott the vote. The voter turnout of fewer than 37% of registered voters rendered this referendum invalid according to the Macedonian constitution. This failure was a debacle for the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

The opposition, known as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization — Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (or VMRO-DPMN for short) was triumphant after the failed referendum. The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) – the leading voice for Macedonians outside of Macedonia – urged the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Zaev and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov. The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) is a leading international non-governmental organization promoting the interests and needs of Macedonians and Macedonian communities throughout world.

President Gjorge Ivanov's United Nations sharply criticized the Prespa Agreement for giving Greece unlimited power to meddle in Macedonia's internal affairs thereby putting Macedonia in a subordinate position to its southern neighbor. In direct contradiction to Prime Minister Zaev, President Ivanov denounced the agreement as a violation of fundamental human rights, stating he would not participate in the referendum.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama called on Albanians residing in Macedonia to support in a public vote the agreement on changing the ex-Yugoslav republic's name to the Republic of North Macedonia, which will pave the way for the country's membership of NATO and the European Union. "Sunday is a day when every Albanian should vote for a European Macedonia, a Macedonia of the next generation of Macedonians and Albanians as two peoples, which founded this country and represent different sides of the same coin," Rama said.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his government failed to mobilize the population sufficiently and convince them of the deal's benefits. Even if feared Russian influence was not proven in the referendum, anti-Western narratives were spreading.

Macedonia "Name Issue" - Background

The governments of Greece and Macedonia said 13 June 2018 they had agreed to change the name of Macedonia to "the Republic of North Macedonia," ending a decades-long dispute. Greece has been demanding for over 20 years that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia change its name. Greece said the name Macedonia is derived from the ancient kingdom of the same name that once flourished in the region.

The two governments had been discussing a new name since a pro-western government took office in Macedonia in 2017. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said his country would support Macedonia's bid to join the European Union and NATO if the country amended its constitution to change the name. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the time had come to make a decision for the sake of economic development and improving the lives of the people.

The focus now shifted to whether the governments of neighboring countries can win public support for the change. Some Greeks say any state name that includes Macedonia is unacceptable. Macedonia would hold a national referendum on the matter.

But Macedonian president Djorge Ivanov said Macedonia's possible future membership of the EU and NATO was not sufficient excuse to sign such a "bad agreement" with Greece under which the new name of his country would become Republic of North Macedonia.

The deal reached by the two countries' prime ministers was expected to be signed by their foreign ministers. After that, Macedonia's parliament would vote on it, and if it is approved, Ivanov's signature would be needed. If the president refuses to sign, the deal would return to parliament for another vote. Ivanov would have to sign off on the agreement if it passed a second time.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also faced opposition at home. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is the coalition partner in Tsipras' government, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote. This would leave the left-wing prime minister dependent on support from political opponents to ratify the deal in parliament.

The Greek dispute with its northern neighbor over its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, had been an important issue in Greek politics since 1992 and has inhibited the establishment of full diplomatic relations. Greece opposed the use of "Macedonia" by the government in Skopje, claiming that the term is intrinsically Greek and should not be used by a foreign country. Mediation efforts by the UN and the United States brokered an interim agreement whereby Greece recognized the country as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM) in September 1995 and lifted objections to its neighbor's membership in international organizations under that provisional name until the two countries could reach a mutually agreeable solution to the dispute.

Greece’s primary concern with the FYROM’s constitutional name is that, while it formally refers to the new, independent State lying within the borders of the former Yugoslav Republic, the term “Macedonia” is also a reference to a broader geographical region in Southeast Europe – a region that includes substantial territory and population within Greece and other States. The use of one and the same name to denote both a broad geographical region in the Balkans and a newly independent State that occupies little over a third of that region inevitably creates confusion and even a sense of historical “injustice”. It is the Greek position that the FYROM’s constitutional name involves a form of irredentist propaganda threatening to Greece and other States in the region. Because the above constitutional name conveys the impression of a “lost” Macedonian homeland that rightfully belongs to all “Macedonians,” its appropriation by the FYROM’s authorities and their long-term campaign to entrench its use by others amounts to incitement in a region in which questions of borders, languages and the identity of peoples have repeatedly given rise to strife.

At NATO's Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO Allies agreed that an invitation to the Republic of Macedonia would be extended as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue is reached. The Republic of Macedonia's EU accession path has been affected as well: on December 8, 2009, absent a consensus, the EU Council of foreign ministers delayed a decision on opening accession talks with the Republic of Macedonia. Talks on the name question continue under UN auspices.

