North Macedonia’s Relations and Disputes with Greece

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Introduction

With the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, today’s North Macedonia declared its independence under the name of “Republic of Macedonia.” A new country with ethnic diversity based on linguistic and religious differences was born in East European geography. When the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), recognized by the United Nations, faced the resistance of Greece outside the Albanians. Hence, it had to revise the identity of the nation it was trying to build. This transformation of North Macedonia, which the name cannot recognize is declared in the international community, has to change its national flag, has no other choice but to associate with another nation within the country. Its government finally accepted changing the country’s name, and this transformation was remarkable. 

The country had a dispute with its neighbor Greece on the name of the country since 1991. This question, which was fueled by different nationalist understandings, was resolved on June 17, 2018, with the mediation of Western states that wanted the unrest in the Balkans to end. With this situation, North Macedonia confirms the argument of the constructivist approach that “modern national identities are built within current-historical cultural dynamics.” With its location, demographic structure, and identity transformation, North Macedonia is one of the leading nation-states that should be examined in this sense.

Although the borders of Macedonia, which is a historical region name, cannot be determined precisely, it is predicted to cover a wider geographical area than the borders of the present Republic of North Macedonia. The problem, which is shaped around Macedonia today, is related to the historical process, whose historical background includes the developments in the early ages. Macedonian State was founded in the First Age in Northern Greece, BC. In the 4th century, it dominated all of Greece, and with the expeditions carried out by Alexander the Great, the Hellenic culture had spread to vast geography up to India. The Greeks now see ancient Macedonia as part of national history.

Phases of the Dispute Between Macedonia And Greece

FYROM as a State and the Name Issue

The origin of the Macedonian name issue is tied to whether the legitimate right to use the name Macedonia belongs to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or as claimed by the Greek nation-state, Macedonia is part of the Greek historical tradition and culture. (Damyanov, 2010) Macedonia, one of the six republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, was one of the republics that advocated unity, unlike Slovenia and Croatia when Yugoslavia entered the process of dissolution. 

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The main reason why Yugoslavia defends its territorial integrity is that Macedonia’s neighbors are predicted to not leave the country alone in case of independence. Although it did not support the dissolution of the federation, the Macedonian Parliament, which was affected by the cold wind of nationalism blustering in the country, decided on September 8, 1991, for a referendum on behalf of independence. This decision was met with great concern in Greece, which referred to the Republic of Macedonia as the “Republic of Skopje.” The announcement of Bulgaria, another country having problems with Macedonia, could recognize Macedonia in case of independence increased a concern. More importantly, the United States of America (USA) also signaled that they could recognize Macedonia. The referendum was protested by Serbs and Albanians living in Macedonia, while Turks voted yes for independence in the referendum. In Macedonia, where 80 percent of the population went to the ballot box, 90 percent of the population had a yes result. (Vankovska, 2007).

Following the declaration of independence, the Macedonian Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1991. Greece, on the other hand, objected to specific articles of this Constitution. One of them was Article 3 of the Constitution that declares, “the territory of the Republic of Macedonia is undividable and inviolable.” (European Commission, 2016). According to Greece, “Macedonia” is a terminology that only defines a geographical region regardless of the people. It is erroneous to use this geographical terminology to describe an ethnic group, especially Slavs. Therefore, Greece found Macedonia’s emphasis on indivisible integrity wrong and perceived it as a threat to Aegean Macedonia in its territory. (Damyanov, 2010)

Article 49 is stated as follows. Greece has understood this article as the Republic of Macedonia may want to be guarantors for Macedonians living in its territory and intervene in its internal affairs. These articles of the Constitution have been interpreted as a security concern by the European Community Reconciliation Commission, and the community has proposed to Macedonia amend these articles. As a result of the international pressure, Macedonia went through a revision of the articles and changed the third article of the Constitution (European Commission, 2016).

