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In early February 2018, over 140,000 people gathered in Athens, Greece to protest a 27-year-old dispute regarding the name of its northern neighbor, Macedonia. The issue resurfaced as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRM) is pushing to fulfill its goal of joining the European Union and NATO. According to the Guardian, The United Nation’s Matthew Nimetz has been shuttling between Athens and Skopje in efforts to mediate this long-standing stalemate. Although this step would benefit the long-time stability of the Balkan peninsula, the contention stems from the fact of an already existing province of Greece with the same name. According to the New York Times, Greece claims that the use of the name implies territorial claims on that region. So far, Macedonia has agreed to change the formerly known Skopje Alexander the Great Airport to Skopje International Airport. In addition, Prime minister Zoran Zaev has proposed the main road route to Greece now be called Friendship Highway. But perhaps most importantly, Macedonia has agreed to add a compound to its name.
Since its independence in 1991, negotiations regarding the naming issue have been strained. According to the NY Times, Greece had imposed a 20-month embargo on its landlocked neighbor and only lifted it in 1995 when it dropped an ancient Macedonian symbol from its flag. Macedonia joined the UN in 1993 and has since been recognized as FYRM by over 130 countries, including the United States, Russia, and China. Since 2008, Athens has maintained that the name must change for the Greek government to rescind its veto against Macedonia’s bid to join the EU and NATO. NATO secretary general has stood firm in Skopje that, “the name dispute with Greece would have to be resolved before the Balkan country could be considered for membership in the alliance”. Macedonian officials have indicated that they would like to submit the final deal through means of referendum and popular vote.
According to the New York Times, the resolution options put forth by Skopje would do much to eliminate Greek fears of the territorial claims. One issue that both Prime Ministers agree on is to add a geographical distinction in the name to further demarcate the countries. However, Greek coalition partner and leader of the nationalist right-wing party, Panos Kammenos insists that there be no mention of the word Macedonia in the new name. According to the Guardian, The Greek coalition government of right-wing with radical left-wing Syriza party was only based on common opposition to bailout agreements and no other shared platform.
There are hopes that the peace agreement being negotiated in Davos, Switzerland could come in time for the European Union and NATO summit meetings in Summer 2018. Mikis Theodorakis a 92-year old leftist resistance to the military dictatorship in Greece has declared that, “There is only one Macedonia. It was, is and always will be Greek.” Mr. Theodorakis’s home had been defaced by vandals who disagreed with his participation in the protest, a reminder of the continually strong reactions from Greece that refuse to die down.
Even when two political authorities do not have militaristic ambitions towards the other, there is room for conflict if the demarcation of borders is not fixed. In this case the same name signifies two different nations. According to Mr. Zahariadis who writes for the Political Science Quarterly, Greece’s borders have continually shifted since its independence in 1830. Greek Macedonia was only liberated from the Ottomans in 1913 after years of armed struggle. The current effects of the two Balkan wars on foreign policies prove that for the Balkan states, the past is not the past.