Deal, then no deal in long-running Macedonian ‘name issue’

Deal, then no deal in long-running Macedonian ‘name issue’

By Luke Vargas   
The flag of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia flying at U.N. headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Loey Felipe
The flag of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia flying at U.N. headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Hours after the prime ministers of Greece and Macedonia agreed to a resolution of a decades-old 'name issue,' parliamentarians on both sides are pushing back.

SINGAPORE – For a matter of hours this week there was hope that one of Europe’s longest-running diplomatic disputes had been resolved.

The dispute is known as the Macedonian naming issue and centers around the Republic of Macedonia, a nation of roughly 2 million people that rests just north of Greece.

Except instead of harboring goodwill for its neighbor, Greece has a beef with Macedonia’s name, alleging it implies ownership of the Greek state of Macedonia and historical ties with Macedon, the ancient Greek kingdom once helmed by Alexander the Great.

In 1995, the two countries agreed to a U.N. deal mandating that as talks progressed to formally resolve the dispute, Macedonia would be known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, at the United Nations.

After years of on-again, off-again talks, it was announced earlier this week that Macedonia would change its name to Severna Makedonja (Northern Macedonia), under a deal worked out by the prime ministers of both countries.

Analysts gushed that the diplomatic breakthrough could pave the way for Macedonia to join the E.U. and NATO, and allow the Balkans to shift focus to other pressing issues. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres even fired off a congratulatory statement applauding the two sides for “[bringing] this long-standing dispute to an end.”

But hold off on the confetti.

At a Wednesday news conference, Macedonian Prime Minister Gjordje Ivanov said the deal was unacceptable and “damaging,” and he vowed to veto it should it win the backing of the country’s parliament. It so happens Gjordje’s ruling government is backed by hard-line nationalists who refuse to concede any ground on the naming issue at all.

But just because Macedonia’s leader doesn’t like the deal, don’t assume that Greece does.

The country’s leading opposition party is considering a no-confidence vote targeting Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, accusing him of “mortgaging” away Greek heritage by allowing the future Macedonian state to use the name Macedonia even in a modified context.

Few thought resolving Macedonia’s name dispute would be easy. But sometimes it takes a glimmer of a truce to end a conflict, to see just how much both sides still want to keep fighting.

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