After an astonishing 27 years at odds, in June, Macedonia and Greece reached a dramatic breakthrough in negotiations over what’s known as the Macedonia naming dispute. The dispute was, yes, over the former Yugoslavian nation’s name — but over much more as well, as we’ll see below. And after all that time, the June agreement solved the dispute simply: by renaming Macedonia as the “Republic of North Macedonia.”
What was at stake here — and why did resolving it take nearly three decades? Examining the long and complicated process can teach us a few practical lessons about international mediation.
A brief history of the naming dispute
In 1991, Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia and wrote into its constitution that its name was the Republic of Macedonia. The new nation’s southern neighbor, Greece, immediately opposed this, arguing that it implied territorial claims over Greece’s northern region — also called Macedonia.
That geographical claim has some history. Since the region was divided during the Ottoman Empire’s dissolution, various partisans have attempted to reunite broader Macedonia, which includes the present-day nation, northern Greece and southwestern Bulgaria.
But underlying this territorial dispute was one over which nation could claim the ancient Macedonian kingdom — birthplace and homeland of Alexander the Great — as its national heritage.
For almost three decades, neither side would budge from its core demands.
Greece demanded that “Macedonia” must not appear anywhere in the new nation’s name and insisted that its constitution be changed to eliminate that word as well. Macedonia was willing to take a different name for international use but refused to change its constitution.
At times, the standoff threatened the stability of the Balkans. In the 1990s, Greece blocked Macedonian attempts to join the United Nations and imposed an economic embargo. In 2008, Greece vetoed Macedonian membership in NATO, citing the stalemate over Macedonia’s name. A year later, Greece blocked Macedonia’s bid for E.U. membership.
Twice, the countries relaxed tensions slightly, but without reaching a real solution. In 1993, Macedonia agreed to use the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in return for U.N. membership. And in 1995, in an interim agreement, Macedonia agreed to change its flag and confirmed that it had no territorial ambitions over the Greek province of Macedonia. In return, Greece promised not to block Macedonian attempts to join international organizations.
But agreement over the name remained elusive — which blocked Macedonia’s membership in the European Union and NATO, despite accession support from both these institutions. The European Union and NATO fear that leaving Macedonia out might bolster Russia, which has engaged in activities aimed at preventing Balkan countries from joining NATO and succumbing to Western influence.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/08/02/after-27-years-greece-and-macedonia-have-resolved-the-contentious-naming-dispute-heres-how/?utm_term=.9fe3c5e6087a