The Republic of Macedonia was provisionally referred to for all purposes within the United Nations as 'the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia' in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 817 of 1993. Macedonia under the Constitutional name Republic of Macedonia has been recognized by 125 countries. Following the Republic of Macedonia's declaration of independence on 8 September 1991,the Republic of Greece imposed the question of the Republic of Macedonia's constitutionalname. Greece links the name issue to two aspects - a security-related one, and a cultural-historical one.

Within the context of the Yugoslav crisis and the Hague Conference on Yugoslavia, the European Community Council adopted the Guidelines on the Recognition ofNew States and the Declaration on Yugoslavia on 16 December 1991. Upon the insistenceof the Greek minister of foreign affairs, Andonis Samaras, the European Community Council came out with three conditions for the Republic of Macedonia: to adopt constitutional and political guarantees that would ensure it has no territorial claims towards its neighboring Community state, that it will not spread hostile propaganda against the neighboring Community state, and that it would not use a name that would imply territorial pretensions.

At the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992, the Republic of Macedonia adopted constitutional amendments whereby it explicitly acknowledged that it did not have any territorial pretensions towards its neighbors, and that it would not interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring countries (in the context of the constitutional obligation to look aftere status of the Macedonian minority in the neighboring states).

On 16 February 1994, following a special session, the Greek government introduced a tradeembargo against the Republic of Macedonia5, explaining that it was imposing it due to Greece's continuous calls for the Republic of Macedonia to stop using the name'Macedonia', to remove the Vergina Sun from its flag and to end its hostile propaganda andterritorial claims. Consequently, the Interim Accord was signed on 13 September 1995, fully reflecting Greece's interests.

For the past 15 years Greece has participated in UN-led negotiations on the issue of the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece has participated in good faith. Regrettably, no substantive or tangible progress has been made so far. Macedonia's European and Euro-Atlantic future presupposes a resolution of the name issue. Greece has made clear, by its actions and subsequent statements, that the sole reason for its objection to Macedonia's membership of NATO was the difference between the Parties as to the Macedonia's constitutional name. Greece has also made clear that it will continue to object to Macedonia's NATO membership, and prevent it from proceeding, until that difference is resolved permanently to its satisfaction. Greece has also made clear that it will object, on the same grounds, to Macedonia's application to join the European Union. The Greek position is unambiguous.

In mid-July 2009, the Republic of Macedonia filed its Memorial at the International Court of Justice, in the case that it brought against Greece in November 2008 for violating the 1995 Interim Bilateral Agreement by putting a veto to Macedonia's NATO invitation at the 2008 Bucharest summit. Macedonia filed a lawsuit against Greece in the Hague court for blocking its NATO entry.

Negotiations were supposed to include a more encompassing and general plan for improvement of the relations of both countries. Namely, the plan should include five elements: (1) Macedonia will change its constitutional name to Northern Macedonia ("The Republic of North Macedonia"); (2) Macedonia will be granted a transition period to amend its constitution and to alter its registered name with various international and multilateral institutions; (3) Macedonia will be issued an invitation to join NATO; (4) Both countries will be allowed to use the adjective "Macedonian" (both commercially and non-commercially); (5) The parties will renounce any and all claims to each other's territory.

The suggested Plan is conditioned on Macedonia's acceptance of the constitutional name "Republic of North Macedonia" (or a variant thereof) and on a withdrawal of its lawsuit in the International Court of Justice. The package generally would consist of the following elements: Greece financially and politically to support Macedonia's involvement in various, specified transportation projects ("corridors"); Greece to extend oil pipelines into Macedonian territory; Greece to provide Macedonia with capital (in the form of low-interest loans) to match European Union regional and other pre-accession funds and pressure Brussels to speed up the release of such allocations; Greece to guarantee the energy needs of Macedonia and will allow it to withdraw crude oil and liquid gas from Greece's own reserves in case of emergency; Greece to sign with Macedonia an emergency standby electricity supply (grid) facility; Greece to establish a "North Macedonia Investment Fund" with between 100 and 140 million EUR.

On December 5th, 2011 Greece was rebuked by the U.N.'s high court for blocking Macedonia's bid to join NATO in 2008 over the long-running dispute by the former Yugoslav republic's use of the name “Macedonia.” The ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague did not settle the dispute but added weight to the Skopje government's charge that Greece's veto of its attempt to join both NATO and the European Union was unfair. Macedonia hailed the decision and expressed the hope that Greece would take steps to resolve the matter. Athens sees the use of the name Macedonia as laying future territorial claims to its own northern province of Macedonia. The dispute finds its current roots to the 1991 break up of Yugoslavia but actually dates back to the times of Alexander the Great when the territory called Macedonia included the current territory of the two nations. Tensions were raised between Greece and Macedonia in September 2011 when a giant statue of the ancient warrior king was unveiled in Skopje. Both nations claim him as part of their heritage.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 29-05-2019 18:52:35 ZULU