Macedonia: The Story of a 26-year-old Name Dispute Between Greece and FYROM



The thorny issue of the name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has generated new tensions in Greek Parliament as the government appears ambivalent over the use of the word “Macedonia” in the name.

Junior coalition partners Independent Greeks, and especially leader Panos Kammenos, openly express their disagreement with the inclusion of the word “Macedonia”, in FYROM’s name.

According to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not just a difference of acceptance of historical events or symbols between the two countries. It is a question of a United Nations Member State going against the fundamental principles of International Law, and in particular, respect for good neighbourliness, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The story of the naming dispute between the two Balkan neighbours started in 1991

  • Skopje secedes from Yugoslavia and proclaims their independence under the name “Republic of Macedonia”.
  • The House of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia in Skopje, after the elections of November 1990, votes on the declaration of independence from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
  • The new government speaks of a “Macedonian nation,” systematically cultivated through the falsification of history, by stealing historical and cultural heritage personalities, events and concepts from Greece.
  • In 1991, Greek Foreign Minister Antonis Samaras meets with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. It will later be known that Milosevic proposed a common border between Serbia and Greece and essentially cutting the “Republic of Macedonia” in half, a proposal rejected by Samaras.
  • On December 3, 1991, first FYROM President Kiro Gligorov called for international recognition of his country as “Republic of Macedonia” in a letter to all world leaders.
  • The very next day, the Council of Ministers under Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis convenes and it is decided that the “Republic of Macedonia” must: a) change the name “Macedonia”; b) recognize that it has no territorial aspirations over Greece and c) recognize that there is no “Macedonian minority” in Greece.
  • Bulgaria becomes the first country to recognize FYROM with its constitutional name (“Republic of Macedonia”) in early 1992.
  • Immediately after, hundreds of thousands of Greeks participate in the Pan-Macedonian rally in Thessaloniki on the naming issue of the name of the so-called “Republic of Macedonia”.

  • In an emotional scene, President of the Republic Konstantinos Karamanlis, sheds a tear on camera saying: “There is only one Macedonia, and Macedonia is Greek”

  • President of the Republic Konstantinos Karamanlis meets with Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, Andreas Papandreou, Aleka Papariga and Maria Damanaki, in the presence of Foreign Minister Antonis Samaras and agree on a common line: Greece will not accept any name that contains the word “Macedonia” or its derivatives.
  • The Portuguese presidency of the European Union, through Foreign Minister José Pinheiro, proposes a compromise with the acceptance by Greece of a complex name with the predominant name “New Macedonia”.
  • The so-called “Pineiro Package”, generates a tiff between the prime minister and Foreign Minister Antonis Samaras. The minister resigns, forms a new party and ruling New Democracy topples.
  • The issue remains on ice for many years, with most countries calling FYROM “Macedonia”.
  • In April 2008, Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis vetoes Macedonia’s accession to NATO at the Alliance’s Spring Summit in Bucharest.

  • NATO decides unanimously decision that an invitation would be made to FYROM if the name issue is resolved in a mutually acceptable way.
  • FYROM appeals to the International Court of Justice, which calls the two countries to negotiate the issue with the mediation of the United nations.
  • The decision was confirmed and reiterated at all subsequent Northern Alliance summits in Strasbourg (2009), Lisbon (2010) and Chicago (2012).
  • In 2012, the Greek government of Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos takes the initiative to speed up negotiations and proposes that the two sides sign a Memorandum of Understanding, which would set the framework and the basic parameters for the definitive resolution of the name issue.
  • The Greek side says that any proposal must include a clear and definitive designation of the name which would leave no room for doubt as to the distinction between the territory of FYROM and areas in neighbouring countries, such as Macedonia in northern Greece and that the agreed name will be used for all purposes (erga omnes) and for all purposes. The international response has been positive.

FYROM remained adamant on its position over the name, and rejected Greece’s suggestion. However, the new Skopje government of Zoran Zaev, formed in the summer of 2017, seems more willing to put aside irredentist claims, and to sit down at the negotiating table. Nevertheless, the new administration wants the word “Macedonia” in the name.