What’s in a name? For a sovereign state, it’s a lot more than you could possibly imagine. It’s a global representation of their identity, history and deep rooted culture. In the past, nations have often revered to change the name of their country or cities within not just for nationalistic or commemorative purposes but also to improve their image across the world. Ceylon changed its name to Sri Lanka in 1972 and Burma to Myanmar in 1989; both to remove traces of colonial rule. However, it’s rare for a nation to modify their name in order to settle long lasting political dispute with a neighboring country. Such an incident occurred on June 17, 2018 – when Macedonia signed a historic pact with Greece to officially change its name to the ‘Republic of Northern Macedonia’. With assistance from the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU), the new name was diplomatically chosen to appease both the Greeks and the Macedonians.
Sharing its southern borders with Greece, Macedonia received independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, becoming a sovereign nation in the process. Although it became a member of UN in 1993 under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), its aim to join the EU was hampered by Greece over the use of the name ‘Macedonia’. Macedonia is also the name of the northern region of Greece, an ancient kingdom ruled by Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. This ambiguity in nomenclature resulted in a dispute among the two countries, with Greece claiming that the nation had named itself Macedonia in an attempt to appropriate the ancient Macedonian civilization – which is inherently a part of the Greek heritage. The indigenous people of the Macedonian region of Greece objected to the use of the name to describe a nation largely populated by Slavic’s. Meanwhile, the country of Macedonia fought back with claims that the heritage of Alexander the Great was part of their culture and identity, showcasing archaeological evidence in the process.
After two decades, which involved numerous hearings in the international court of law and the UN, the two nations finally decided to put an end to the dispute. The Macedonian Prime Minister met with his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras to sign the historic pact that allows for Macedonia to be named as Northern Macedonia – segregating it with the Greek region of Macedonia. While Tsipras called the agreement “patriotic and mutually beneficial for both people”, the deal has provoked protests from the people of Greece and the political opposition. Greeks protested outside their parliament, calling the government ‘traitors’ and ‘sellouts’. According to an opinion poll published by the newspaper Proto Thema, 70% Greeks opposed the change of name – citing that even the inclusion of the name ‘Macedonia’ is an insult to their ancient heritage. Even the Macedonian president, Gjorge Ivanov, has spoken against the agreement.
The pact is only the first of many steps in officially changing the name. The pact needs to be accepted by Macedonians as well as receive approval from the parliament of both countries, both of which are bound to take a while. Meanwhile, the small nation of Macedonia rejoices the decision that will enable them to join the EU and NATO for economic growth and development.