EuropeForeign PolicyGreece

Greece vs FYROM: More Than a Name

Amid protests on both sides, Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia redouble their efforts to find a solution to a 27-year old international dispute

Newspapers have been splashed this past month with coverage of both Greeks and Macedonians taking to the streets in protest over the former country’s official name. This spat between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has been ongoing for more than 25 years, but it has gained particular attention as of late as the FYROM Government steps up its efforts to broker a deal with its southern neighbour amid renewed hopes of gaining accession into NATO and the European Union.

The backdrop of this perplexing controversy has been shrouded by the media’s oversimplification of the issue as a name game, painting Greeks as being upset simply for the fact that a nearby state took the same title as one of its provinces, also called Macedonia. In fact, the issue goes much deeper. When FYROM established itself as an independent state in 1991, emerging as the former “Yugoslav Federative Republic of Macedonia,” it included irredentist references in its constitution, referencing the possibility of changing its current borders to create a “Greater Macedonia” which would include the northern province of Greece.

Greeks see the naming of a country after a neighbouring region as a de facto threatening strategy aimed at destabilising the region and the country at large. The same goes for FYROM’s choice of emblem on its flag, the Vergina Sun, which is the symbol of the ancient Greek Macedonian dynasty, a lineage which includes Alexander the Great, former king of the Greek kingdom of Macedon.

FYROM citizens, for their part, have interpreted their government’s latest attempts to appease Greece, by offering several national renaming options, as catering to a bullying neighbour and betraying national interests. However, the FYROM Government has made clear that its highest priorities are joining the two international organisations that it is currently blocked from, almost solely over the issue at hand.


Protesters took to the streets in FYROM’s capitol of Skopje on March 3, demanding that Prime Minister Zoran Zaev halt talks with Greece. They also called for a UN resolution that recognises of the country under its constitutional name of Macedonia. Copyright: Nikola Spasenoski/Shutterstock.com

In years past, both Greece and neighbour Bulgaria have used their member state power to block FYROM’s EU membership talks from transpiring, demanding that the country acknowledge the irredentist nature of its name and the contents of its constitution, and subsequently change them. This is an unresolved dispute that has been a constant sore spot in the Balkans since 1993, when the United Nations, acknowledging Greece’s position, admitted the republic into the organisation with the “temporary” name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

But the name stuck— for more than a quarter century. However, 2018 could be the year of change for the region, thanks to recently increased discord between Greece and Turkey, coupled with FYROM’s pressing desire to reach an agreement with its neighbour ahead of an EU meeting in June and a NATO summit in July. Analysts point to the fact that the countries’ overlapping timelines and their respective state interests have formed a unique window of opportunity for a potential compromise which would leave them both in stronger positions on the international stage.

While Athens previously stated that it would not consent to any national name containing the word “Macedonia,” FYROM has offered a compromise of including a geographic “qualifier” to ensure differentiation between the two territories (these include: Republic of North Macedonia, Republic of Upper Macedonia, Republic of Vardar Macedonia and Republic of Macedonia (Skopje).) While Greece is not usually in the mood to bargain on the issue, increasing pressure from Turkey has forced the country to consider adjusting the hard line it has maintained for years.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Athens in December brought with it further souring of already strained relations between the two NATO allies. A long history of maritime and territorial disputes between these neighbours has heated up in recent months as Turkey’s president continues his attempts to exert increased political power domestically and internationally. Just last week Turkey arrested two Greek soldiers on suspicion of attempted espionage after they walked into a Turkish military zone (an accident that occurred due to bad weather, according to Greek authorities).

While Greece’s allies, including the US, are already pushing for a compromised solution with FYROM, the country’s heightened tension with its eastern neighbour is creating a need, stronger than ever, for Athens to have an ally on its northern border. Dissolving longstanding disagreements with FYROM could offer Greece a “buffer state” with which to face an increasingly unpredictable Turkey. Moreover, forming an alliance with its former Yugoslavian neighbour could offer Greece the chance to enhance its role as a stabilising force in the Balkans, an area that is in need of a regional leader.

There is no word yet on the subsequent United Nations’ mediated discussion between representatives since their last gathering in January.

