After more than 25 years, Athens and Skopje have reached a historic compromise on the name dispute between the two countries. The agreement implies substantial concessions and multiple benefits for both.

In the case of Greece, the mutually agreed name North Macedonia, to be used for all purposes, erga omnes (Article 1, Paragraph 8), is the best solution that could have been achieved.

North Macedonia is a simple and short name. Combined with the fact that the rest of the world is familiar with such a geographical qualifier (e.g. South Africa, East Timor, South/North Korea, etc), this suggests that the new name stands a very good chance of prevailing in every day usage against the existing constitutional name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

In this way, Greece succeed in changing the present status quo established over the past few decades, in which virtually all countries around the world have recognized – either officially or unofficially – Greece’s northern neighbor as the “Republic of Macedonia,” while ordinary people refer to the former Yugoslav republic as “Macedonia” at every opportunity.

In addition, the new name is distinctive in that it makes absolutely clear that one refers to a country whose territory comprises only a northern part of the wider geographical area of Macedonia. This allows the Greek Macedonian identity and rich cultural heritage to assert itself.

None of the remaining four proposals put forward by UN mediator Matthew Nimitz combines the above characteristics.[i] For example, the qualifying term “Upper” in “Upper Macedonia” lacks widespread use internationally. Also, a chronological qualifier, such as the one in “New Macedonia” was problematic in the first place because it does not automatically imply the concurrent existence of another region that shares a similar name – the Greek region of Macedonia.

Positive aspects of the agreement include certain constitutional amendments by FYROM to eliminate references that could constitute a basis for interference and irredentism (Article 4, Para. 3), as well as the provision that FYROM shall not use again in any way and form the ancient Greek symbol known as the Sun of Vergina, which was formerly displayed on its national flag (Article 8, Paragraph 3).

On the other hand, negative aspects of the agreement foremost include the recognition of a “Macedonian” nationality and language, even if this comes with an explanation that the term “Macedonian,” when used as an ethnic term of Slavic people within FYROM, is completely unrelated to the ancient Greek Macedonia and the cultural heritage of Greece (Article 7).

This development has understandably caused a lot of frustration among the Greek people.[ii]

The present compromise with FYROM, while making concessions on issues relating to ethnicity and language, is going to improve substantially the existing international status quo vis-a-vis Greece, as this has been established over the past few decades.

Considering the public outrage sparked in FYROM following the announcement of the agreement, we believe that such scenario is highly unlikely. For example, President Gjorge Ivanov, as well as the main opposition party and a significant portion of FYROM’s people, have accused their government of high treason. Letting another decade or two go by without reaching a compromise on the name dispute, will encourage “Macedonian nationalism” even further. This was going make the prospects of ever reaching some agreement between the two countries bleak. In the meantime, the rest of the world will continue referring to the country simply as “Macedonia.”

Opposing the deal may be the least risky and seemingly more “patriotic” stance that political parties and community leaders could adopt. However, if they are truly committed to serving our nation’s best interests, now is the perfect time to ignore the temptation to make decisions influenced by short-term political and/or private gains.

The compromise – interesting but not unique

This can in no way be considered as a precedent in international law or international relations.[iii]   Cambodia has changed its name several times. Between 1953 and 1970, the country was renamed the Kingdom of Cambodia and then Khmer Republic till 1975. Under the communist rule from 1975 to 1979, it was referred to as Democratic Kampuchea. Under the UN transition authority from 1989 to 1993, it became the State of Cambodia. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1993, it was renamed the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Originally called Burma, the ruling military junta changed its name to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising. The change was recognised by the United Nations, and by countries such as France and Japan, but not by the United States and the UK.

Amid the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, Czechoslovakia divided into two different countries in 1993 — Slovakia and Czech Republic. And now, the latter country wants to be known as Czechia to make it easier for companies and sports teams to use it on products. The country will retain its full name but Czechia will become the official short geographic name, as France is to The French Republic.

To celebrate his 50th birthday, the king of Swaziland, a tiny country in Africa, changed the name of his country to Kingdom of eSwatini. King Mswati III had long complained that people outside of Africa confused his country with Switzerland. He also noted that the name change is intended to shed vestiges of the country’s colonial past. The new name means ‘The people of Swatini’.

The Central African country has undergone several name changes, right from the 1800s to the 1970s. Under the brutal rule of King Leopold II of Belgium, the country was knows as the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908. Subsequently, it became the Belgian Congo, then Congo-Leopoldville, and after its independence in 1960, the Republic of Congo. In 1971, under the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, it became the Republic of Zaire, since Zaire was an alternative name for the Congo River. After the fall of Mobutu, it was changed back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997.

Opposition from inside and outside

The ink on the Macedonia-Greece name deal is not yet dry but nationalists in both Skopje and Athens are attempting to undermine it. That was always going to be the case, and one assumes that both Macedonia’s Zoran Zaev and Greece’s Alexis Tsipras have done their due diligence in ensuring that they have the votes at home to make “the Republic of North Macedonia” – and its path towards NATO and EU membership – a reality.

