Macedonia’s Name: Breaking the Deadlock
Macedonia’s Name: Breaking the Deadlock
Table of Contents
  1. Vista global
Внимавајте на македонската криза..може да прерасне во нова балканска трагедија
Внимавајте на македонската криза..може да прерасне во нова балканска трагедија
Briefing / Europe & Central Asia 4 minutes

Macedonia’s Name: Breaking the Deadlock

Macedonia is a relative success story in a region scarred by unresolved statehood and territory issues. International engagement has, since the 2001 conflict with an ethnic Albanian insurgency, brought progress in integrating Albanians into political life. This has been underpinned by the promise of European Union (EU) and NATO integration, goals that unite ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. But the main NATO/EU strategy for stabilising Macedonia and the region via enlargement was derailed in 2008 by the dispute with Greece over the country’s name.

  • Share
  • Guardar
  • Imprimir
  • Download PDF Full Report

I. Overview

Macedonia is a relative success story in a region scarred by unresolved statehood and territory issues. International engagement has, since the 2001 conflict with an ethnic Albanian insurgency, brought progress in integrating Albanians into political life. This has been underpinned by the promise of European Union (EU) and NATO integration, goals that unite ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. But the main NATO/EU strategy for stabilising Macedonia and the region via enlargement was derailed in 2008 by the dispute with Greece over the country’s name. Athens claims that, by calling itself “Macedonia”, it appropriates part of the Hellenic heritage and implies a claim against Greece’s northern province. At summits it blocked Macedonian membership in NATO and EU accession talks until the issue is settled. Mystifying to outsiders, the dispute touches existential nerves, especially in Macedonia, and has serious regional implications. The parties need to rebuild trust; member states need to press both to compromise, especially Greece to respect its commitment not to block Skopje in international organisations.

Efforts to overcome the name dispute through negotiations under UN auspices have been fruitless for well over a decade. Crisis Group argued in a December 2001 report that resolving the issue was vital in order to bolster Macedonians’ fragile sense of identity, which is challenged by three neighbours: Greece, which disputes the country’s name; Bulgaria, which has questioned the existence of a Macedonian nation or language; and Serbia, which denies the autonomy of its church. Macedonians’ sense of identity has been further challenged by the necessary concessions they have made to their compatriots pursuant to the Ohrid Framework Agreement that ended the 2001 conflict. These seek to turn the country into a “civic state”, by bolstering the rights of the Albanian and other ethnic minorities, but they also dilute its essence as the homeland of the Macedonian people.

In 2001 Crisis Group suggested a compromise, under which the name “Republika Makedonija”, in Macedonian, would be used by the UN and all other international organisations and be acknowledged by NATO and EU member states and others. Today Greece has upped the ante at NATO and in the EU. Macedonia was granted the status of an EU candidate in 2005 but no date for the start of accession negotiations. By 2008 it had fulfilled the criteria for entering NATO but was not issued a membership invitation. Apart from Greece’s threat over the name issue, the opening of EU accession talks is also delayed by the country’s failure to meet benchmarks set by the European Commission. Notably, serious shortcomings that came to light in the June 2008 elections will need to be addressed in elections in 2009.

Despite considerable progress, Ohrid has not been fully implemented. Inter-ethnic tensions and a risk of instability remain. The regional environment is fragile, and the potential for Kosovo to have a destabilising influence on Macedonia, as it did in 2001, continues. An indefinite delay to NATO and EU integration could undermine what has been achieved in stabilising the country, with consequences that would be particularly harmful not least for Greece itself. The name dispute is more than a bilateral issue between Skopje and Athens. It risks derailing the main strategy of both NATO and the EU for stabilising Macedonia and the region through enlargement and integration. Member states should not allow the organisations’ credibility to fall victim to an intractable dispute involving one of their fellow members.

At NATO’s April 2008 Bucharest summit, Skopje signalled its readiness to compromise on the name of the country. However, a combination of moves by both sides has poisoned the environment in which talks are being conducted to such an extent that the two countries are further apart than at any time since the early 1990s. Macedonia’s decision in 2007 to re-name the Skopje airport after Alexander the Great seemed calculated to provoke Greek sensitivities over the Hellenic heritage. By blocking Macedonia’s NATO and EU integration, Greece appeared to contravene its undertaking in the 1995 Interim Accord not to let the name issue stand in the way of the country’s membership in international organisations. The fact that other NATO and EU members allowed that to happen undermined Macedonian faith in international goodwill.

In order to rebuild trust and finally resolve the name dispute, the following steps should be taken:

  • Skopje should reverse its decision to rename its airport after Alexander the Great and desist from similar moves certain to provoke Athens;
     
  • Skopje and Athens should jointly examine the common history of the region, with a view to avoiding references in their respective educational curricula that offend the other’s national sensitivities;
     
  • both sides should reaffirm their commitment to the Interim Accord, and pending agreement on the name, Skopje should use only the provisional form “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in all multilateral organisations, while Athens should drop its veto threats at NATO and the EU;
     
  • Skopje should publicly state its readiness to accept the latest proposal of the UN mediator that “Republic of North Macedonia” be the name for all international purposes;
     
  • Athens should respond by acknowledging the national identity and language of its northern neigh­bour as “Macedonian” and accepting Skopje’s assurance that use of that adjective does not imply any exclusivity or territorial claim over the northern Greek province of Macedonia; and
     
  • other NATO and EU member states should actively encourage Athens to unblock Macedonia’s integration into both organisations and to respond positively to Skopje’s concessions on the country’s name.

Pristina/Brussels, 12 January 2009

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.