In addition to these circumstances, Greece defended that the flags and symbols to be used belong to its own national culture objected to Macedonia’s use of the Vergina Sun symbol in its flag. Although Macedonia used this flag until 1995, it could not bear the pressure of Greece and changed its flag. In fact, as a sovereign state, it would not be possible for Macedonia to accept these demands and pressure; however, compared to Greece, the fact that it is a newly established state with wounds from the Yugoslav civil war made it weak in the international arena. (Damyanov, 2010)

By 1995, these two countries opted for a temporary compromise. The US has a significant share in the reconciliation. It was announced by both countries that solutions were found in the brief reconciliation, except for the name problem. Perhaps the biggest reason why the agreement is called “temporary” is that even the names of the two countries were not written in the text of the deal. While Greece was defined as the “first country,” Macedonia was referred to as the “second country,” and a temporary settlement was achieved. The Greek side did not fulfill the commitment in this agreement that Macedonia would not interfere with Euro-Atlantic integration and acted in the opposite direction at the 2008 Bucharest Summit of NATO (Damyanov, 2010). As a result of the initiatives undertaken by Greece, the Republic of Macedonia took its place in the international arena as FYROM, albeit under the name of the country’s FYROM. Greece, NATO, and the EU using Trump’s card against Macedonia forced it to accept the name change.

On the other hand, Macedonia has been waiting for a solution for many years from the United Nations (UN), where they can become a member under the name of FYROM; however, they did not get the support they hoped. The different attitudes of the EU and NATO towards the two countries are also other factors that delay the solution. The obstacle of Macedonia in every international arena by Greece has caused Macedonian nationalism to turn into Greek hostility. (Gotev, 2018)

The political and commercial embargoes prevented the Republic of Macedonia’s development, and it imposed increased nationalist reactions among the people. Albanians were included in the country’s administration with the changes made in the Constitution after the Ohrid Agreement was signed on August 3, 2001. (Vankovska, 2007).

On the other hand, not recognizing Macedonia with the title issue made Greece feel safe. Greece, which wanted to block the land claims or guarantor claims that may occur in the future, has struggled for almost a quarter of a century not to solve the problem. Greece, which did not want Macedonia to explain itself based on international organizations, continued its veto trump policy. Providing the appropriate conditions for NATO membership, Macedonia could not overcome the Greek barrier for many years. (Gotev, 2018) Because, under the name issue, Greece either tries to hide the Macedonian minority problem in the country or is afraid of revealing the original names of the places that Greece made Greek in Aegean Macedonia or between 1946-1949 in Greece when a large number of Macedonians immigrated, and their properties were seized. After the civil war that took place, it continued its policy implicitly. Because the law was adopted allowing later immigrants to return to the country, it was significant that this law only covers refugees of Greek origin. This situation of the two countries was also a danger for the Balkan geography, where the balances are always sensitive. International organizations and many countries have often called for the resolution of the problem. The latest Matthew Nimetz, former US President Bill Clinton’s deputy, was appointed by the UN for a solution. Nimetz proposed a few names that the parties could agree on, and the two countries, unable to ignore the calls for various reasons, decided to sit down again to resolve the issue. (Pergantis, 2020).

The Ohrid Framework Agreement

The Ohrid Framework Agreement forms the basis of the relations of Albanians in Macedonia with the Macedonian government. After the confrontation between Macedonian armed forces and Albanians, this agreement, adopted on August 13, 2001, is a peace agreement guaranteed by the international community. (Vankovska,2007). The central premise of the deal is to put an end to violence in solving problems and creating a framework in which all political views can be expressed. (Damyanov, 2010).