While the outcome of this entire endeavor is still an open question, it is worth assessing the broader regional ramifications of a potential resolution to the Macedonian “name issue”. Contrary to the celebratory mood in Brussels, many leaders in the Western Balkans are not pleased at this turn of events. To understand why this is so, it necessary to reflect on how we arrived here and where the region may or may not turn if these negotiations end successfully.

The triumph of Zaev’s reign was a direct result of the “Colourful Revolution” – the month-long protests by Macedonian citizens against the authoritarian regime of Nikola Gruevski.[iv] These were the days of mass protests on the streets that forced European and American intermediaries to intervene in the country, especially after the revelations about the wiretapping scandal. It was the Macedonian citizens who forced Gruevski to resign and brought about the victory of Zaev’s Social Democratic Union in the ensuing elections.

Zaev and his associates should be commended for meeting the expectations of the Macedonian electorate and for getting Athens to finally abandon its long-standing policy to hinder the Euro-Atlantic progress of Skopje.

But this breakthrough would not have happened without the ordinary Macedonians’ revolutionary desire for genuine democracy, which they readily materialized both on the streets and at the ballot box.

The revolutionary spirit, however, has also been haunting the corridors of power in Belgrade, Podgorica, Sarajevo and Banja Luka.[v] The established non-liberal regimes in the Balkans, which have managed to peel away all material democratic dimensions of the electoral process and its ability to actually cause any changes, are apprehensive of the ongoing precedent being set by Macedonia.

Meanwhile, the region’s electorates have acquired two important ingredients they had been lacking in the last three decades: hope and plans for a change.

Just as Russia’s Vladimir Putin feared that the Ukrainian protests in Kiev could inspire any Russians fed up with his regime’s kleptocratic and authoritarian tendencies, so is Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić fearful of the course of events in Macedonia. Having spent years alongside its Kremlin allies supporting the Gruevski regime, the Vučić administration withdrew decisively in August 2017 the entire staff of the Serbian Embassy in Skopje in order to undermine the incoming SDSM-led government. Belgrade’s claims that it acted in response to Skopje’s joining the diplomatic efforts to secure Kosovo membership of UNESCO, were too loose to hold water. Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska  – one of the two constitutional and legal entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, hastened to announce that his government wanted to avoid a repetition of the “Macedonian scenario” in his own country.[vi] The deal to rename Macedonia has also come under another threat after Austria revealed plans that could effectively torpedo the hard-won agreement as it bids to prevent Turkey joining the EU, in the latest sign of deep divisions in a bloc split by dissent on migration.[vii] The Turkish accession negotiations, begun 13 years ago, have so far failed to bring Ankara closer to membership, and the odds have lately become even bleaker.

Whither now?

Greece has been in dispute with Macedonia since 1991, arguing its name could imply territorial claims over the Greek province of Macedonia and an appropriation of ancient Greek culture and civilisation. Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, but more than 120 countries, including Russia and the United States, have recognized the Balkan country under the name “Republic of Macedonia”.

Federica Mogherini welcomed unequivocally the deal and stressed its importance for the European Union and the unstable Balkan region:

“It is indeed a historic day.  I hope and I believe this will be a source of inspiration for many in the region to take bold, brave, courageous steps,

So even if the referendum approves the proposed change of name, Macedonia will still face years of negotiations before it is accepted into the EU. Before Greece even brings the pact to its own parliament for ratification, Skopje will have to make, among other things, more than 150 changes to its constitution – a task full of challenges for Zaev who, like Tsipras, faces significant opposition from the nationalists.

Changing hearts and minds on an issue that is related to identity – ethnic, cultural and linguistic – as well as national pride, will be paramount in preparing for the referendum, which Zaev wants to hold not later than in the coming September. According to some polls, about 45 percent of the Macedonians are willing to sacrifice NATO and EU membership in order to preserve the name of Macedonia, but nine out of ten ethnic Albanians – who make up more than a quarter of the country’s population of 2.1 million – will not do so. This bodes for many months of tense political maneuvering in search of the so delicate a balance, which is has traditionally been hard to find in the region.

[i] The Week, Republic of North Macedonia born amid mass protests, available at

[ii] Safaridis, Vasilis, Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies, Yes to North Macedonia, available at

[iii] The Economic Times, Altered Atlas: Macedonia And Other Countries That Changed Their Names, available at

[iv] Radio Free Europe, Skopje Protests Greet ‘Historic’ Macedonia Name Deal With Greece, available at

[v] Mujanovic, Jasmin , Macedonia’s Precedent Frightens Illiberal Balkan Regimes, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, available at

[vi] Ibid.

[vii]The Telegraph, Austria threatens Macedonia name deal as EU divisions on migration widen , available at