The new agreement between Greece and FYROM: A done deal?

The new agreement between Greece and FYROM: A done deal?

Greece and FYROM have reached a historic deal on the dispute over the name Macedonia. Is this the end to the 27-year long dispute that will pave the way for FYROM to join NATO and the EU? Perhaps, but there are quite a few challenges ahead.

The context

After a dispute that has lasted for almost three decades, Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have reached a historic deal that will change FYROM’s name to “Republic of North Macedonia” and will pave the way for its entrance into the EU and NATO. On the 17th of June 2018 Prime Ministers Zaev and Tsipras announced the new deal in the Prespes lakes that are situated in the border between Greece, FYROM and Albania.

Historically, the Macedonian region was located within the current Greek borders but was largely expanded during Alexander the Great’s empire and included areas that belong to today’s FYROM, Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Kosovo. It is important to note that back then there were no nation-states as we know them today, and as borders have frequently changed over time, many countries in the Balkan region claim Macedonian origin.

Both FYROM and Greece consider the Macedonian heritage as an inherent part of their national identity, which explains why this issue has been prominent for over 25 years. The controversy revolves around the use of the word “Macedonia” itself, as Greece claims that Macedonians are people who have Greek origins, are descendants of the era of Alexander the Great, and are from the Macedonia region in northern Greece. On the contrary, FYROM proclaims itself as the real land of Alexander the Great, uses ancient Greek symbols as their own, and calls their language the Macedonian one.  

This disagreement has resulted in deteriorated diplomatic relations between the two countries, something that may change in the recent future.

Past negotiations

The disagreement commenced when FYROM separated itself from Yugoslavia in 1991 and became an independent state under the name “Republic of Macedonia”. Greece refused to recognize the country due to the use of the term Macedonia and the use of the “Vergina Sun” symbol in FYROM’s flag, as according to them this symbol derives from ancient Greece. Moreover, the newly-founded country’s constitution included irredentist claims over Greek territories, establishing itself as a direct threat to Greece.

In 1992, the Portuguese presidency of the EU led by Pinheiro proposed a deal where Greece would accept the name “New Macedonia” and in return the New Macedonian country would abandon their territorial claims. However, this package created internal divisions in Greece that resulted in Antonios Samaras’ (Foreign Minister at the time) resignation and the fall of the government.

Eventually in 1993, the United Nations recognized the country and assigned it the provisional name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” without a flag.

Although in 1995 an Interim Accord was struck between Greece and FYROM that expressed views for mutual cooperation and respect, there have been frequent diplomatic tensions and failed negotiations between the two countries up to today. Due to those tensions, Greece has been blocking FYROM’s bids to enter the European Union and NATO.  

The new agreement

The new deal that is 19 pages long settles multiple disagreements between the two countries. Some of the most important features are highlighted bellow.

The new name of FYROM will become “Republic of North Macedonia” erga omnes. The term erga omnes creates an obligation to utilize the aforementioned name both domestically and internationally. All countries will have to address the country with the new name, including the ones who had recognized the Republic of Macedonia. Citizenship will be officially referred to as “Macedonian/Citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia”.

The language will be called Macedonian even though the document specifies it as a part of South Slavic Languages.

Culturally, the document recognizes that “Macedonia” and “Macedonian” are terms that refer to a different historical context and cultural heritage, which means that the identity of the citizens of North Macedonia will not be associated with ancient Greece. In this framework, the Republic will not be able to make use of ancient Greek symbols including the “Vergina Sun,” which is currently appearing on FYROM’s flag. Additionally, since there will be a clear detachment between North Macedonia and ancient Greece, the republic will have to abandon its irredentist claims. This will have to be done formally by revising their constitution.

Economic cooperation is to be boosted by promoting trade, investments, and tourist exchanges between the two parties. Bilateral economic partnership will take place through a new Joint Ministerial Committee, which will be established and will convene at least once a year.

Is this a done deal?

In order for the agreement to take effect, it has to be ratified first by FYROM and then by Greece. FYROM will most likely hold a referendum this autumn on whether this deal should be ratified or not. Even though this agreement is seen internationally as a step towards cooperation, large majorities in both countries are upset with the deal. During the negotiations and since the announcement of the deal. there have been rallies and protests in both countries, with the latest protests turning violent in FYROM’s capital Skopje. The root of this unrest is traced back to the strong sense of identity associated with the Macedonian name on both sides. Numerous Greeks feel that this deal alters history and similarly citizens of FYROM are not satisfied with the idea of revising their constitution.

It is hard to assess the possibility of successful ratification from both parliaments, as the Greek ANEL party from the coalition government is opposed to the deal so far, and the President of FYROM, Gjorge Ivanov, who has the power to veto the agreement, has explicitly said he refuses to sign a ‘disastrous’ name deal. Furthermore, the Greek coalition government narrowly survived a vote of no confidence on 16 June, which depicts the internal divisions within Greece.

In the case where the deal is ratified and executed accordingly, Greece will extend a formal invitation to North Macedonia for joining NATO. If North Macedonia fulfils EU and NATO criteria, it could become a member of the two institutions, opening up new paths for cooperation and economic prosperity in the Balkans.   


Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Adriana Mara

Adriana Mara is a recent Masters graduate in Diplomacy and Foreign Policy from City, University of London. She holds a Bachelors degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Essex. During the interval of her studies she also gained experience in the charity sector. Since graduating she has been involved as a Researcher at the European Student Think Tank where she writes about European security issues. Adriana has a particular passion about international relations and the impact of technology on politics and security.