Monday, May 13, 2013

What Should Macedonia be Called?

by Mike Nelson

On March 8, professor Theodora Dragostinova came to campus to give a lecture titled, “Between Home and Homeland: Migration and National Dilemmas across the Bulgarian-Greek Border in the Early Twentieth Century.” Her lecture covered many historical border disputes between Bulgaria and Greece during the late Ottoman Empire. The disputes have largely been based on feelings of identity. This issue continues to manifest itself today in the naming dispute regarding Macedonia.

The basic story of the naming dispute of Macedonia is whether or not Macedonia’s official name should include some language to indicate that it is separate from Greece. Greece has a region called “Macedonia” in it, so the Greek government insists that Macedonia be referred to as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM). The Macedonian government prefers the name “the Republic of Macedonia.”

As of 2005, Macedonia has officially been an EU applicant country, but the naming dispute has caused Greece to block Macedonia’s application to move any further in the accession process. In fact, on the EU’s website, Macedonia is always referred to as “FYROM.” The United Nations uses the same language. Disagreements over a name may seem trivial, but Dragostinova’s lecture helped show the historical background on this topic and consequently why it is such a heated debate today.

High-level politicians have spoken out about this issue, including former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. In an interview, Clinton said, “The government in Skopje needs to know that it will not be able to move forward on its European integration until it does resolve this.” Several observers understood this comment as a demand that Macedonia must take the lead in solving this issue, and thus presumably should probably just accept the name “FYROM.” Ultimately, either Macedonia or Greece will have to submit to the other’s wish.

Could there be a compromise on this issue? One suggestion has been “Northern Macedonia” instead of “FYROM.” Even if Greece and Macedonia could agree on the “Northern Macedonia” name, Bulgaria has stated that it would not accept it. Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovatchev has spoken out several times on the Macedonian naming dispute, and he has confirmed that Bulgaria would not accept the name “Northern Macedonia.”

Macedonia isn’t the only country to have had a name dispute. It is odd that North Korea’s official name is “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” when a dictator rules the country. Even grammatical problems arise, such as if the “United States” is singular or plural. And the name “the United States of Europe” has been thrown around before. The difference in the Macedonia dispute, of course, is that there are strong historical tensions and different parties that disagree, as well as the importance the naming dispute has on EU membership for Macedonia.

I hope that this issue can be resolved soon. Even though there is a historical justification of this issue, it would be a pity if it was the only issue blocking EU membership from Macedonia. I predict that the solution to the problem will be an administration of one of the two countries that realizes EU membership is more important than an official name.

Mike Nelson is a first year MAEUS student. He graduated a year early and received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. Mike has studied French, German, and Spanish and will be tackling Swedish starting this fall. He has traveled to Germany and hosted a French foreign exchange student. During the summer, he works as a manager at a water park. He is working as a Graduate Assistant and Teaching Assistant for the European Union Center this year.

Image source: "Macedonia," Wikimedia Commons.


What are the new name suggestions? What do you propose as an effective compromise?

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