For this reason, the Ohrid Framework Agreement has created a new system for a restructured Macedonia by reviewing the old and new laws on the division of power within societies with the changes to be made in the Constitution. (Vankovska, 2007). The words used in the Constitution were changed with the agreement. Instead of the words’ Macedonian people’, ‘nationalities,’ ‘minorities,’ the words’ majority of the population, ‘communities’ and ‘non-majority communities’ have been used. (Damyanov, 2010). With this change, the perception of community-based formations has been attempted to replace the understanding of the ethnic-based formation of states by EU practices. (Gotev, 2018)

The most crucial demand of Macedonian Albanians for Albanian became an official language again, as in the 1974 Constitution. With the new regulation on language, the languages ​​of ethnic groups that make up more than 20% of the total population in Macedonia have been recognized as the official language. In addition, minority ethnic groups, if they constitute 20% of the people in a region, have gained the right to use their mother tongue and engage in educational activities in their mother tongue along with Macedonian. (Vankovska, 2007). Therefore, since more than 20% of the total population is comprised of only Albanians, these rights were only granted to them, so the Turks could not access their rights in 1974.

The Ohrid Framework Agreement includes some basic regulations to protect Albanians’ rights and interests and other minority groups. With these regulations, the representation of other minority groups at significant state levels was sought. Again, with the agreement, minorities have been granted a veto right in legislative processes on culture, mother tongue, education, and local government. To protect the representation of minorities in the central government, the majority principle of the “double majority” voting system has been introduced. The majority should be provided both in the Parliament bride and in the votes of minority representatives. In a semi-partnership structure established in this way, according to Article 5, for a bill to be enacted, it must be approved by two-thirds of the representatives of the minority. (Damyanov, 2010).

In addition, the majority vote in the minority votes on culture, language, education, personal documents, the use of symbols, local finance, elections, the borders of Skopje and municipalities, and extended local government rights and the articles on decentralization, Robert Badinter, who was the chairman of the Constitutional Committee during the preparation of the new Constitution known as the ‘Badinter’ Principles due to the contributions of him. (Frčkoski 2009). With the 3rd article of the agreement, it was decided to redefine the boundaries of the municipalities within one year.

All positive practices of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, especially in respect for and representation of ethnic identities, are incredibly positive. However, the preparation of the text of the agreement in English as a single copy and the absence of documents in Albanian or Macedonian gives rise to the interpretation that the agreement is an artificial text and may have been created by the pressure of the EU and the USA. Established a framework that pays attention to non-discrimination and, in particular, equitable representation in public to allow the law to operate equally for all. (Vankovska, 2007).

The preparation of the agreement as a single text should be interpreted as reflecting the mutual agreement of both parties, avoiding the differences of meaning that may occur in texts in different languages ​​and that the language in which the arrangement is made is not the language of both sides. (Frčkoski 2009). With the Ohrid Framework Agreement, many issues that cause ethnic conflict have been tried to be resolved. The agreement paved the way for political dialogue by introducing the principle of disarmament in resolving problems. (Vankovska, 2007). It would be a correct step to read the Albanian issue in Macedonia to the Ohrid Framework Agreement through constructionist theory. The concept of identity has an important place in the constructivist approach. Building identity is creating a haven and home for people in the world we live in.

We can say that state identity has four different interests or desires. The first is to create physical security that will differentiate it from other states. The second is to establish predictable relationships with the international community and safety that can form stable social identities. The third is to provide a future by being recognized as an actor by others, rather than ensuring stability and future through brute force. The last is to meet the aspirations of society for a good life and improve its well-being. (Damyanov, 2010) 

It seems that Macedonia pursues these four interests to build the identity of the state. Because, according to the constructivist theory, it is the most crucial goal to solve conflicts originating from ethnic problems and border problems in the past and ensure continuous peace and security. The second goal is to be recognized and respected by identity in the international community. The third goal is to establish a security society around it, especially by establishing good relations first with neighboring countries and then with international organizations and other states. The ultimate goal is to increase the people’s living standards and be included in socially and economically developed countries.

