Name Dropping in the Balkans

All of Europe Benefits If Greece and Macedonia Get Over Their Identity Crisis

A supporter of opposition party VMRO-DPMNE lights a flare as he takes part in a protest over a compromise solution in Macedonia's dispute with Greece over the country's name, in Skopje, Macedonia, June 2, 2018. Marko Djurica / Reuters

One of the longest-running and also seemingly silliest disputes in the Balkans may have finally been resolved after weeks of several near breakthroughs. Macedonia agreed to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia so that it no longer shares a name with a region in Greece. But the agreement is merely the first step to ending the decades-old dispute. Translating it into reality will require much more, as there are important actors within Greece, Macedonia, and beyond who would like to see the agreement fail. If the deal succeeds, however, it will likely provide a series of positive knock-on-effects and reap benefits not just for the two countries in question but also for the Balkans at large.


To many Greeks, the name Macedonia insinuated a claim to the eponymous northern region of Greece. From the Macedonians’ perspective, Athens’ refusal to accept the name they had chosen for their country was a denial of their national identity. The conflict was never substantive in nature, but there was still a lot at stake. Nationalists in both countries built their political careers on the issue, from former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Gruevski, who was recently sentenced to two years of jail for corruption but remains protected by parliamentary immunity. What stalled a resolution was the asymmetry of the conflict. Greece held the trump cards by being in the European Union and NATO and had little incentive to compromise, and Macedonia often felt that it was being blackmailed into making a concession.

In the end, Macedonia relented. It will be referred to as the Republic of North Macedonia not only internationally but domestically—a major compromise. But as outlined in the text of the agreement leaked by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, citizens of Macedonia will still be called Macedonians in international documents and their language will continue to be Macedonian.

This elaborate compromise became possible after the nationalist government in Macedonia was forced out

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