The Macedonian Name Change
On 11 January 2019 Macedonia’s parliament passed a decisive law amending the constitution and changing the country’s name.
The country will now become the Republic of North Macedonia once Greece has ratified the agreement.
This change comes after a 27-year-old dispute with Greece over the national identity attributed to the name ‘Macedonia’ which has been an ongoing issue, preventing the accession of Macedonia to the European Union and NATO.
Both countries met half way and agreed on a deal, forming the new name in June 2018.
The agreement is related to the Macedonian referendum held on the 30 September 2018, where voters were asked if they supported EU and NATO membership on the condition that the country will take on a modified name.
81 out of the 120 in parliament voted in favour of the name change despite opposition from VMRO-DPMNE who challenged the agreement with Greece and boycotted the vote.
Many voted in favour primarily in order to gain access to EU and NATO membership as, in the past, Greece has blocked Macedonia’s attempts to join both organisations as a result of its name.
The History behind the name.
The former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, commonly referred to as Macedonia, resides in the Balkan region of South-eastern Europe. It has a population of 2 million and has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005.
Greece also has a region called Macedonia and claims that the name Macedonia, outside of Greek territory, implies territorial aspirations over their Grecian Macedonia region and that the country is appropriating their history.
To fully understand the controversy behind the name Macedonia a look back in history will clarify the issue. In ancient times the Kingdom of Macedon geographically corresponds to the Greek region of Macedonia, thus making the Macedonians a Greek tribe.
Later, under the Roman and Byzantine Empire, a larger Macedonian region was implemented in Balkan territory for centuries. The next few centuries saw territorial rule shift between Byzantine, Serbian and Bulgarian rule until the 14th century when the Ottoman Empire ruled the entire Balkan lands.
By 1918 the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was established, following the First World War. At the time Macedonia was known as the Vardar Banovina, named after the Vardar river.
In world war II the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was re-established as a socialist federation made up of six constituent countries, including the people’s republic of Macedonia.
During the break-up of the Yugoslavian Kingdom, the Republic of Macedonia declared its independence in 1991, being the only country to leave on peaceful terms unlike other countries involved in the Yugoslav wars.
With the fall of communism and subsequent break-up of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Macedonia faced a massive identity crisis with its neighbouring countries. Not only did Greece contest its name and flag symbol, but Bulgaria challenged its language and national identity, and Serbia its religious inclination.
Macedonian independence therefore marks the beginning of the dispute with Greece as the nation not only took issue with the name ‘Macedonia’, but also the country’s flag with its Vergina sun, a symbol from the Greek Macedon Kingdom also found in ancient Greek artefacts.
The Greek city-states were formed under Philip II and later Alexander the Great through which Greek reign across much of Europe was established.
Post name change.
Not all parties were happy about the agreed name change however and Greece’s defence minister, Panos Kammenos, resigned as a result. For most Greeks, Macedonia is the name of their history-rich northern province made famous by Alexander the Great's conquests.
The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras survived a confidence vote that was called after the nationalist coalition partner (Kammenos) quit the government over the deal to rename Macedonia.
The official count has shown that a total of 151 lawmakers supported Tsipras' government out of 299 present, including several independent MPs.
The PM now faces an immediate challenge to push the controversial name deal through parliament, which has sparked protests in both countries.
Looking to the future, both countries will have to come to a place of mutual agreement where both national identity of Macedonians and the historical national pride of the Greeks is respected. However the possibility of this happening in light of the almost three-decade long dispute is unknown.