The Name Changing Process of Macedonia’s to North Macedonia

Prespa Agreement

A solution to this problem could not be reached until the Prespa Agreement. (Pergantis, 2020). With the “Temporary Compromise” in 1995, the parties that managed to freeze the problem at least came together for specific periods with the mediation of the UN and continued the discussions on the name. This situation was changed with the historic agreement signed between Athens and Skopje on the shores of Prespa Lake, which is the intersection point of the border of Albania, Greece, and Macedonia, on June 17, 2018, and that the name of Macedonia should be changed to the “Republic of North Macedonia” (Republika Severna Makedonija) (Pergantis, 2020). With this agreement, which went down in history as the “Prespa Agreement,” “Macedonia and Greece took a step back. 

While Macedonians were faced with the obligation to build a new nation, the Greek side had to accept the ‘Republic of North Macedonia,’ including Macedonia, instead of the ‘Republic of Skopje’ (Labropoulou, 2019). According to this agreement, a referendum would be held for the agreement to come into force, and it would be submitted for the approval of the people of both countries. For the agreement to be implemented after the referendum, the agreement had to be approved by a simple majority by the Greek Parliament after the necessary changes in the Constitution were approved by the parliament (Damyanov, 2010). While Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev described the referendum as Macedonia’s second independence, the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE stated that the agreement contradicted Macedonia’s national interests and declared that it would not support the agreement. On the other hand, Macedonian President George Ivanov emphasized that he does not accept the ideas that damage the national identity of Macedonia, such as the change of the constitutional name of the country “Republic of Macedonia,” therefore he will not vote in the referendum. (Damyanov, 2010). In the referendum held on September 30, 2018, Macedonian people asked, “Do you accept the agreement between Macedonia and Greece and reach the European Union and NATO membership?” The question has been posted. However, most Macedonian people did not go to the ballot box, boycotted the referendum, and 36.08% participated. 91.4% of those who went to the ballot box voted yes, and 5.6% voted no. However, according to the Macedonian Constitution, more ‘yes’ votes for the referendum should be successful, with more than 50% participation in the referendum. (BBC, 2018). However, Zoran Zaev stated that despite insufficient participation, the agreement should be voted in parliament. 

The US administration and the European Union welcomed the results of this consultation referendum, which is not legally binding on the acceptance of the agreement, and supported Macedonia. The Greek nationalists’ expectation for the Prespa Agreement was different. They did not want the name “Macedonia” to be mentioned in the country’s name in any way. They wanted names like the Skopje Republic or the Vardar Republic to be used instead. To ratify the Prespa Agreement, the absolute majority of 300 seats in the Greek Parliament had to vote positively. Despite the great demonstrations of Greek nationalists outside the parliament during the voting, 146 deputies who opposed the use of the name “Macedonia” by Macedonia in any way said “no,” 153 deputies voted “yes, and one deputy remained absent (Sputnik, 2019). The agreement brought to the Macedonian Parliament on October 20, 2018, and January 11, 2019, has caused great controversy, similar to the one in Greece. Despite President Ivanov’s veto of the agreement and the opposition’s boycott, IMRO, it was approved twice in the Macedonian Parliament. 

In Athens, as it committed under the agreement, it lifted its veto for ‘North Macedonia,’ which it has been continuing for years for the EU and NATO integration process (BBC, 2018). Following this decision, North Macedonia received an invitation to participate in the negotiations to become a NATO member. On February 6, 2019, North Macedonia started an official procedure to become the 30th member of NATO. US President Donald Trump sent a letter to the Senate on April 30, 2019, demanding the Senate approval of the NATO protocol to pave the way for North Macedonia to join NATO (Behles, 2019). For North Macedonia to become an official NATO member, the accession protocol of all member states must be approved in their parliaments. For this reason, it is an important step that US President Trump, who is seen as the leader of the alliance, sends the NATO protocol of North Macedonia to the Senate for approval.