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Mary Reed Davis

Mary is a writer focused on economics, energy resources, and international politics and serves as the managing editor of online content for the South EU Summit Magazine. She holds an MA in International Economics from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and worked in China for five years as a journalist before relocating to Europe. She currently lives in Italy with her husband.

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2 Comments

  1. We are getting tired of Bulgarian speaking Slavs of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia claiming antiquity and Greek history. We are getting tired of seeing grotesque Italian reproduction statues erected in this pit of a place. We are getting tired of these Slavs parading illegal flags with Greek symbols around their country. We are getting tired of reading Antiquization propaganda coming out of the deluded uneducated diaspora of Australia. We are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Bulgarian history. We are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Albanian history. we are getting tired of these Slavs stealing Serbian history. We are getting tired of seeing United Macedonian maps. We are getting tired of FYROM. The world is getting tired of FYROM. Mother Theresa. Samuel. Alexander. Phillip. Plato. Dalchev. Gruev. Thieves. False foundations have been set. Abandoned they felt by Bulgaria in 1913. Legitimacy they felt from Tito when he cut the umbilical cord from Bulgaria and gave them a identity. Legitimacy they craved in 1991 on the 8th of September when they were finally made independent.
    Macedonia is a region not an ethnicity. The word is Greek. As such only a Greek can call themselves a Macedonian if he or she so pleases to do so. A Bulgarian speaking Slav cannot. Slaveni from the Byzantine Empire via the Bulgarian empire via the Ottoman empire via the Serbian empire via Yugoslavia do not become descendants of Ancient Macedonians. They remain Slaveni. They speak Slavic because they are Slavic. No link to antiquity either via history or science. This is what we are all tired of. No FYROM Slav politician is welcome in Greece until they change their name, flag, school curriculum, airport name, highway names, football stadium names, destroy their Greek statues and start educating and rehabilitating their population. Antiquization that has been used by these deluded ultra nationalists is as bad as Scientology and believing in Martians.
    Zaev, Gruevski, Crvenkovski,Šekerinska,Bučkovski, Dimitriev, Kostov, Georgievski, Ivanov, Andov, Klimovski, you can all stay home. All of you have had ample time to come up with an appropriate name and all have failed. All of you have attempted to hang on to our history with your distortions and rhetoric.
    what you want to be called and what you are different. Greece will not compromise its beautiful nation and exceptional history for a nation of lost souls. When you are the most influential nation on earth and believe us when we say that Greece is, you do not negotiate your history.
    We gave you alphabet. We gave you democracy. We gave you religion. We gave you humanism. We gave you Alexander the Great. Instead of saying thank you Greece for giving us so much you assume a thieving position and try and snatch a story. A story that is a myth.
    Its not the Republic of Macedonia. It’s the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It’s not Macedonian. Its Ethnic Bulgarian. Ethnic Albanian. Ethnic Vlach. Ethnic Turk. Ethnic Serb. Ethnic Roma. This is what it is.
    As much as I loathe Golden Dawn, the person Dimitrov should be negotiating with on the name issue is Ilias Kasidiaris. He would be a match for any one of these historically deluded Slavs. No compromise. No concessions. No tolerance. A name that befits your nation is required. Stay in Bitola you uneducated farm animals.

  2. An excellent article by Ms Davis; very balanced and accurate save for one little (but important) omission.

    While initially (in 1993) Athens did state that it could not accept a name for FYROM that included the term “Macedonia”, this position did change and it was in fact Greece that first offered a geographical qualifier within a composite name in 2008. At that time, FYROM, under the Gruevski government, rejected this compromise and instead embarked on a (deliberately provocative) policy of “antiquitisation” (“Skopje 2014”) whereby a series of kitsch neoclassical statues depicting the likes of Alexander the Great (among other historical figures from the ancient Hellenic world) were constructed to adorn the squares and plazas of the FYROM capital (Skopje). The international airport in Skopje was renamed Alexander the Great International Airport in what was one of many provications to Greece. (This name only very recently reverted to Skopje International Airport in a goodwill geature by the Zaev government.)

    Greece has offered a compromise position for a geographical qualifier to be added to the name of the Republic of Macedonia for approximately 10 years now and I think that this is an important contextual point in light of the 10 years of deliberate provocations that were offered by the (former) Gruevski government in return.

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