After 27 years of a latent naming conflict between Macedonia and Greece, Macedonia – internationally known thus far as FYROM – will stop using its name “Republic of Macedonia” and will call itself instead the “Republic of North Macedonia”. The move might be the most significant diplomatic step in the region since the end of the Bosnian war. Greece’s neighbour will stop using its former name “Republic of Macedonia” that has been in use since the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
The change is significant because Athens has been blocking Skopje’s membership to NATO and the European Union until the dispute is solved. With a new name, Skopje will be able to begin accession talks with both organizations, as Athens will lift its objections. The naming agreement is a defeat to Macedonia’s nationalists and a victory to the social democrats and it has significantly improved the relations with Greece. Since the early 1990s, maps have been widely published in Greece with borders extending to the port city of Thessaloniki, Greek Macedonia’s capital, which was for years a major source of regional tensions.
Both countries have been under pressure to resolve their naming dispute, which was seen as an obstacle to a greater integration of Balkan countries into the EU and NATO with the aim of improving the region’s stability. The move is also hoped to ease some of the broader tensions in the region with Russia opposing Macedonia’s aspirations to join both organizations. European leaders have embraced the new name and the accompanying deal. European Council President Donald Tusk praised both Macedonian and Greek leaders for their courage in finding a way to make this happen. “They had imagination, they took the risk, they were ready to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good,” Mr. Tusk tweeted.