Eastern Europe has always been a contentious region throughout its history. Ottomans, Byzantine, Slavs, Eastern Roman Empire, Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, this region has a rich history and always had conflicts and disputes; and the way the current geopolitics is, it’s not gonna be over anytime soon.
The dispute between North Macedonia and its neighbour Greece is one of many in the region. But first some background.
North Macedonia, officially the Republic of North Macedonia, is a country located in the Balkans Peninsula. With its capital at Skopje, North Macedonia is a landlocked country and a part of the larger geographical region of Macedonia. North Macedonia is surrounded by Kosovo to the northwest, Serbia to its northeast, Bulgaria on the east, Albania to the west, and Greece to the south.
North Macedonia came into existence in September 1991, then known as Republic of Macedonia, after the breakup of Social Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, becoming the only nation in former Yugoslav Republic to gain independence without any violence which couldn’t be said about other states which got embroiled in a bloody civil war., termed as Yugoslav War.
Greece was quick to dispute the use of the term ‘Macedonia’ as Greece as has a sizeable territory in the north similarly named ‘Macedonia’, citing this usage as irredentist of the Republic of Macedonia. The Greek also took issue with the use of ‘Vergina Sun’ in the Macedonian flag(see fig below) citing,
“The Vergina Sun, the emblem of Philip’s dynasty, symbolises the birth of our nation. It was the first time(4th century BC) that the Greek mainland(city-states and kingdoms) with the same language, culture, and religion were united against the enemies of Asia in one league. At the same time the fractured Greek world grew conscious of its unity. And, in this sense, we have never been apart since then. The ‘Sun’ was excavated in Greece in 1978, and it is sacred to us.”
The Greek opposition delayed Macedonia’s effort to join the UN, recognition by EC, and other international organisations. They were later admitted to the UN under the name Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia(FYROM). In 1994, Greek imposed a trade embargo on its northern neighbour which was a crippling blow to their economy.
Under immense diplomatic both countries eventually formalised bilateral relations in an interim accord signed on September 13, 1995. One of its conditions was for Republic to Macedonia to remove Vergina Sun from its flag and amend its constitution to state having no aspirations on Greek territories, and Greek won’t object any application by Macedonia under the name FYROM. Both parties decided to negotiate a suitable name under an UN-appointed mediator.
After two decades of off and on negotiations, Prespa Agreement was signed on June 17, 2018, replacing the Interim Accord signed in 1995, changing the official name to the Republic of North Macedonia.
On July 5, 2018, Macedonian Parliament ratified the Prespa Agreement.
On Jan 11, 2019, the name of the Republic of North Macedonia was formally adopted.
On 25 January 2019, Greece’s Parliament approved the Prespa agreement with 153 votes in favour and 146 votes against.
North Macedonia joins NATO on March 27, 2020; becoming its 30th member.
The primary reason for this dispute has always been straight, the term Macedonia refers to the Kingdom of Macedon, established by Philip II of the Argead dynasty and later succeeded by Alexander the Great, who is considered as founding father to the Greece that is today. So obviously they would take objection to the use of term ‘Macedonia’ by its northern neighbour, To Greek populous, it seemed like co-opting of their history by a foreign entity.
The citizen of North Macedonia could be referred to as Macedonian but as explicitly stated in the Prespa Agreement, they are not related to the ancient Hellenic civilisation that previously inhabited the northern regions of Greece.
North Macedonia becomes part of NATO, read it here.
For any suggestions or corrections feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org