For 27 years, the question of what to formally call the country informally known as “Macedonia” has been a diplomatic thorn in the side of Europe and the Balkans. The UN backed negotiations between Macedonia and Greece since the 1990s, but to little avail. Then, this summer there was a major breakthrough.
At issue is a dispute between Greece and Macedonia over historic and cultural claims to a region once ruled by Alexander the Great.
Macedonia became independent upon the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Immediately, though, the question of what to call this new country became a diplomatic and political crisis. Macedonia borders Greece, and the region of Greece that borders Macedonia is called…”Macedonia.” So, for decades Greece has systematically blocked Macedonia from calling itself “Macedonia.” In fact, at the United Nations, of which Macedonia is a member state, it is known as FYROM, which stands for “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”
This name dispute has had some real and profound international implications, including preventing Macedonia from joining the European Union and NATO.
On the line to discuss the name dispute and the recent diplomatic breakthrough is Damon Wilson, who is the executive vice president of the Atlantic Council. He also served for a time at the White House and at NATO where he helped oversee negotiations between Macedonia and its neighbors. As he explains the inability of Greece and Macedonia to resolve the name dispute has left Macedonia unable to join the EU and NATO, as many of its neighbors have.
But now, negotiations over the summer between the Prime Ministers of Greece and Macedonia lead to a big breakthrough. The issue now is with the Parliaments of both countries, where ratification of this agreement is in a precarious state.
If you have 20 minutes and you want to understand the origins of a dispute between Macedonia and Greece that has beguiled international diplomats for nearly 30 years, have a listen.