As of February 11, 2020, 28 of the 29 members, except Spain, have had the protocol on North Macedonia ratified in their parliaments. With the signing of the NATO accession protocol by the North Macedonian Assembly on February 11, 2020, North Macedonia became the 30th member of NATO in 2020. (Anadolu Agency, 2020)

Conclusion

Having struggled for many years to prove its right to independence and the legitimacy of the name and flag it has chosen, North Macedonia has been in a vicious circle with no solution for almost thirty years by struggling with its problems. When we observe the other Balkan States, it can be said that they have used these thirty years more efficiently. To exemplify this situation, Croatia and Slovenia, independent after Yugoslavia, became members of the EU and NATO. In contrast, Montenegro became a member of NATO in 2017, and it is considered with definite eyes that it will become a member of the EU in the possible enlargement of the EU. Likewise, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo have come a long way in their EU membership bid than Macedonia until the Prespa Agreement, despite their disagreements. 

For North Macedonia, the next target will be to make up for thirty years lost both inside and outside. This situation is related to the fact that Macedonia does not have a homogeneous structure as a nation-state. Whether the Macedonian identity exists or not is open to discussion with other neighboring nations. The social constructionist approach treats identity as one of how reality is constructed. Macedonia, both within Yugoslavia and after Yugoslavia, is an example of a social constructionist system. Today, North Macedonia is faced with a new process. The promises it made about its own identity with the pressure of the USA and the EU are the incarnation of the promise “interests determine and change identities.” With this process, North Macedonia shows us that the status of the nation-state cannot change, and its identity can be altered for interests. In other words, our own identities vary according to the interests of the state. North Macedonia is an example showing the justification of this thesis.

Melisa Agoviç

TUİÇ Akademi Balkan Birimi

References 

The North Macedonian Parliament approved the NATO accession protocol. (2020, February 11). Anadolu Agency: https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/kuzey-makedonya-meclisi-natoya-katilim-protokolunu-onayladi/1731230 

BBC (2018, October 1) Macedonia referendum: Name change vote fails to reach the threshold. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45699749 

Behles, C. (2019, February 7). North Macedonia Joins NATO: https://www.asil.org/ILIB/north-macedonia-joins-nato-february-6-2019 

BBC (September 21, 2019) The Greek Parliament approved Macedonia’s new name BBC https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-dunya-47002081  

European Commission. (2016, November 9). 2016 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy. https://www.ab.gov.tr/files/5%20Ekim/2016_strategy_paper_turkey- parts_en.pdf

Frčkoski, D. L. (2009). The character of the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece Skopje: Progress Institute for Social Democracy, Skopje; Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Büro Mazedonien. https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:0168- ssoar-63593

Gotev, G. (2018, October 1). EU and NATO hail Macedonia’s referendum result despite low turnout.https://www.eurativ.com/section/all/news/eu-and-nato-welcome-macedonias-referendum result-despite-low-turnout/ 

Damyanov, Hristo (June 2010) “The conflict for the name ‘Macedonia’ between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in regard to the application of FYROM to become a Member State of the European Union” Anr. 292595 

Labropoulou, E. (2019, January 25). Macedonia will change its name. Here is why it matters. CNN: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/25/europe/macedonia-name-change-controversy-intl/index.html  

Nechev, Zoran; Nikolovski, Ivan (December 2020) After Prespa: External influences in North Macedonia

Pergantis, V. (2020). The Prespa Agreement between Greece and North Macedonia and the name dispute settlement: Of objective regimes, erga omnes obligations and treaty effects on third parties. Questions of International Law, 65, 63-85. 

Sputnik (2019, January 25) The Greek parliament ratified the Macedonian name agreement.  

The Thessaloniki Summit: a milestone in the European Union’s Relations with the Western Balkan countries. European Commission. http://www.eu- un.europa.eu/articles/en/article_2444_en.htm 

Topalova, Evelina (December 11, 2011) Macedonia Wins a Battle but Not the War in Name Dispute with Greece, Euinside, http://www.euinside.eu/en/news/macedonia-has-won-a- battle-but-not-the-war-in-the-name-issue-with-Greece. 

Vankovska İljana (2007) The Role of the Ohrid Framework Agreement and the Peace Process in Macedonia

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