Macedonia’s Ascent to NATO and the EU
Written by Marren Haneberg
On October 20, 2018, Macedonia (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM) moved a step closer to joining NATO after two-thirds of its parliament approved a name change for the country–from Republic of Macedonia to North Macedonia. Macedonia is moving to change its name to North Macedonia to resolve a 27 year dispute with Greece. In September, over 90% of voters approved the name change, but boycott efforts led to less than a 50% voter turnout, passing the issue to Macedonia’s parliament. Despite parliament’s approval, the name change is still subject to future votes and Greece’s ratification.
In 1991, FYROM declared independence from crumbling Yugoslavia and called itself Republic of Macedonia in its constitution. A region in northern Greece is also called Macedonia, so Greece objected to FYROM using this name “fearing claims on its northern region of the same name,” and has expressed its disapproval by blocking FYROM’s attempts to join NATO (“Macedonia parliament votes…”). Some of Greece’s fears stem from FYROM politicians presenting maps that extend FYROM’s territory into modern-day Greece (Nevradakis).
Historically, the Macedonia of the Ottoman Empire included the Republic of Macedonia, northern Greece, and southwestern Bulgaria (Gjukovikj). In 1993, Macedonia agreed to be recognized as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in exchange for United Nations membership. However, this name change agreement was not enough for Greece to agree to Macedonia joining the EU and NATO. Macedonians elected a pro-Western government in 2017, which opened up new avenues for negotiating a country name agreement with Greece. These avenues also opened because the conflict had become a “hurting stalemate,” which means both Greece and Macedonia stood to “gain more from solving the conflict than from continuing it” and Macedonia’s new pro-Western government was willing to amend Macedonia’s constitution, a move which Greece wanted but Macedonia previously was unwilling to make (Gjukovikj).
The resulting agreement required “significant concessions” from both sides. Macedonia agreed to constitutionally change its name to North Macedonia. It also agreed to distinguish its cultural identity from the Hellenic identity associated with Alexander the Great. Greece agreed to “recognize the nation’s right to use the Macedonian language and a Macedonian identity,” which it previously refused to do (Gjukovikj). While the agreement is not finalized, the EU “recommended starting accession talks with Macedonia” in 2019 and “NATO leaders officially invited Macedonia to join” (Gjukovikj).
Greece is not the only obstacle standing in the way of Macedonia’s EU and NATO memberships. Russia’s ambassador to Macedonia warned that the country would become “a legitimate target” in the case “tensions increased between Russia and NATO” (Birnbaum). Russia has already made efforts to block Macedonia’s EU and NATO memberships, as Macedonian intelligence reported “an uptick in Russian efforts to influence the discussion ahead of the vote” (Birnbam). So far, Russia’s efforts have not blocked Macedonia’s name change, as the voter boycott took the issue to Macedonia’s parliament rather than ending the entire effort. A summer poll by International Republic Institute found that 83% of Macedonian citizens supported EU membership and 77% supported NATO membership (Birnbaum).
Map below shows present day boundaries of Republic of Macedonia outlined in black and the historical ethnic boundaries in red. Some Macedonian politicians have made rallies to expand the country to historical ethnic boundaries. Source: http://www.wikiwand.com/en/United_Macedonia.
Birnbaum, Michael. 2018. “Russia and the west battle over Macedonia’s future ahead of name-change referendum.” The Washington Post. September 28. https://www.washingtonpost .com/world/europe/russia-and-the-west-battle-over-macedonias-future-ahead-of-name-change-referendum/2018/09/28/0e7ccf80-c025-11e8-9f4f-a1b7af255aa5_story.html.
Gjukovikj, Danilo. 2018. “After 27 years, greece and macedonia have resolved their contentious ‘naming dispute.’ Here’s how.” The Washington Post. August 2. 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=.be461ae945df.
“Macedonia parliament votes to start name change process.” 2018. BBC. October 20. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45922955.
Nevradakis, Michael. 2018. “North Macedonia Referendum: No Shortage of Foreign Meddling but a Major Shortage of Voters.” MPN News. October 4. https://www.mintpressnews.com /north-macedonia-referendum-no-shortage-of-foreign-meddling-but-a-major-shortage-of-voters/250298/.