Macedonia Name Dispute: Small Change, Big Issue

The name is what represents a person, and it is the same case when it comes to a country. It decided how its citizens identify themselves as well as their culture. But to change the name of a country that has existed for over 30 years means a lot of work—passport, the title of government administration, and so on so forth. No doubts that the name-changing issue has caused heated debate in Macedonia and its neighbour country Greece. 

Ever since it independent from Yugoslavia in 1991, Republic of Macedonia has been the country’s name. However, the Greek believe that Macedonia region is mostly on their territory, and is the name of one of their province. They considered this name a symbol of their history and culture heritage, thus it is inappropriate for Macedonia to claim possession of the area as well as its culture. The argument went on for years, until this June, when the two countries’ ministers made an agreement to propose to add “North” to the name, making it “The Republic of North Macedonia.” A vote at the end of the month will decide the name of the country.

The change of a word might not sound like a big deal to a bystander. But for people who live in the territory, it stands for the change in their identity. Many Macedonian want to get rid of the past and start off again to a better life. They hope the change of the country’s name shall bring along the change of economic and create its own history. On the contrary, others believe that in this way, Greece takes all the cultural heritage that Macedonian valued throughout the history. Meanwhile, some Greeks believe that the new name is still an offense to the Greek civilization, including the right to inherit Athens culture and Alexandra the Great. A protest happened on Monday, September 10th, which soon turned violent and lead to the conflict between the police and protesters. 

While the public is arguing over the historical and cultural issue, the authority hopes this move shall end the dispute between Macedonia and Greece. Over the decades, Greece has prevented Macedonia from joining Europe Union as well as Nato. Using the name The Republic of North Macedonia, the country may finally make peace with its neighbour and open up more opportunity to develop its economy. Having the agreement signed in June, the prime ministers talked about peace, partnership, and allies. Some Macedonian suspect that the authority will push the name change despite the outcome of the vote. Therefore, they call for change in constitution instead of a mere name. 

Aside from the protest from both sides of the border, other countries and organizations have been involved in this event. UN welcomes the change of the name and offers that The Republic of North Macedonia shall officially replace the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, by which the country gain its dependence. This means that Macedonia will have the opportunity to join the Nato as well. However, certain concern about Russia’s influence put Macedonia under suspicious of other countries. Out of concern, the U.S. Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, expresses his intention to visit Macedonia before the vote happens.

While the small change of a name attracting huge attention from the world, its impact and result still remain to be seen. Even though the opinion of the authority and the big power of the world should be considered, the will of the common citizen also needs to be heard and valued.

Helen Jingshu Yao

An international student in Canada, interested in the topics concerning humanity, feminism, and equal access to education for all.