On January 25, the Greek parliament approved the agreement signed with Macedonia concerning the new name of the latter. This allows Macedonia to be able to request access to NATO and also the EU.
An historical dispute
The dispute between the Hellenic Republic and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) started in 1991, when the latter seceded from Yugoslavia and declared its independence under the name “Republic of Macedonia”.
The term “Macedonia” refers to a region, located in the Balkan area, that extends from Greece, where there is the biggest part of this territory, to Bulgaria, Albania and FYROM itself; this word also refers to Kingdom of ancient Macedonians, who belongs to the Hellenic history and culture. That’s the reason why Greece reacted to the decision of Macedonian politicians to call the new State “Republic of Macedonia” and decided to start the dispute with the new-born country.
During the years, the UN Security Council has issued several Resolutions in order to try to find an agreement between the parties (Greece and FYROM) and to restore the neighbourly relations between them.
In 1993, the Republic of Macedonia was accepted into the United Nations under the provisional name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, until an agreement is reached with Greece1. Two years later, the Hellenic Republic and FYROM concluded an interim accord (with UN mediation) in which the parties, represented by the Greek foreign affairs Minister Karolos Papoulias and the Macedonian foreign Minister Stevo Crvenkovski, established a “code of conduct” in which the parties confirmed their common existing frontier, they declared that they have no territorial claims, they would not use their Constitutions for this purpose (especially FYROM, which has had to modify the art 49 of its Constitution), recognize each other as independent and sovereign countries and Macedonia had to remove all the symbols from its flag (the White Tower of Thessaloniki and the Vergina Sun)2.
This dispute prevented FYROM from being able to apply for EU Candidate Country status and to become a NATO Member State, despite having already applied in 2008 during the Bucharest Summit, but its candidacy was rejected because of the unresolved dispute with Greece on the final name of FYROM.
The agreement on the new name
After 2017 elections, the Sobranie, the Macedonian unicameral Parliament, elected the pro-EU Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, the man who helped push the issue with Greece towards resolution.
The negotiations between the Macedonian Prime Minister Mr. Zaev and the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras were mediated by the American diplomat Matthew Nimetz and and lasted several months before reaching an agreement that satisfied both parties.
The deal, signed in June 2018, provides for the change of name of FYROM in the Republic of North Macedonia, its citizens will be called Macedonians and establishes the various steps to follow for the ratification and entry into force of the same agreement: Macedonia can organize a referendum, if it deems it appropriate, it must submit the document to Parliament and notify Greece of its ratification. Macedonia has until the end of 2018 to amend its own Constitution. The articles from 10 to 17 are about the upgrading of the diplomatic relations between the parties and their cooperation both in regional and/or international organization and on fields of economy, science, education, culture, research, defence, and so on. Upon the entry into force of the agreement, the parties are obliged to inform all the organizations they belong to, both international, multilateral and regional, especially the UN, of the ratification of it3.
After the signing of the agreement in June 2018 on the shores of Lake Prespa and therefore called it the “Prespa Agreement”, both sides had to face internal opposition.
The referendum held on 30th September 2018 in Macedonia was declared invalid due to the lack of attendance, despite the 94% of voters declared to be in favour of the agreement with Greece.
The agreement was approved by Sobranie on 11th January 2019 and the Greek Parliament voted 153 to 146 to approve the Prespa Agreement on 25th January 2019.
What will change after Prespa Agreement?
This agreement establishes the end of the dispute with Greece and allows Macedonia to join other international organizations in the future.
The first result of Prespa Agreement is the entry of Macedonia into NATO on 6th February 2019 as 30th member of the organisation. The Republic of North Macedonia will become officially a member of NATO when all the other 29 Member States will ratify its entry; this process typically takes about a year. This deal can also speed up the procedure for Macedonia’s entry into the European Union, because the dispute with Greece on the name was one of the most important obstacles to the opening of the negotiations with FYROM, stopped since 2004. It also will reduce the Russian influence in FYROM, that is one of its most important political and economical partners and the first major power in the world who recognized FYROM in 1992.
But the most important change and the most important challenge of both governments will take place within the two Countries, because both in Greece and in Macedonia, people did not willingly accept Prespa Agreement. After 27 years of controversy, Macedonia and Greece will have to cooperate in order to eliminate the resentment between the two populations, to change the culture that has evolved in past in FYROM against Greece and Greeks, and to get the Greeks who still support the original Greek position against Macedonia to accept the new agreement. It will probably take two generations.
1ONU, Resolution A/47/225, 8th April 1993, https://www.mfa.gr/images/docs/fyrom/resolution_unga_225_1993.pdf
2ONU, Greece and FRYOM Interim Accord. Signed at New York on 13 September 1995, https://www.mfa.gr/images/docs/fyrom/interim_accord_1995.pdf
3The National Herald, The full text of the Greece – FYROM Agreement, https://www.thenationalherald.com/204203/the-full-text-of-greece-fyrom-agreement-pdf/