The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece continue their participation in UN-brokered talks to achieve a settlement on the internationally recognized name of Macedonia, Reuters reports. Greece has refused to acknowledge Macedonia’s claim to its name because there is a region in Northern Greece with the same name. Several protests have taken place during January 2018 in the Greek cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, in which protesters have embraced nationalist stances.
As a result of this disagreement, Greece has blocked Macedonia’s admittance to NATO and has prevented it from starting membership talks with the European Union. Those in both nations see the name of Macedonia as representative of the legacy behind the name itself, such as that of Alexander the Great. To give up the name of Macedonia would be seen as a loss of culture, NPR notes.
According to Balkan Insight, polls conducted in the two neighboring states have demonstrated that the majority of the Greek population opposes negotiations which would result in Macedonia keeping its name. On the other hand, Macedonians appear to be more open to changing the name of their state in case the compromise advances the NATO and EU talks. The data shows that 82 percent of ethnic Albanians would accept a name change, whereas only 42 percentage of ethnic Macedonians stated they would agree to a compromise. Furthermore, the M-Prospect Agency, which carried out the polls, concluded that political affiliations played a substantial role in people’s opinions. About 66 percent of the supporters of the right-wing, opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization party voted against a name change. 76 percent of voters affiliated with the ruling Social Democrats took a positive stance on changing the country’s name.
In the meantime, experts are concerned that the disputes over the name change might destabilize the Balkans. Southeastern Europe has experienced a long history of conflicts between neighbors, such as those between Serbia and Kosovo and Albania and Greece. The spat between Macedonia and Greece is not unprecedented; in fact, this debate, according to Reuters, began after Macedonia first emerged as an independent state from the now- defunct Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991. Top Channel reported that scholars such as Reinhard Vesser, an analyst for Deutsche Welle, fear that if the conflict between Macedonia and Greece escalates, it might encourage the rise of nationalism in the Balkans.
Top Channel also assesses that Russia is taking an active role in the dispute by incentivizing Greece to refuse negotiations that could end in a compromise with Macedonia. Russia aims to prevent Macedonia’s integration in talks that would initiate the process of NATO and EU membership.
Despite rising tensions, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has expressed a willingness to change the name of the country to avoid a crisis, the Guardian reports. Proposed names include Upper Macedonia, New Macedonia, Northern Macedonia, and Macedonia (Skopje).