Macedonia: What's In A Name!

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Last week, Republic of Macedonia officially changed its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

Greece and the Republic of Macedonia have had a long-standing dispute over the name, that has been going on since 1991! Last week, the Greek parliament voted to ratify (approve) an agreement with its neighbor on the name change, which passed by a narrow margin of 153 to 146 votes.   

Let’s take a look at the history of Macedonia and the events that led to this long dispute.

History of Macedonia

Macedonia is an ancient region that covers today’s Balkan Peninsula, the area roughly between Greece and Hungary, as well as parts of northern Greece. 

It has a proud heritage stretching back to the fourth century B.C. when Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world in only 11 years. The Macedonian empire stretched from Greece to India and was the largest and most powerful empire of its time. 

Not only was it known for its military prowess, ancient Macedonia also fostered a period of artistic and scientific achievements. The Greek philosopher Aristotle likely composed some of his most important philosophical works during this period, and the Greek mathematician Euclid published his famous mathematical treatise “Elements”, which became the foundation for Euclidean geometry.

Over the next several centuries, Macedonia came under the control of different empires, including Byzantine and Bulgarian. By the 15th century, the region became part of the Ottoman Empire and remained so for the next 500 years. In 1912 and 1913, there were two conflicts called the Balkan Wars, where four Balkan states – Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro – fought successfully against the Ottoman Empire. Macedonia ended up being divided between Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria.

After World War II, Yugoslavia was created from multiple states, including Serbia and its Macedonia region. However, by the 1980’s, as political and economic challenges arose, there were demands for more autonomy and independence. In 1991, the Republic of Macedonia was created when it declared independence from Yugoslavia, leading to its name dispute with Greece.

Name Dispute and Agreement

“What’s in a name?” says Shakespeare’s famous character Juliet.  In this case, quite a lot! 

Greece itself has a province called Macedonia on the northern border with the Republic of Macedonia. The province is the birthplace of Alexander the Great and the site of Aigai, the first capital of the ancient Macedonian Empire. Greece considers Macedonia to be an important part of its heritage and also feared that its neighbor would try to take over the Macedonia province. Macedonians, in turn, felt that their country was also part of the Macedonian Empire and should include the name.

As part of the dispute, Greece had been blocking its neighbor’s membership into both the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Macedonia wants membership for economic reasons, and other Western countries are supportive because they believe it will help stabilize the region. 

The agreement itself was signed back in June 2018 by the prime ministers of Greece and Macedonia. In addition to the new name, both countries have agreed to respect each other's boundaries. Not, the new Republic of North Macedonia can continue with its process to be part of NATO and the EU.

Sources: NYTimes, BBC, CNN, History.com